There is no doubt dependence on the higher tuition paid by out-of-state and foreign students has become established policy at the University of California. Now some believe this may be leading to the unintended consequence of an upsurge of anti-Semitism on campuses like Berkeley, Davis, UCLA and Riverside.
The university says no. “I don’t think there’s any link,” maintains Dianne Klein, media relations director for UC’s central office. “There’s been no huge influx of students from countries where anti-Semitism is official policy.”
No? Between 2001 and 2013, the number of UC graduate students from Iran – where a mantra in public schools reportedly has students daily reciting “Death to America, Death to Israel!” – rose from six to 113. Plus, last fall’s enrollees included 74 undergraduates from Saudi Arabia, 53 from Turkey and 51 from Pakistan, to name a few countries where anti-Semitism is common.
There is no doubt that as the number of foreign students at UC has risen, with administrators exploiting the $23,000 annual difference between out-of-state tuition and what California residents pay, the so-called BDS movement (boycott, divest and sanction) against Israel has become more active on many campuses. Student governments at Berkeley, UCLA and Davis all have voted to demand that university regents and faculty boycott Israel, divest from companies doing business there and set up economic sanctions against it. There was a similar vote at Stanford University this spring.
No one asks their nationality at demonstrations, but almost invariably, campus BDS leaders have Muslim-oriented names.
So far, no university governing board has bought into their demands.
Students conducting anti-Israel rallies and demonstrations deny anti-Semitism, although their efforts have included checkpoints on some campuses where camouflage-clad students toting mockup machine guns stopped and frisked anyone they thought looked Jewish.
And outright anti-Semitism has followed quickly after heated debates over the anti-Israel student senate votes. At UCLA, student government members questioned the ability of a Jewish student to serve impartially on a judicial board and voted her down. Later, they were shamed into reversing that vote.
At Davis, vandals defaced a Jewish fraternity house with swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti shortly after the BDS debate. A few weeks after the debate at Stanford, swastikas were swabbed onto the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house, not a Jewish one, and two other residences.
Stanford also saw a minority student coalition question a student government candidate about being Jewish, then choose not to endorse her, all the while denying anti-Semitism.
Imagine the reaction if anyone set up checkpoints blocking and frisking black, Latino or Asian students or if elected student officials questioned Baptists or Muslims about their ability to be objective and fair. The outcry would be enormous, but it was muted after these outright examples of anti-Semitism.
Ironically, this all comes after a Pew Research Center study found 63 percent of Americans view the Jewish religion favorably, the highest rating for any religion. Protestant Christianity in that survey got a 61 percent favorable rating and the Mormon faith 46 percent positive.
But the on-campus scene has grown serious enough that UC President Janet Napolitano felt impelled to issue the first formal statement ever by a UC president condemning anti-Semitism. “Anti-Semitic incidents…will not be tolerated,” she said. “They deserve our condemnation.”
It all makes some wonder whether the upsurge of campus anti-Semitism is linked to greater numbers of students from strongly anti-Israel countries, including Malaysia, which sent 164 undergraduates to UC last fall.
“We’ve had a real concern that the influx of students from countries where anti-Semitism is rampant will spill over into action toward Jewish students,” said Tammy Rossman-Benjamin a UC Santa Cruz lecturer and founder of the Amcha Initiative, a non-profit organization that documents and combats campus anti-Semitism.
The pro-Israel organization Stand With Us reports most on-campus anti-Israel activity is organized by Students for Justice in Palestine, a national group with local chapters. “It is coordinated nationally and we think the funding comes from abroad,” said Roz Rothstein, CEO of Stand With Us.
Christians United for Israel, composed mostly of evangelicals, calls what’s happening “a dark movement,” that “bullies and intimidates Jewish students.”
No doubt some of this activity would have hit California campuses even without their need for foreign tuition money. From all appearances, though, one unintended consequence is that the phenomenon is more intense than it otherwise would be.