Back in June, the president of the University of California promised on national radio that the UC Board of Regents would vote in its next meeting – in July – on whether to adopt the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism.
It didn’t happen. There was no vote, no discussion, not even an agenda item.
No regent, including Gov. Jerry Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom or Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, spoke a critical word on the quiet disappearance of that item from the meeting.
But the question is slated to reappear when regents gather again Sept. 16-17 in Irvine, not as a policy opposing anti-Semitism, but as a general discussion of “tolerance” on campus.
UC administrators, of course, know all about tolerating anti-Semitism. No suspects have yet been found in several episodes of Nazi-like swastikas daubed onto university buildings and there have been no penalties for student government members who publicly questioned whether Jewish students can make fair and objective decisions or judgments on campus issues.
That’s consistent with the lack of action against students who set up mock roadblocks on the Berkeley campus where Jewish-looking students – and no others – were accosted by toughs carrying machine-gun mockups. This was some Muslim students’ idea of a legitimate protest against Israel’s anti-terror tactics, which have cut deaths by car- and suicide-bombings to a fraction of their former level.
Toothless bromides about tolerance were all those events – and multiple others since 2010 – elicited from administrators and faculty apparently reluctant about doing anything to counter their system’s rising reputation for enabling outright anti-Semitism in the guise of a Palestinian-sponsored campaign to boycott Israel, divest from companies doing business there and create international sanctions against the Jewish state.
No one suggests Israel’s policies should be immune from criticism, protest or debate. They are debated ceaselessly in countless Jewish forums.
But adopting the State Department’s definition would let UC officials know when protest becomes bigotry. The State Department criteria, recently reaffirmed, are simple: If an action aims to delegitimize Israel, denying its very right to exist because it is a Jewish state, that’s anti-Semitic. If a protest demonizes Israel in ways not employed against any other country, that’s also anti-Semitism. And if a protest employs a double standard judging Israel differently from other countries, that’s anti-Semitic, too.
Here’s one clear-cut example: When Israeli terrorists firebombed a Palestinian home and killed a child this summer, government officials immediately condemned the act and began a manhunt for the perpetrators. Palestinian officials and police have never tried to capture any countryman who killed Jewish citizens of Israel. Similarly, campus protestors who vilify Israel for the baby killing ignore the many more similar acts against Israelis. That’s as clear as a double standard can get.
While UC President Janet Napolitano and the regents spent part of the summer backing off a tough stance against anti-Semitism, both the state Senate and Assembly passed a resolution calling on UC campuses to condemn it in all forms, a recognition that this age-old prejudice has morphed into new forms on campus, partly because of the presence of students from countries where anti-Semitism is official policy.
A formal definition is needed, say groups that battle anti-Semitism, because of confusion over the relationship between Jew-hatred and animosity toward Israel.
Since the Assembly under Atkins’ leadership passed its resolution unanimously, it seems logical she should lead her fellow regents back to specifics, rather than going along with the milquetoast attempt to simply discuss tolerance. The university already has myriad policies encouraging tolerance and excoriating “hate speech.”
While those policies have not been enforced against anti-Semites, they effectively prevent hate activities directed against African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Muslims and other groups.
“Action on anti-Israel behavior devolving into anti-Semitism is still on the table,” said a hopeful Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, lecturer at UC Santa Cruz and co-founder of the AMCHA Initiative, which fights on-campus anti-Semitism. “We need a formal definition of what Jewish students are experiencing as anti-Semitism.” Without that, she said, administrators struggle to separate ordinary student protests from acts of hate. This may be one reason many egregious anti-Semitic acts have elicited no punishment.
It’s high time the Board of Regents realizes that if it lapses into generalities and refuses to adopt specific guidelines like those of the State Department, it will be promoting an age-old hatred.