It’s rather doubtful that Janet Napolitano worried much when she first heard vandals scrawled swastikas and the message “Jews to the gas chamber” inside a restroom on a University of California campus.
Or, later, when she learned “grout out the Jews” and “Hitler did nothing wrong” had been daubed on other campus walls.
Just a form of college hijinks, she probably thought. Chances are, she also paid little heed a couple of years earlier when Muslim students carrying dummy submachine guns on the Berkeley campus set up mock checkpoints and stopped only students who appeared to be Jews.
But the current crisis over these and many other campus incidents now threatens to undermine Napolitano’s authority in ways that quarrels over admissions standards, faculty salaries and top-heavy administrative budgets never have.
There is no doubt anti-Semitism has been allowed to run rampant at UC, and not merely via incendiary sloganeering on walls and other structures. There has been a bleeding over of anti-Israel sentiment into plain old-fashioned, almost medieval anti-Semitism spurred by an ever-growing Arab presence on the campuses, partly a side effect of the university’s increased willingness to accept foreign students because they pay $24,000 a year more tuition than in-state students. UC flat-out needs their money because of years of decreased state funding under ex-Govs. Pete Wilson, Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The expanded Muslim contingent on campus portrays Israel to home-grown minority students as a colonial power, an image furthered by the growth of Jewish settlements on former Palestinian lands. Many minority students, ignoring a long history of Jewish support and sacrifice on behalf of their civil rights, have helped the Palestinian movement encourage a boycott of Israeli products, university divestment from companies doing business there and other sanctions against the Jewish state.
Interestingly, this movement does not specifically target Israeli students, of whom there is a tiny contingent at UC. Rather, it focuses on all Jews, the vast majority of whom have never been there and don’t make Israeli policy.
The upshot is that nothing has been done to deter anti-Semitism, in part because campus administrators fear being accused of stifling academic debate. But how is academic freedom involved when mathematics professors spout anti-Jewish rhetoric, as has happened occasionally? What would happen to the same faculty if they regularly spewed the N-word or anti-feminist or anti-Muslim messages?
So in late May, in an interview with National Public Radio, Napolitano pledged to submit to her Board of Regents in July a policy statement adopting the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, as it is manifested in attacks on Israel. It is not, by those standards, anti-Semitic to question Israeli policy on settlements or anything else. But it is anti-Semitic to deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. That would be equivalent to denying Japan’s right to exist as a Japanese state. The State Department also calls it anti-Semitic when Israel is condemned for the same practices routinely engaged in by other countries.
Pope Francis goes farther, observing the other day that “To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the state of Israel is also anti-Semitism.”
Both, of course, happen frequently on UC’s 10 celebrated campuses.
Meanwhile, Napolitano reneged on her pledge to offer the Regents a policy banning anti-Semitism on campus, postponing the subject for two months before proposing a milquetoast anti-intolerance statement in September.
This spurred rebellion among the Regents. Norman Pattiz, the head of the national Westwood One radio network, observed that “To completely disregard the people who brought (this) to our attention…I think is insulting.”
Added fellow Regent Bonnie Reiss, director of an institute at USC, “When we hear lines of students giving us examples of swastikas on…fraternities or challenging a Jewish student’s (right) to serve on a council just as a result of her religious identity, of statements that “Hitler was right,” I hope I’m not the only one feeling chilled…”
It was a very unusual outcry from usually acquiescent Regents, and a direct challenge to Napolitano.
It’s now up to her and the committee she’s appointed to draft a new statement to fix this, stop the continuing wave of campus anti-Semitism – or lose what credibility she has as chief of the most prestigious university system in America.