When they finally acted after months of dithering about increasingly frequent acts of anti-Semitism on their campuses, there was little doubt the University of California’s Board of Regents at long last did the right thing.
Now action will be up to university administrators, who usually have done nothing in response to overtly anti-Jewish acts on campus.
The regents struck a middle ground by banning frankly anti-Semitic acts and rhetoric, but left the door open for protesting Israel’s government policies, while also forbidding “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism.”
That last clause was especially needed after new national research showed campuses with the greatest number of anti-Israel, anti-Zionist protests also had the highest numbers of plain old anti-Semitic acts, like tagging swastikas onto Jewish fraternities or religious buildings and outright bigotry toward Jewish students. The study was conducted for the Amcha Initiative, which fights campus anti-Semitism.
Regent Norman Pattiz, a member of the National Radio Hall of Fame who inserted the words “anti-Semitic forms of” into the university’s new policy when objections arose to a flat ban on anti-Zionistic acts and words, told a reporter “This is just Jews standing up for ourselves during a period where instances of anti-Semitism continue to be reported on college campuses.”
Pattiz is right to imply that UC is far from alone in the trend toward anti-Jewish on-campus behavior. Northwestern University rated as the campus with the most such incidents. But four UC branches were among the top ten, with Berkeley second.
One reason for this has been inaction by campus administrators. Now that the Regents who are their supposed bosses have declared that “Anti-Semitism…and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California,” no one knows what chancellors and deans who actually run the campuses will do. The same for UC President Janet Napolitano, who delayed the anti-Semitism resolution for months.
Suggesting administrators might not take the Regents’ resolution seriously was their lack of immediate reaction to it. Contrast, for example, the lack of significant action by university officials on the anti-Semitism measure with what they’re doing about sexual harassment, also a big problem at UC, where one alleged case last month led to the firing of a top Berkeley assistant basketball coach.
“Sexual violence is a serious crime that we will never tolerate,” said Napolitano. “We aim to be the national leader in combating sexual violence on campus.”
She then created a task force to prevent sex offences on her system’s 10 campuses. She also ordered monthly personal reports from Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks.
She did nothing like that in response to the new anti-Semitism policy, the most explicit such statement from any college governing board in America. So the Regents acted to fill the action vacuum. Last fall, they scuttled Napolitono’s earlier, toothless proposed anti-intolerance policy, setting the scene for the tougher one just adopted.
This time the Regents set themselves up in a monitoring role normally delegated to campus officials, demanding regular reports from each campus on actions taken to prevent or respond to anti-Semitic outbreaks.
Pattiz said the governing board deliberately left the phrase “anti-Semitism” undefined “so that campuses can handle cases as they (see) fit.” There’s also no list of quid-pro-quos, no prescription for responding in specific ways to particular acts.
Napolitano offered no explanation on why she didn’t act similarly to her move against sexual harassment, when it’s plain UC should tolerate neither that nor anti-Semitism.
Pattiz, said he has no problem with debates about what Zionism is or should be, but that UC should not put up with shouted epithets like “Zionist pigs” or exhortations to send all Zionists to gas chambers, both of which are redolent of classic anti-Semitic comments and actions. Both are among chants and graffiti seen and heard on UC campuses.
Regents, then, were making it plain they’ve had enough inaction. They appear to be hinting to administrators that if they don’t act, someone might take actions affecting them, even including campus chancellors.
All of which puts the ball squarely in the court of chancellors and deans who have wrung their hands about campus anti-Semitism while doing little. Now they know they’ll have to act or be held responsible, even if it wasn’t Napolitano telling them this, as she plainly could and should do.