How Much Anti-Semitism Will College Students See?

Former UCLA student regent Abraham Oved holds up a Star of David while addressing the Board of Regents at a meeting to discuss a policy statement regarding the rise in anti-Semitism in 2015.  Photo Courtesy: Damian Dovarganes

By Thomas D. Elias

It’s almost fall, and college students are back on many campuses around California, with the rest due to return soon. College football is already going strong.

One question many would rather not confront awaits many of the new and returning students: How much outright anti-Semitism will face the significant Jewish cohort on many major California campuses?

Despite the fact that just over a year ago, the University of California’s Board of Regents adopted what it considered a strict policy of policing anti-Semitism, there were still plenty of episodes around California last spring and fall, from demonstrations at San Francisco State University to daubed swastikas at UC Davis and vandalism on the grounds of several other once-bucolic schools.

One thing has now been established, thanks to a new study from a group that carefully tracks anti-Jewish activity on campuses across America: The more radically anti-Israel faculty members a school employs, the more openly anti-Semitic activity that college or university will see.

The privately-funded AMCHA (Hebrew for “Our People”) Initiative concluded in its annual report on campus anti-Semitism that “Israel-related anti-Semitic incidents were considerably more likely to contribute to a hostile environment for Jewish students than incidents involving classic anti-Semitism.”

In short, even though some pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel demonstrations purport not to be purely anti-Jewish, that’s how Jewish students feel they are treated by participants.

This extends from demonstrators trying to shut down speeches by Israeli representatives to graffiti on campus buildings and walls and everything in between. Added the study, “Anti-Israel campus activities are no longer intent on harming Israel, but increasingly they are intent on harming pro-Israel members of the campus community.”

That seeming distinction without a real difference played out most vocally during the last academic year at San Francisco State University, home to the native Palestinian Prof. Rabab Abdulhadi, who has said that Zionists are not welcome on her campus.

She used the Facebook account of a university department to make similar comments, which some students believed at the time led to disruption of a speech by the two-term Jewish mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, who some Israelis project as a possible future prime minister of that country.

Abdulhadi’s behavior prompted SF State President Leslie Wong to visit the school’s prime Jewish organization, Hillel, and declare that “Zionists are welcome on our campus.” He was trying to address charges that Jewish students on his campus often feel intimidated.

But the AMCHA study suggests that as long as professors like Abdulhadi remain active there, Jewish students will never feel completely accepted.

Meanwhile, on-campus anti-Semitism went to a new level over the summer at Stanford University, about 25 miles down the Interstate 280 freeway from SF State, where 20-year-old junior Hamzeh Daoud, a student housing resident assistant, threatened on his Facebook account that “I’m gonna physically fight Zionists on campus…” Later, after the university declared that “Threats of physical violence have absolutely no place in the Stanford community,” Daoud resigned his post, while remaining a student.

Hours after the university issued its statement, Daoud also amended his Facebook post to say he would fight pro-Israel students “intellectually,” not physically. “I realize intellectually beating zionists (sic) is the only way to go. Physical fighting is never an answer to proving people wrong.”

Daoud, a Jordanian citizen, considers himself a Palestinian refugee, although he is more than two generations removed from any ancestors who may once have lived in what is now Israel.

But it’s a safe bet Jewish students at Stanford are savvy enough to be suspicious of any softening phrases by a fellow student who may have been threatened privately with suspension or expulsion.

In frequency of anti-Semitic incidents, Stanford has long ranked behind other major campuses like UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis and UCLA, making the fact of a violent threat there a sign that not only has overall campus anti-Semitism not abated since the UC Regents issued their policy, but it may have become even more virulent.

That’s one reason the atmosphere will be at least as fraught as ever for Jewish students trying to concentrate on academics this fall, while they also know they’ve been threatened by Palestinian activists in some places.

Email Thomas Elias at [email protected] His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net