Three years ago when Ori Herschmann first walked the UC Berkeley campus, he was still naive. A freshman from Palo Alto, he wore the Jewish Star of David, unaware it would make him a target.
In his freshman year, he noticed that anti-Israeli events turned into anti-Jewish ones. During sophomore year, he began seeing anti-Semitic slogans spray-painted on buildings. During his junior year, Herschmann served as a student senator and succeeded in pushing through a measure to condemn anti-Semitism.
Jewish students at UC Berkeley are not alone. Across the UC system, Jewish students are targeted by anti-Israel groups. At UC Santa Barbara, after contentious campaigns to boycott Israel, fliers blaming Jews for 9/11 were posted on campus. At UC Davis, the Hillel House was defaced with “grout out the Jews” and a Jewish fraternity was spray-painted with swastikas after brothers spoke out against divestment.
As many students know, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism go hand in hand at UC today. But the administration seems unable to respond to the growing new anti-Semitism that is directly related to the BDS movement, a campaign to boycott, divest and sanction Israel over its policies toward Palestinians.
The BDS campaign is toxic to campuses, pitting students against each other. Some students, like Herschmann, are figuring out how to respond to these vocal, well-funded groups that are hosting events that demonize Israel.
However, concern among Jewish parents is growing. Many parents – myself included – have no intention of spending $30,000 to $60,000 a year to send our children to a college where they will be bullied for being Jewish – or pro-Israel.
More than 50 Jewish and student organizations and thousands of Californians and UC stakeholders have joined together to ask the UC Board of Regents to adopt the U.S. State Department definition of anti-Semitism. In a society that associates the word “anti-Semitism” with the gas chambers of the last century, universities must find a way to define and condemn this new, modern anti-Semitism that has discovered fertile ground on their campuses.
The State Department’s definition does just this by recognizing that contemporary anti-Semitism is often “camouflaged as anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism.” It also understands that denying Israel’s right to exist is blatant anti-Semitism, something President Barack Obama, Pope Francis and the British and French prime ministers have all stated repeatedly.
The UC task force formed to address the frightening rise in Jew-hatred could equivocate and adopt some irrelevant, watered-down definition that communicates their indifference.
Or they could do the right thing. They could adopt a full and accurate definition of how anti-Semitism manifests itself today, and tell all UC students that California will not tolerate discrimination against Jews.
Naomi Friedman is founder of Stop BDS on Campus, an international organization that includes UC parents, students and graduates. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.