Soapbox

Jewish students need more protection on California campuses

Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, chairman of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, speaks out against anti-Semitism during a Capitol rally last month after a swastika defaced a Jewish fraternity at UC Davis.
Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, chairman of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, speaks out against anti-Semitism during a Capitol rally last month after a swastika defaced a Jewish fraternity at UC Davis. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Jewish students are the single most vulnerable minority on California campuses.

In part, this is due to the relentless efforts of some students and faculty to demonize Israel – activities that have created a hostile environment for many Jewish students. Even more damaging have been efforts by pro-Palestinian groups to block every attempt of university, state and federal officials to address this unprecedented wave of anti-Semitism for the sole purpose of promoting boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns intended to destroy Israel.

In July 2012, then-University of California President Mark Yudof published the UC Jewish Student Campus Climate Report, in which students said they felt isolated and unsafe. One day after the release of the report, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the National Lawyers Guild launched a campaign demanding that Yudof reject the report.

To this day, none of the report’s findings or recommendations have been acknowledged, let alone adopted.

In August 2012, the state Assembly unanimously approved House Resolution 35, condemning anti-Semitic activity on California campuses. Importantly, the resolution invoked the U.S. State Department definition of anti-Semitism and declared that “boycott, divestment, and sanction campaigns against Israel” are anti-Semitic and had led to harassment and intimidation of Jewish students.

Soon after HR 35’s passage, a letter was sent to state Assembly members by CAIR, the National Lawyers Guild and four chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine. The letter flatly denied the existence of a hostile environment for Jewish students and claimed that the resolution’s concern was simply a politically-motivated attempt to stop divestment. As a result, university leaders have refused to abide by the resolution’s recommendations to protect Jewish students.

Still not satisfied, the same coalition of anti-Israel groups went after one of the few legal remedies currently available to Jewish students, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on race, color or national origin.

The coalition carried out a massive and successful campaign to pressure the U.S. Department of Education into dismissing civil rights complaints filed on behalf of Jewish students at UC Irvine, UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley.

Three years later, the situation for Jewish students in California has grown significantly worse.

Solely because she was Jewish, a student with exemplary credentials was nearly prevented from joining student government at UCLA. A Jewish fraternity at UC Davis was vandalized with swastikas only days after a divestment vote on campus. Swastikas were recently found on buildings at UC Berkeley.

At a time when it is critical for Jewish students to have state and federal protection from bigotry, those protections are being systematically stripped from them by groups complicit in anti-Semitic activity. Lawmakers must act swiftly to protect Jewish students in California and across the nation.

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin is on the faculty at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and is co-founder and director of the AMCHA Initiative, an advocacy group that combats campus anti-Semitism.

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