The college campus has long been the one place in America where anti-Israel activity and anti-Semitism has been tolerated. Jews, despite their status as a minority, and history of being persecuted, are not afforded the same protections or consideration that other minorities receive on campus.
The double-standard was evident most recently at the University of Oklahoma where the video of a racist chant made by members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity chapter provoked national outrage and led University President David Boren to close the fraternity, kick out the house’s residents, and expel two students. No one suggested that the fraternity members were entitled to exercise their right to free speech, or that they were simply expressing an opinion that was distasteful or that college students should be able to deal with controversial opinions with which they disagree. Yet these are precisely the excuses made by universities for failing to prevent egregious attacks on Jewish students.
Contrast Boren’s reaction with those of his counterparts at the University of California. Anti-Israel activists at UC Davis heckled Jewish students and shouted “Allahhu Akbar” at them during a student government vote endorsing a boycott of the Jewish state. The context of this chant is the belief that Islam should dominate the world and that Jews (often referred to by Islamists as descendants of apes and pigs) and other infidels should be subjugated. (Recently, South Africans were less subtle and shouted kill the Jews at a BDS protest.)
The next day the chancellor said, “We recognize that this is a sensitive topic for many on our campus, one that is very personal and emotional. It is for this reason that we must exercise sensitivity, restraint and respect in relation to the issue. Prior to the debate….We affirmed the right to freedom of expression, but also affirmed our commitment to the highest standards of civility and decency toward all.” The penalty for defying these standards? We’re still waiting.
At UCLA, Rachel Beyda, a Jewish student who applied to join the school’s student council judicial board, was questioned as to whether she could be unbiased given that she is Jewish and active in the Jewish community. Can you imagine what the reaction would have been if an African American student had been asked if their race would interfere with his impartiality? It took national media coverage that caused an uproar to prompt the chancellor to say that “no student should feel threatened that they would be unable to participate in a university activity because of their religion.” It took a month before UC President Janet Napolitano and UC Board of Regents Chairman Bruce Varner condemned the treatment of Beyda. Meanwhile, the students who opposed Beyda’s candidacy were spared any disciplinary action.
Meanwhile, campuses across the country are holding their annual Israel hate weeks during which Jews and their homeland are reviled in films, by speakers and through demonstrations. I am not aware of any administrators have spoken out against these festivals of vilification, preferring instead to hide behind the First Amendment they set aside when other minorities are offended.
The most widespread manifestation of anti-Semitism on campus today is represented by the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign conducted primarily by Students for Justice in Palestine. Jews have been reluctant to call the movement anti-Semitic to avoid the specious accusation of trying to silence critics and squelch free speech.
The BDS campaign has nothing to do with legitimate criticism, which challenges Israeli policies and actions with the objective of improving Israel and promoting peace. The sole objective of BDS advocates is to delegitimize the one Jewish state. This Israel denial is no more acceptable than Holocaust denial. Questioning Israel’s legitimacy -- its right to exist -- is always anti-Semitic.
Some students believe that Israel must be coerced to make concessions to the Palestinians even though the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has expressly stated, “We do not support the boycott of Israel.” Moreover, students genuinely interested in peace recognize that pressure cannot be directed solely at Israel while holding the Palestinians blameless for the conflict.
Under the false premise of being “apolitical,” BDS advocates claim they are not advocating any solution. Omar Barghouti, founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, however, is unambiguous about their objective. He says “the two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is finally dead” and calls for the creation of a single binational state, which he knows is a prescription for the destruction of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
And don’t be fooled by the involvement of Jews in the BDS movement. They represent an infinitesimal fringe group that speak only for themselves. By contrast, 61 international organizations, representing Jews from the political left and right, the reform, conservative and orthodox movements, women, fraternities/sororities and a broad spectrum of opinion within the Jewish community agreed to a statement opposing BDS that said in part:
The BDS movement is antithetical to principles of academic freedom and discourages freedom of speech. The movement silences voices from across the Israeli political spectrum. By pursuing delegitimization campaigns on campus, proponents have provoked deep divisions among students and have created an atmosphere of intolerance and hatred.
It is time to stop the charade of pretending that the BDS movement is an expression of free speech aimed at improving the lives of Palestinians or promoting peace. It does neither. BDS advocates are engaged in puerile hate speech, and proponents should be subject to the same unambiguous condemnation and disciplinary actions that Oklahoma employed against the fraternity brothers. The BDS movement is anti-Semitic and should not be permitted on any campus that says it will not tolerate bigotry directed against any students because of their faith, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.
Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including The Arab Lobby and Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews.