Thomas Elias: California campuses take lead against boycott
February 8, 2019
For most of the last decade, California campuses have been at the center of a rise in anti-Semitism in academe, where tactics ostensibly designed to target the nation Israel inevitably have led to mistreatment of Jewish students, even those who have never set foot in that country.
These moves are led by a nationwide group called Students for Justice in Palestine, with chapters on dozens, maybe hundreds of campuses. They have caused Jewish students to be harassed while walking to class, seen their right to serve in student government questioned and often led to their feeling physically threatened.
In California, speeches by Israelis of many stripes are regularly disrupted or shut down. Jewish students have been stopped at mock military checkpoints set up by Palestinian students and their "progressive" allies. And student government representatives have been subjected to intimidation.
This has been so serious that some university officials, notably the president of San Francisco State University, apologized for it to their Jewish students.
UC chancellors: “We believe a boycott of this sort poses a direct and serious threat to academic freedom.”
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Studies also show that the more ostensible anti-Israel activity there is on any particular campus, the more openly anti-Jewish activity will follow. Similarly, those reports indicate that the more actively anti-Israel faculty members a college has, the more outright anti-Semitic activity that campus will see, swastika daubings and all.
But backlash is coming. Just as the SJP's campaign encouraging universities to boycott, sanction and divest (BDS) investments from Israel first achieved real prominence in California, now a new drive to resist that campaign is getting its first big exposure here.
The most significant move came when the chancellors of all 10 campuses of the University of California signed a statement very close to one suggested by the AMCHA Initiative, a privately-funded national group dedicated to fighting on-campus anti-Semitism.
It represents a repudiation of the SJP aim of singling out Israel among all other nations as retribution for supposed sins. "We write to affirm our longstanding opposition to an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions and/or individual scholars," the chancellors said. "Our commitment to continued engagement and partnership with Israeli, as well as Palestinian colleagues, colleges and universities is unwavering. We believe a boycott of this sort poses a direct and serious threat to the academic freedom of our students and faculty…including debate and discourse regarding conflicts in the Middle East."
The statement wasn't nearly as strong, nor as specific, as the one made by the president of tiny but prestigious Pitzer College in Claremont as he vetoed a faculty vote to end a study-abroad exchange program with Haifa University, located in Israel's most pluralistic city.
Sharply criticizing Pitzer's faculty, President Melvin Oliver said it is plain wrong, discriminatory and inconsistent to boycott Israel so long as Pitzer, along with many other American colleges, "promotes exchanges and study abroad in countries with significant human rights abuses." He added that "China, for example, has killed, tortured and imprisoned up to 1 million people in Tibet and utterly obliterated the Tibetan nation. China currently has 1 million Muslims imprisoned in 're-education' camps. Why would we not suspend our program with China? Or take our longest-standing program in Nepal…they have had a bloody civil war that killed 10,000 people. Why Israel?"
As Oliver implied, Israel is singled out among all nations for student and faculty protests because it is primarily a Jewish state. And one definition of anti-Semitism is singling out Jews or Israel to be punished for supposed but unproven actions that have been documented on a much larger or much more brutal scale in many other countries.
No college faculty, for example, has even considered voting to boycott Saudi Arabia for its state-sanctioned assassination and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But Israel is excoriated for defensive acts.
Oliver's statement is the most articulate argument yet made by an academic against the decade-long BDS campaign. Its logic is unassailable. The real question is why no distinguished, high-ranking officials said anything similar before.
The fact that all UC's chancellors soon followed with their own statement, even if it wasn't quite as strong, is a sign of real movement against the anti-Jewish discrimination that has insidiously become a significant force on many campuses here and elsewhere.
Elias is author of the current book "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It," now available in an updated third edition. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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