Some of us are accustomed to criticizing government and campus leaders when they fail to respond properly to anti-Semitism. But what are these leaders getting right? As the new academic year begins, we would like to strike a positive note. The Louis D. Brandeis Center has developed the following top ten list of laudable actions recently taken to address the upsurge in campus anti-Semitism. We concede that some of these actions are debatable, and we agree that a few have had some flaws. Nevertheless, they all represent a step forward. We have commended some of these officials before, but we are happy to do it again.
Wheaton College (Norton Mass)
In November 2012, anti-Semitic graffiti was found painted onto the back door of a Jewish residence at Wheaton College, a private liberal arts school in Massachusetts. Wheaton President Ronald Crutcher addressed this neo-Nazi vandalism firmly and directly in a campus wide email, writing, “I want to be clear: this will not be tolerated…” In response, the campus community came together to heal, with campus-wide discussions, a potluck dinner, and even a Facebook page aimed toward highlighting the college’s diverse student body.
In March 2013, at Oberlin College in northern Ohio, it was reported that someone was walking around campus wearing the robes of a KKK member. This incident came after a month-long string of unrelated hate crimes, including swastikas being drawn on buildings and posters. In response, Oberlin cancelled classes and activities for the day, in order to hold a school wide discussion about the disturbances. A campus wide convocation provided an opportunity for the community to come together, to be informed, to support targeted groups, to acknowledge the impact on the entire community, and to talk about how to move forward.
University of California System
At the end of February 2012, hecklers disrupted a lecture at UC Davis, entitled “Israeli Soldiers Speak Out.” After an extended period of time, the speech was able to continue, but outbursts from the audience still hindered the event throughout the remainder. Shortly afterwards, University of California President Mark Yudof addressed the entire University of California community in an open letter that strongly reprimanded the hecklers. “I condemn the actions of those who would disrupt this event,” Yudof wrote. “Attempting to shout down speakers is not protected speech. It is an action meant to deny others their right to free speech.” We have criticized the University of California for failing to respond properly to other incidents, both before and since, but we believe in giving credit where credit is do.
U.S. Department of State Special Envoy
In 2004, George W. Bush signed into law the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act, which created the position of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. This law officially recognized anti-Semitism in America and the world as a serious problem that must be addressed. In late 2012, the Obama administration’s first global anti-Semitism envoy, Hannah Rosenthal issued a strong new U.S. State Department definition of anti-Semitism, patterned after the European Union’s International Working Definition of Anti-Semitism. While not specifically fashioned as a response to campus anti-Semitism, the State Department definition provides a useful tool for university administrators.
In November 2012, the Brandeis Center helped bring to light a disturbing incident the UC Davis campus after approximately forty protestors occupied a university administrative building. When three Jewish students entered the occupied building, they were met with hostile behavior, including intimidation, bullying, and verbal harassment. The protesters began pounding their fists, getting into the Jewish students’ faces, and making menacing physical gestures, all while shouting expletives. The Jewish students told Brandeis Center lawyers that they had found the entire incident to be “‘incredibly upsetting.” In response to concerns expressed by the Brandeis Center and the Amcha Initiative, Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi, opened her own investigation. At the close of the investigation, Dr. Katehi established important guidelines to prevent similar problems in the future.
OCR 2010 Dear Colleague letter
In 2004, when I was delegated the authority of Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, I issued a formal policy guidance letter calling attention to increased discrimination against Jewish students and establishing (or “clarifying”) Title VI protections for Jewish students. My successors did not always adhere to the Marcus Policy, despite recommendations from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that they do so. In 2010, the Obama administration formally confirmed the 2004 Marcus policy and issued guidance elaborating on it. This new guidance, the Ali Policy, confirmed that OCR would prosecute anti-Semitism cases at publicly funded educational institutions. Unfortunately, it is not clear whether OCR is living up to the Ali Policy, but the framework exists for effective action if the Obama administration is ready to stand by its own words.
On February 10, 2010, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren was delivering a speech at UC Irvine when an organized group of students repeatedly halted his presentation with loud heckling. In response, eleven students were arrested and later convicted for disturbing the peace after they had denied Oren the right to free speech and the free flow of ideas with his audience. UC Irvine then suspended the responsible organization from campus for a quarter, based on evidence that it had actively conspired to disrupt the speech.
The Ottawa Protocol on Combatting Anti-Semitism is an action plan developed during the second annual Conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism in November 2010. Parliamentary representatives from nearly 50 countries participated, recognizing the growing incidence of anti-Semitism worldwide. At my recommendation, the Ottawa Protocol urged colleges and universities to comply with the International Working Definition of Anti-Semitism, while simultaneously expressing a commitment to freedom of speech.
UC Campus Climate report
On July 9, 2012, the University of California system released their report on the Jewish Student Campus Climate, based on their fact-finding teams reports and recommendations. The report provided a balanced assessment of conditions for Jewish students, describing both the good and the bad. There are many positive recommendations, but perhaps the most important one from the report urges university officials to adopt a formal definition of anti-Semitism, such as the International Working Definition of Anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, at least one of the report’s recommendations raises legitimate First Amendment to concerns, but the other elements are very worthwhile and the Brandeis Center has urged the University of California to adopt them.
Cal H.R. 35
In August 2012, the California State Assembly passed a resolution, HR 35, which urged condemnation of anti-Semitism on UC campuses. The resolution calls upon UC campuses to “swiftly and unequivocally condemn acts of anti-Semitism.” Additionally, the resolution urges adoption of the International Working Definition or a similar definition. Like the Campus Climate report, this resolution does have some constitutionally troublesome language, but the basic thrust of the resolution is most welcome, and most recommendations are solid.
I thank former Brandeis Center intern Andrew Loeb for his assistance with this article.