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May 26, 2016 7:39 am

Campus Watchdog: UC Irvine Chancellor in ‘Hot Seat;’ Must Take Immediate Action Against Antisemitism

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avatar by Lea Speyer

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin. Photo: AMCHA Initiative.

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin. Photo: AMCHA Initiative.

The chancellor of the University of California, Irvine (UCI) must “face antisemitic incidents happening on his campus right now and take steps to implement policies against them,” the head of a Jewish watchdog group told The Algemeiner on Wednesday.

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, co-founder of the AMCHA Initiative — which is dedicated to combating, monitoring and documenting antisemitism at institutions of higher education in America — made her comment following the release of an open letter on Wednesday calling on UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman to implement the two-month-old University of California Regents “Statement Against Intolerance,” which asserts that antisemitism and antisemitic forms of anti-Zionism “have no place at the University of California (UC).”

The letter — spearheaded by AMCHA and signed by 36 Jewish and civil rights organizations — came in response to recent incidents against Jewish and pro-Israel students at UCI. “Acts of anti-Jewish violence and aggression do not occur in a vacuum. They often grow out of a campus environment steeped in hateful anti-Zionist expression that uses classic antisemitic tropes to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state and those who support it,” the letter states.

Over the last two weeks, UCI played host to two major antisemitic and anti-Zionist events. As part of “Anti-Zionism Week 2016,” anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox sect Neturei Karta member Yisroel Dovid Weiss was invited to address students. “Weiss’s talk had clear and classic antisemitic allusions that were also used with respect to Zionism and Zionists, straight out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” Rossman-Benjamin told The Algemeiner. “Two weeks later, after being incited to act against Jewish students, a real violation of Jewish student life at UCI takes place. Jewish students are attacked for watching a pro-Israel movie. These two recent incidents, coupled together, exactly highlights the harm of antisemitism in all its forms.”

The Regents declaration, Rossman-Benjamin said, “is a landmark statement that lets the university system as a whole know that antisemitism and antisemitic forms of anti-Zionism have no place at UC and should be treated like every other bigotry. These issues are a serious and growing problem across all California campuses, especially UCI. However, the statement is just the first step.” It is high time, she said, that UC chancellors “implement the Regents statement and use it to understand the issues, and create and enforce policies to educate others about antisemitism in all its forms, including anti-Zionism.”

Anti-Israel student groups, like Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Student Union, have been able to “push the envelope with their extreme behavior and get away with whatever they want,” Rossman-Benjamin stated. “They’ve become completely out of control and they have to be held accountable. However, they won’t be unless we hold university administrators accountable.” Chancellor Gillman now has an opportunity to take a stand against antisemitism, she said. “The way in which the university treats racism, sexism, islamophobia and homophobia also needs to apply to antisemitism. There is a real discriminatory double standard applied to Jewish students,” she told The Algemeiner.  

Referring to last week’s violent anti-Israel protest against Jewish students taking part in a pro-Israel event, Rossman-Benjamin offered a thought experiment to highlight the UC system’s contradictory policies against antisemitism.

“Let’s reverse the scenario. If there had been African-American students trying to watch a movie and they were disrupted and terrorized by outside white supremacist groups, there is no way UCI wouldn’t have taken strong, vigorous action right away,” she said. “We are not asking the university to take any particular action, except to ensure that whatever actions are taken for other minority students are also applied to Jewish students.”

Rossman-Benjamin said she is “optimistic” Gillman will “take the right steps and come up with a plan of action to move forward at his university and address the problem of antisemitism in light of the Regents statement.”

“The problem of antisemitism and antisemitic forms of anti-Zionism has reached such an egregious level that all eyes are now on Gillman. He is in the hot seat. The Regents are watching. The whole Jewish community wants to know how he will implement the statement against intolerance at UCI,” she said. “University administrators must do their jobs and protect Jewish students.”

UCI has been the epicenter of several notorious antisemitic events over the last decade. In 2010, a group of anti-Israel students aggressively interrupted the speech of then-Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren to the pro-Israel community on campus. The students, who became infamously known as the “Irvine 11,” were arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to three years of informal probation, after being found guilty of conspiracy to disrupt and disrupting.

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