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July 31, 2016 8:46 pm

The Jewish Exception to Free Speech on Campus

avatar by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin /

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Anti-Israel posters at UC Berkeley. Photo: AMCHA.

Anti-Israel posters at UC Berkeley. Photo: AMCHA. – In 2012, the Electronic Intifada, an online anti-Zionist media outlet that aggressively promotes the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, ran a lengthy article suggesting that “allegations of ‘anti-Semitism’ create a real climate of fear” that is “silencing” pro-Palestinian student activists on US campuses. I couldn’t stop laughing when I saw the article, not because of the absurd nature of the charges — that Jewish students were somehow intimidating and silencing pro-Palestinian student activists just by virtue of speaking up about the intimidation, and silencing they themselves were experiencing at the hands of those same activists — I laughed because of the accompanying photograph set beneath the headline. In one concise image, it revealed the utter disingenuousness of the thousand words that followed.

The photo, credited to Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at University of California Berkeley, depicted a large pole on campus that was covered from top to bottom with multiple layers of promotional flyers. However, the only ones that were fully visible — because they had been affixed directly on top of the others — were the SJP’s flyers demonizing and delegitimizing Israel and urging the university community to support BDS. The juxtaposition of the photo with its caption, “Students face a climate of intimidation on several California campuses,” practically begged the reader to think: Which students are facing a climate of intimidation?  Certainly not the members of SJP, whose bold and brazen “freedom of expression” to demonize and delegitimize Israel and promote efforts to harm it is literally smothering everyone else’s!

In the four years since that article was published, the smothering of speech depicted in the article’s photo has not improved. In fact for one group of students, it has gotten worse. Much worse.

A study of antisemitic activity in 2016 on more than 100 campuses, which our organization released earlier this week, revealed that over the past year the number of incidents involving the suppression of Jewish students’ freedom of speech and assembly by members of SJP or other anti-Zionist student groups had approximately doubled. For example, in April of this year, more than two dozen members of the General Union of Palestine Students at San Francisco State University disrupted and ultimately shut down a Jewish student event featuring a speech by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. A few minutes after Barkat’s speech had begun, protestors stormed into the hall and loudly chanted slogans such as “Get the hell off our campus,” “Long live the Intifada,” and “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will be Free,” until the speech was prematurely terminated. Similar disruptions and attempted shut-downs of Jewish student events unfolded on campuses across the country.

It is telling that in our study we found a strong correlation between incidents involving the suppression of Jewish students’ freedom of speech and assembly and those involving the expression of antisemitic tropes that demonize and delegitimize Israel or promote its destruction: in 2016 all 12 of the schools at which the speech and assembly of Jewish students were suppressed played host to one or more incidents of anti-Zionist expression, and the greater the number of these incidents, the higher the likelihood that Jewish student expression would be suppressed. Not only does this strong correlation suggest that anti-Zionist expression may incite conduct which harms Jewish students, it also underscores the breathtaking hypocrisy of anti-Zionist activists on campus, who vigorously exercise their own freedom of expression but deny Jewish students that same right and freedom.

In addition, the increase in incidents which trample on the civil rights of Jewish students indicates the growing success of a tactic known as “anti-normalization,” which members of SJP and similar anti-Zionist groups routinely employ to aggressively stifle all pro-Israel expression. For example, in one of its founding documents the SJP group at Binghamton University outlined strategies for harassing Jewish students and disrupting or shutting down their Israel-related events in a section entitled: “Tactics and Strategies Used to Counter Zionist Normalization.”

Adherents of “anti-normalization” target not only pro-Israel students, but anyone presumed to support Israel, first and foremost Jewish students, regardless of their actual personal feelings on Israel. As a result, Jewish students engaging in Jewish activity having nothing to do with Israel — wearing their Jewish sorority or fraternity letters, displaying Star of David necklaces, walking to Hillel for Sabbath dinner – report fearing for their safety and well-being.  In addition, because of their support, or even just presumed support, for Israel, Jewish students report being rejected from progressive social justice activities such as pro-choice rallies, anti-rape demonstrations, Black Lives Matter events and racial justice conferences.

The situation has become intolerable for many Jewish students.

This past spring, the University of California system took a critical stand against the rising antisemitism plaguing its 10 campuses. Its Board of Regents issued a Statement of Principles Against Intolerance acknowledging that anti-Zionism is a form of antisemitism which incites additional Jew hatred and, like other forms of discrimination, has no place at the University of California system. The Regents’ statement also singled out “actions that physically or otherwise interfere with the ability of an individual or group to assemble, speak, and share or hear the opinion of others,” stating that they “impair the mission and intellectual life of the University and will not be tolerated.”

Universities across the country must follow suit.

Rossman Benjamin is faculty at the University of California and the director of AMCHA initiative, a non-profit that combats antisemitism on college campuses across the US.

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  • Steve

    Why aren’t people making posters that attack the horrible human rights situations in Arab/Muslim countries and posting them around campus?

  • Steve

    I don’t understand how there are rabid anti-Israel pro-BDS people right in Israel and no Israelis seem to be confronting them

    And then in the USA the Arab/Muslim side has an “Israeli apartheid week.” Why doesn’t the rest of the world have an “Arab Apartheid Week?”

    Nobody seems to be doing anything, at least on the grassroots levels.

  • Isahiah62

    Muslims will always invert and steal their ideas from JEWS, since Mohammed’s time. Trying very hard to steal the covenant still in the present times.

    It is classic in all their narratives. We had a holocaust they invent a poor imitation call it nakba. We have judenhass they create the phony islamophobia. We can no longer even say anti-semitic b/c now they claim it is about them, that they are semites too. They know many consider Jews to be victims of hate from Muslims and so try to pretend that they are victims of Jews.. inversiona and projection- hallmarks of leftists and other backwards thinking people.

  • Scott Adler

    It doesn’t matter what the University of California’s Board of Regents say. It matters what they do, and so far, they have done absolutely nothing.


  • Myron Robinson

    Typical of those who abuse other people’s HR shout the loudest when their perceived rights are abused. With Israel being so technically advanced I am surprised that we are still behind the 8 ball when it comes to PRO albeit that we are catching up. Whether BDS and those other anti-Semites like it or not, Jews will no longer walk like sheep to the slaughter like we did in WW 11 in Nazi Europe.Dave is correct Jewish students at USA universities need to fight back with whatever means they can. Pity a Bugsy Segall is not around. Am Yisrael Chai

  • Jewish Defence League should be reactivated and Jewish sponsors should take their responsibilities and pull out from Universities.

    Jewish student should come study in Israel until the university
    leadership will grow some balls and send their universities to the Arab level.

  • Al

    When similar things happened before WW II, Bugsy Siegel sent some men to rough up the Nazis, and that put an end to it. Maybe that’s what’s needed now.

  • Michael Nicolazzo

    Great article!
    Should be required reading

  • Ephraim

    I am impressed with the Bundists at the California university system. I am so impressed!

  • Rachel Cohen

    This problem of Cultural Marxism on college campuses–is not only directed at Jewry–but rather against anyone who represents the factual truth. As for genuine supporters of Israel–most of Jewry are not genuine supporters–most genuine supporters of Israel–are not even Jewish. This Cultural Marxism problem on college campuses–will become much worse. Important to note, those who have voted for and supported Marxist democrats, and their GOPe comrades–have helped create this problem. Its high time Jewry, and others, wised up and stopped supporting those who hate them, and love their enemies.

    • TMay

      Gop comrades?

  • richard sherwin

    AMCHAH is doing incredibly difficult and important work trying to correct the University of California’s widespread administrative and academic anti-zionism antisemitism, as well as its acceptance of violent palestinian activity against Jewish students and intimidation of Jewish rights to free speech on campus, and in classes on the middle east. Congratulations to Ms Benjamin-Rossman for her intelligence, persistence, and successes so far. Obviously the same work needs doing across the US Academia. Columbia, Harvard, Vassar, Oberlin, et al. May she and AMCHAH go from strength to strength.

  • Dave

    You American Jews need to act to defend yourselves. Everyone is entitled to self-defence. Jewish college students should be trained in self-defence. Where is the Jewish Defence League?