Campus Antisemitism: The Year in Review
This has been an extraordinarily eventful year in the campaign against campus antisemitism, especially from our perspective at the Louis D. Brandeis Center. On the one hand, Jewish students face a worsening climate. This year, an AMCHA Initiative study showed a 45% increase in campus antisemitism during the first half of 2016 as compared with the first half of 2015.
On the other hand, we also see increasing awareness of both alt-right and left-wing forms of antisemitism. The fight back has been increasingly successful. Various indicators suggest, for example, that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is reeling in the face of repeated losses. Unfortunately, we have seen anti-Israel protesters focus instead on disrupting pro-Israel events and harassing Jewish pro-Israel students.
As the year draws to a close, we reflect on extraordinary challenges, hard-fought battles, major successes, occasional setbacks and hope for renewed success in the coming year. Here are 10 of the best, worst, memorable, frustrating and gratifying developments of the last 12 months.
1. California Regents Condemn Antisemitic Anti-Zionism
In March, the Board of Regents of the University of California adopted formal “Principles Against Intolerance,” in response to reports of antisemitic incidents on California campuses. The Regents’ “Principles” famously featured this landmark pronouncement: “Antisemitism, antisemitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.” As former UC President Mark Yudof observed, this is the first time that a public university has said this. I was pleased to serve, together with the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Marvin Hier, as one of two national antisemitism experts to the Regents’ Task Force. While the “Principles” may not be as specific and detailed as some of us might have liked, they have been a major step forward in public awareness of the forms that antisemitism takes in the 21st century. The AMCHA Initiative also deserves credit for this success.
2. We Sue the American Studies Association
In April, the Brandeis Center’s legal team filed a landmark federal anti-BDS lawsuit against the American Studies Association (ASA). The complaint, which is still pending, seeks to enjoin the association’s infamous anti-Israel boycott. As Forbes columnist George Leef observed, “[W]hat people should not…be free to do is to dragoon non-profit scholarly associations into their political battles against Israel (or anything else for that matter). But that is just what has occurred with the stance taken by the American Studies Association in favor of boycotting Israeli universities.” One immediate result of the lawsuit: The underhanded tactics of BDS leaders have now come to light, as explained in this article by Harvard Law Professors Jesse Fried and Berkeley Law Professor Steven Davidoff Solomon. The firms of Marcus & Auerbach and Barnes & Thornburg also deserve credit for their central role in this litigation. In addition, we are pleased that members of the American Anthropological Association rejected a BDS resolution shortly thereafter, based in part on a desire to avert litigation. We recently warned the Modern Language Association that their proposed BDS resolution could subject them to liability as well.
3. Congressmen Admonish the Education Department
Also in April, after a member-level briefing with the Bipartisan House of Representatives Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism, eight members of Congress signed a letter to US Department of Education Secretary John King, Jr., urging the Department to address antisemitic bias on college campuses more effectively. Kudos to the Taskforce co-chairs: Reps. Nita Lowey (D-NY), Peter Roskam (R-IL), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chris Smith (R-NJ), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Kay Granger (R-TX) and Steve Israel (D-NY). I was joined at the briefing by Hillel International President Eric Fingerhut and Melanie Goldberg, the founding student president of the Brandeis Center’s chapter at Cardozo Law School. The Task Force briefing laid the groundwork for reforms that would ultimately be written into the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act.
4. Anti-Israel Activists Shut Down Irvine Film and Harass Jewish Students
In May, UC Irvine undergraduate (and Brandeis Center client) Eliana Kopley found herself separated from the other Jewish students, physically blocked from joining them and then hunted down as she sought to escape. She had been attending a screening of the film, Beneath the Helmet, with other students. Dozens of anti-Israel protesters banged on the windows and doors of the building in which the film was shown, blocking the exit, and chanting, “Intifada, Intifada,” “IDF, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide,” “Displacing people since ’48, there’s nothing here to celebrate,” “F*** the police” and “All white people must die.” When Eliana left the building, three people followed after her until she fled to safety. At the Brandeis Center’s urging, UCI found its chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine responsible for violating UCI Code of Conduct § 102.13, which prohibits “disruption or obstruction of…University activities.” This was an important step, as was UCI’s issuance of a formal warning against SJP. In the future, UCI must do much more to address such problems. This will be especially important in light of the trend of anti-Israel activists attempting to disrupt and shut down pro-Israel speakers, films and events.
5. Mayor Nir Barkat Is Silenced at San Francisco State University
That same month, Mayor Nir Barkat of Jerusalem was scheduled to give a lecture at San Francisco State University at the invitation of San Francisco Hillel. Roughly two dozen anti-Israel activists disrupted the mayor’s presentation just a few minutes into the speech, entering the room and loudly chanting, “Intifada, Intifada, Long live the Intifada,” “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will be Free” and, finally, “Get the hell off our campus!” After at least 40 minutes of loud chanting, the protesters succeeded in shutting down the event, cheering as Mayor Barkat left the room. The Brandeis Center, and other groups, urged Chancellor Lesley Wong to take action. Chancellor Wong promised to revise his university’s policies for addressing such protests, and to be more assertive about enforcement. Chancellor Wong must do more in the future.
6. BDS Activists Harass Milan Chatterjee
In September, UCLA Graduate Student Association (GSA) President Milan Chatterjee, a Hindu student, announced that he was transferring from UCLA Law School to New York University Law School as a result of harassment from anti-Israel student activists. They had harassed and threatened him for enforcing the GSA cabinet’s neutral stance on BDS. When Milan refused to back down, they tried to get him impeached. We joined the American Jewish Committee and others in advising him. Working with the Brandeis Center’s law school chapter, we wrote to the GSA Forum successfully opposing his impeachment. Nevertheless, it is understandable that Milan no longer felt comfortable at the institution in which he had served in a significant student leadership role. UCLA Law School’s loss is New York University’s gain.
7. Oberlin College Fires Infamous Anti-Israel Professor
In November, Oberlin College announced that they would finally fire a notorious anti-Israel professor. We had strongly criticized Oberlin President Marvin’s Krislov’s initial failure to act in response to Karega’s antisemitic and anti-Israel social medias posts. In the wake of this controversy, Krislov announced his resignation. We visited the campus twice to deal with this situation and have had productive conversations with President Krislov, his staff and many Oberlin students and alumni. We wish Oberlin College, President Krislov and Oberlin’s many bright students and faculty well as they move beyond this debacle.
8. Ohio Passes Anti-BDS Legislation
In December, Ohio Governor and former Republican presidential candidate John Kasich became the 17th governor to sign an anti-BDS bill into law. The Ohio bill prohibits state agencies from contracting with any company that is boycotting or disinvesting from Israel. Brandeis Center Senior Staff Attorney Jennie Gross had testified in front of the Ohio Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee in support of the bill on December 6, and I had testified in support of the bill before the Ohio Assembly earlier in the year, together with Hillel President Eric Fingerhut. The Ohio Jewish Communities’ Howie Beigelman deserves great credit for this success.
9. The US Senate Passes the Antsemitism Awareness Act
Also in December, the US Senate displayed extraordinary bipartisanship in passing, by unanimous consent, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016. Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Bob Casey (D-PA) had introduced this landmark bill to combat increasing incidents of antisemitism on college campuses. The bill would direct the Department of Education to consider the State Department’s definition of antisemitism – which includes manifestations of antisemitic anti-Israelism – in determining the “intent” involved in alleged antisemitic incidents. The proposed legislation would adopt the primary public policy recommendation in my new book, The Definition of Anti-Semitism (Oxford University Press: 2015) and the briefing that we provided to the Congressional Task Force several months before. Unfortunately, time ran out before the House of Representatives was able to act on this bill this term, but we expect that it will be reintroduced next year.
10. Law Students Stand Up to Campus Antisemitism
Throughout 2016, law students have fought-back more effectively against campus antisemitism than ever before. In March, Harvard Law Students formed the eighteenth (“Chai”) chapter of the Louis D. Brandeis Center. They quickly established themselves with a number of speaker and panel events educating the Harvard community about the legal tools necessary to fight global antisemitism and anti-Israelism. The Brandeis Center remains the only national organization that establishes law school chapters to defeat antisemitism and anti-Israelism. However, these eighteen student chapters are now providing an increasingly effective counterweight to such anti-Israel organizations as Students for Justice in Palestine, Palestine Legal and the National Lawyers’ Guild. These students reflect our hope for the future.