Tuesday, August 16th | 20 Av 5782

June 5, 2017 10:36 am

Jewish Students Must Learn How to Protest — and Fight Back

avatar by Mitchell Bard


An anti-Israel demonstration at UC-Santa Cruz. Photo: UC Students for Justice in Palestine / Facebook.

When it comes to Israel and the Jewish community, one reason that problems exist on college campuses is that university administrators continue to tolerate anti-Israel and outright antisemitic activity. Many of these administrators continue to hide behind the First Amendment or “academic freedom” in order to allow attacks on Jewish students that they would never tolerate against women, gays or other minorities.

But academics also allow this activity to occur because Jewish students do not engage in the types of protests that attract their attention, or force them to act.

For instance, look at UC-Santa Cruz, where the Afrikan Black Student Alliance took over a building on campus for three days and made a series of demands, including mandatory diversity training for other students, repainting of the Rosa Parks house and housing guarantees for “ALL African Black Caribbean identified students.”

As reported by Legal Insurrection, the university agreed to all of the students’ demands.

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I can’t even imagine Jewish students staging such a protest.

Even though campuses like Santa Cruz have hundreds — sometimes thousands — of Jewish students, it would not even occur to them to take over a building or stage a demonstration of any kind. It’s just not how Jews on campus historically react.

Jewish students talk, write letters and arrange meetings, but never mobilize in force to demand action. We are good at teaching students the facts about Israel, and how to use them. We have great debaters. The activists of today are as smart, energetic and committed as those who came before them. They have done a great job of fighting BDS. Yet the number of students who are involved is small.

I’ve written about my “rule of 20,” which says that no matter how many Jews are on a campus, you are usually lucky to get 20 pro-Israel activists.

The truth is that we don’t train our students in protest tactics. We have allowed Israel’s detractors to co-opt campaigns for human rights and other issues where Jews historically have been at the forefront. We need veterans of the 1960s and 1970s to speak at conferences about how they fought for social justice. And the idea of instructing students how to mobilize is not farfetched; after all, Jews were leaders of civil rights protests, we demonstrated by the hundreds of thousands for Soviet Jewry, and we know how to make our voices heard.

Now let’s return to UC-Santa Cruz.

During that demonstration by the Afrikan Black Student Alliance, some of the protesters shouted anti-Israel and antisemitic slurs at Jewish students who had gathered in Quarry Plaza to celebrate Israel Independence Day. Santa Cruz Hillel Director Sarah Cohen Domont issued a public statement that said, “Our students were, on three separate instances, subjected to protesters yelling (expletives and antisemitic insults) and one of our Israeli flags was torn down.”

This behavior is unacceptable and should have immediately been condemned by the administration. It was not. Apparently, Jewish students complained and the usual discussions were held with officials, to no effect. The subsequent reaction should have been swift and uncompromising.

According to the Hillel College Guide, UC-Santa Cruz ranks in the top 60 schools for Jewish student population. The approximately 1,800 Jews there comprise more than 10 percent of the undergraduates. What if just 5 percent (admittedly, a low bar) of those Jewish students — 90 individuals — staged a protest in Quarry Plaza demanding that the chancellor make a statement condemning antisemitism on campus, identify and punish the students who shouted the slurs ,and take action against the black student organization if it encouraged or incited the verbal attacks?

Ideally, the demonstration would not be limited to Jewish students. This would be an excellent opportunity to build a coalition with other groups to take a stand against the persecution of minorities. It would test those groups’ sincerity; if they aren’t willing to protest antisemitism, then why should they be taken seriously when they call for justice on their issues? The campus community — students, faculty and administrators — should rally to prove that Jewish sensibilities and lives matter.

Jewish students need to go outside the campus as well to mobilize alumni, trustees and donors to join their protest. For instance, there is now a group called Alums for Campus Fairness that has chapters around the country who are anxious to come to the assistance of Jewish students. The graduates and supporters of the university don’t need to sit in the plaza holding signs and shouting slogans, but they can bombard the administration with calls and threats to withhold contributions. Losing major donors would get the chancellor’s attention quicker than any other form of protest.

There’s no guarantee that such a demonstration would move the chancellor to act, but it would show that students are serious about fighting for their rights on campus, and that Jewish students are mad as hell and won’t take it anymore. If done right, it would also attract publicity about the treatment of Jews at UC-Santa Cruz; one of the few things besides money that can motivate university administrators is bad PR.

Jewish students should not go overboard and engage in the kind of extreme reactions associated with the Jewish Defense League, but they also shouldn’t restrict themselves to fighting by the Marquess of Queensberry rules. Not every slight requires “going to the mats”; however, if students are not prepared to confront officials with action, they should not be surprised if administrators continue to treat them differently than groups that refuse to tolerate harassment or discrimination.

Jewish students should not need protest tactics to ensure that they are safe from vilification on campus. It is a sad commentary on the character of many university leaders today that their inaction is allowing hatred to fester and grow, and that they need to be prompted or coerced to speak out and take action in response to antisemitism on their campuses.

Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including the 2017 edition of Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict, The Arab Lobby, and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.

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