Monday, May 23rd | 22 Iyyar 5782

January 31, 2020 11:01 am

Complaints on Antisemitism Executive Order Highlight Climate on Campus

avatar by Alexander Joffe


An anti-Israel “apartheid wall” on display at Columbia University during “Apartheid Week” in 2017. Photo: Facebook.

The new Executive Order extending protections to Jewish students under the 1964 Civil Rights Act has generated a number of complaints to the Department of Education. At Columbia University, a complaint alleges “pervasive and ongoing” discrimination against Jewish students, and “a targeted harassment and discrimination campaign” by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and other BDS groups.

At UCLA, a complaint alleges that a speaker described Israel as a racist entity, denied its right to exist, and stated that its supporters were white supremacists. A complaint filed on behalf of Hillel of Georgia alleges that Georgia Tech permitted discrimination against an individual who was denied entry to a Young Democratic Socialists of America event because of her identity.

Central to the growing number of complaints are allegations that denials of Israel’s right to exist are de facto antisemitic, by reference to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which is referred to in the recent Executive Order. Another issue is harassment and disruption of public events held by Jewish and other students.

The complaints come as still more evidence has appeared regarding the politicization of classrooms at all levels by BDS supporters. A new report by the AMCHA Initiative analyzed syllabi from 50 university courses on the Arab-Israeli conflict. On average, instructors who support BDS assigned an average of 78% of readings by fellow BDS supporters, in contrast to only 17% from non-BDS supporting instructors. The qualitative and quantitative contrasts demonstrate decisively that college courses are being deliberately politicized.

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The problem of BDS supporters in the classroom is not restricted to higher education. Support for BDS and antisemitism in the Newton, Massachusetts, public schools has been long documented. A new incident at the private Ethical Culture Fieldston School in Riverdale, New York, saw a BDS-supporting teacher host a speaker who alleged that Israelis, who were “the victims of the Holocaust and violence have become perpetrators of violence against Palestinians.”

The teacher, who had a history of social media comments denigrating Zionists, was subsequently fired after complaints from parents.

In contrast, the American Historical Association (AHA) again voted down a series of BDS resolutions at its annual meeting. Similar proposals have now been defeated four times in the association’s business meetings. Careful preparation by BDS opponents emphasized among other things that the AHA is a scholarly organization and not a political one with a foreign policy.

Elsewhere on campus, at McGill University, fallout continued regarding student government members going on Hillel trips to Israel, allegedly funded by the Maccabee Task Force. A Hillel sponsored trip to Israel also came under attack by the SJP branch at the University of North Carolina. At York University, a pro-Israel and a BDS group that were suspended in December after a violent confrontation were both reinstated by the administration. A panel discussion of BDS at York was also postponed after protests from Jewish groups.

The student government at a branch campus of the University of Toronto voted to reaffirm an earlier BDS resolution passed over the objections of Jewish students. Similarly, the student government at Concordia University declined to review a previously adopted BDS resolution, while at Warwick University, the administration refused to adopt the IHRA definition. But BDS supporters at the University of California, Riverside, expressed disappointment that no member of student government was willing to put forward a BDS resolution.

Jewish groups in Canada also condemned the union representing University of Toronto contract employees for social media comments supporting BDS, and allegations that Canadian Jews interfered with politics on behalf of Israel.

Jewish and other groups also protested a regional BDS conference by SJP and allied groups at the University of Michigan, and warned that it might violate Title VI protections for Jewish students. The event came in the wake of a November 2019 regional SJP conference held at the University of Minnesota. Both events featured groups and speakers allied with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which has been shown to be a major source of BDS support and personnel.

The impact of BDS and antisemitism on campus continued to be felt in January, for example in a mass email to faculty and staff at the University of Montana that accused Jews of slave trading, swastikas at Emerson College and Syracuse University, and graffiti at Marshall University.

In the political sphere, an increasing number of candidates for office have expressed support for BDS. This includes far-left Democratic candidates for Congress in New York and Michigan, and for Manhattan District Attorney. The rise in BDS supporting and Islamist candidates also comes in the context of continued political support for the American Muslim Brotherhood network. Reports indicate that more than 120 members of Congress issued letters expressing support for CAIR on the occasion of its 25th anniversary conference held in Washington in 2019. At the same time, a new poll by the Brookings Institute suggests more Democrats support BDS than Republicans.

In contrast, recent Congressional hearings focused on antisemitism and domestic terrorism, while a House bill was introduced that would extend 1970s era anti-boycott legislation to Israel. An Arizona court also upheld that state’s anti-BDS law, while the governor of South Dakota signed an executive order prohibiting entities doing business with the state from boycotting Israel.

Finally, in the international sphere, the Italian government announced that it would adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism. The British Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government also announced that local councils, which had been at the forefront of adopting BDS policies, would be required to adopt the IHRA definition, as would universities. Entities that refuse to do so face funding cuts.

A version of this article was originally published by SPME.

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