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August 27, 2020 1:54 pm

Progressive Academics Voice Support for Jewish USC Student Over Anti-Zionist Harassment

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The University of Southern California campus. Photo: Padsquad19 via Wikimedia Commons.

A group of progressive American scholars have come to the defense of a Jewish student whose experience of antisemitism led to her resignation as University of Southern California student vice president earlier this month.

In a statement published this week under the title “Are you now or have you ever been a Zionist?” — a deliberate nod to the McCarthy-era harassment of leftists in the 1950s — the Alliance for Academic Freedom (AAF) said that it “condemns the treatment of Rose Ritch … following a campaign that featured denunciations of her support for Israel, including some with antisemitic overtones.”

In an open letter published on Aug. 6, Ritch said that she was stepping down because she had been “harassed and pressured for weeks by my fellow students because they opposed one of my identities.”

She explained: “It is not because I am a woman, nor because I identify as queer, femme, or cisgender. All of these identities qualified me as electable when the student body voted last February. But because I also openly identify as a Zionist, a supporter of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, I have been accused by a group of students of being unsuitable as a student leader. I have been told that my support for Israel has made me complicit in racism, and that, by association, I am racist. Students launched an aggressive social media campaign to ‘impeach [my] Zionist a**.’ This is antisemitism, and cannot be tolerated at a University that proclaims to ‘nurture an environment of mutual respect and tolerance.’”

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Ritch’s letter drew a supportive note from USC President Carol Folt, who told students in an email that she condemned “the antisemitic attacks on her character and the online harassment she endured because of her Jewish and Zionist identities.”

In its statement, the AAF said that while Folt’s statement was welcome, “the administration and faculty [of USC] failed to speak out forcefully and early enough.”

The group noted that “Ritch is far from the only college student who has been harassed in recent years for their pro-Israel politics.”

The statement observed: “Her story is an important reminder that educational institutions should actively promote discussion about contentious issues like the Middle East. They should encourage students to become informed about the history and nature of Zionism, which, according to standard definitions, is the movement of the Jewish people for self-determination in a land or state of their own. Rather than hurling the term as an epithet, or falsely equating Zionism with a parade of horribles, students should be able to appreciate its origins, meaning, and complexity.”

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