Public education is in peril, and it’s not from the forces you’d expect. We all know that the state’s schools are plagued by shrinking budgets and rising enrollment. What many people don’t realize is that our public universities — the institutions we pay our tax dollars to support — are overrun with anti-Semitic rhetoric that extends beyond the boundaries of what should be considered free speech. Our children attending state universities are also frequently unable to keep kosher, or find matzah in the cafeteria during Passover.
For those who may think I am exaggerating, last week the California State Assembly felt compelled to pass House Resolution 35, condemning the growing number of anti-Jewish acts on California’s college campuses. The fact that there was even a need for such a resolution indicates a major problem that stewards of our public universities must address.
House Resolution 35 is the result of a July report released by the University of California Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture, and Inclusion. The 10-page report confirms that “Jewish students are confronting significant and difficult climate issues as a result of activities on campus which focus specifically on Israel, its right to exist and its treatment of Palestinians. The anti-Zionism and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movements and other manifestations of anti-Israel sentiment and activity create significant issues through themes and language which portray Israel and, many times, Jews in ways which project hostility, engender a feeling of isolation, and undermine Jewish students’ sense of belonging and engagement with outside communities.”
The report also described protests at various campuses where Israeli Jews are portrayed as “Nazis” who commit modern genocide. Among these protests is an annual “Israel Apartheid Week” which features students in “die-ins,” in which students pretending to be Palestinians collapse as if they had been murdered en masse by Israeli Jews. During these protests, the Star of David integrated with the swastika is a common symbol.
These shocking findings prompted Assembly member Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), a co-author of the legislation, to state, “Our students deserve to learn in an environment of peace and tolerance, on campuses that are safe havens for knowledge. This is our common goal.”
My heart was breaking as I read these details. As an organization, the Jewish Community Federation spends considerable time and resources working to create a more peaceful, pluralistic society in Israel. And yet here, in our own country, we run a very real risk that our children will encounter dangerous, aggressive behavior as they take their first steps into adulthood.
Does this sound like the kind of situation we should expect from a university system whose motto is “Let there be light”?
This kind of behavior must not be tolerated. In the Bay Area, where political correctness and free speech are often used as a battering ram, I have no trouble maintaining that there is a vast difference between expressing a viewpoint and making a threat. One is an acceptable form of behavior, the other is not.
I also find it disheartening that college students can no doubt easily find a gluten-free, vegan muffin and a soy latte, but nothing to eat if they are observant Jews.
So what can be done? First, I encourage Jewish parents to read the report at http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/documents/campus_climate_jewish.pdf. Pay attention in particular to the ten recommendations at the end of the report that say U.C. should, in part: adopt a hate speech–free campus policy; develop cultural training; adopt a definition of anti-Semitism; adequately address the dietary needs of Jewish students, faculty and staff on U.C. campuses; and develop model practices that accommodate religious observances (holy days).
If you (or your child) are considering attending one of the U.C. schools, ask campus officials if they have read the report and whether any of the recommended policies are in effect on campus.
Next, I challenge the U.C. system to produce a report card within 12 months that highlights whether any of these policies have been adopted.
In the meantime, and for always, the federation will continue to fund all the university Hillels in Northern California to ensure a safe haven and a welcoming atmosphere for Jewish students to be with one another. Supporting our Hillels has never been more needed and more important in my lifetime.
In both ways, we will help the U.C. system uphold its motto — we will keep the light of conscience shining down on this process and ensure that anti-Semitism has no place in our state’s university system.
Jennifer Gorovitz is the CEO of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma and the Peninsula.