view of a brick and cement structure
The Henry Madden Library at California State University, Fresno (Photo/Wikimedia Commons-Nightryder84 CC BY-SA 3.0)

Jewish power trope rears its head at Fresno State University

Sometimes, anti-Israel sentiment on campus crosses the line from the offensive to the delusional. Case in point: the recent matter at California State University, Fresno, where a failed search for a Middle East studies professor mutated into scurrilous charges of undue Jewish influence.

As detailed in this story, two Fresno State professors known for their ardent anti-Israel views claimed that the search for a new Middle East professorship, named for the late Palestinian American professor Edward Said, was called off because local Jewish and pro-Israel groups pressured the university to do so.

Only one problem: It never happened, at least according to multiple Fresno-based Jewish leaders, who said they first learned of the canceled search by reading about it in the newspaper.

The university also denied outside influence led to the decision to cancel the search. The reason, according to a university spokesperson, had to do with the composition of the search committee. Moreover, the search was merely postponed, not altogether canceled.

Since we now live in a post-fact world, it is a shame that these professors would spread a hateful lie — one that is tied to anti-Semitic tropes about underhanded Jewish power — and pass it off as a matter of course.

We are reminded of the classic Jewish tale about the impact of lashon hara, or the spreading of gossip and lies. The metaphor is of a down pillow, broken open, its feathers scattered to the four winds. Once the lies get out, there is no stuffing them back into the pillowcase.

These professors told a self-serving lie. Despite the vehement denials that followed, the damage was most likely done, and the Jewish community was left with a black eye.

We hope that the residents of Fresno, as well as the Fresno State community, can look beyond the surface of the original claim and see this for what it is: an unabashed smear on Jews and those who support Israel. As a puzzling but welcome postscript, Vida Samiian, the professor who first leveled the anti-Semitic charge, has left her teaching position at Fresno State.

As has been reported in the pages of J. in recent months, these are tough times for Jews in America. Anti-Semitic vandalism, graffiti and violence are on the upswing. Anti-Israel and anti-Jewish rhetoric on college campuses continues unabated. We are not imagining this.

It is up to us as a Jewish community to stand united, to counter false claims and hate. It’s a job that never ends.

J. Editorial Board

The J. Editorial Board pens weekly editorials as the voice of J.