Thursday, March 17, 2011 | return to: news & features, local


Feds on hunt for anti-Semitism at U.C. Santa Cruz

by emma silvers, staff writer

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Allegations of anti-Semitism at U.C. Santa Cruz have attracted the attention of the federal government.

In response to a June 2009 complaint filed by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin that the Santa Cruz campus had become a hostile environment for Jews, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights launched a major investigation this week into complaints of anti-Semitic activities at the school.

“There has been a pervasive problem at the university since about 2001, in which events sponsored by the university, both academic departments and residential college, have crossed the line from anti-Israel to anti-Semitic,” said Rossman-Benjamin, a lecturer in Hebrew at U.C. Santa Cruz.

A prominent figure in the Jewish Studies department, Ross-Benjamin said she filed the complaint after witnessing many university-sponsored events that made her and other members of the Jewish community on campus feel alienated, uncomfortable or attacked.

BAsanta cruz Tammi Rossman-Benjamin
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin
In November 2010, anti-Semitic harassment on campus became punishable by law under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which mandates that federally funded schools ensure that their programs and activities are free from discrimination based on race, color or national origin. Religion had not previously been covered; students of Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faiths are now protected. A school stands to lose federal funding if it is found to be in violation of the law.

As of March 16, OCR had notified the university of the investigation, but U.C. officials had not yet seen the specific allegations, according to U.C. Santa Cruz campus counsel Carole Rossi.

“We will, of course, fully cooperate with such an investigation,” Rossi said in a statement. “And as OCR noted in its communication with the campus, that office’s decision to review an individual’s allegations in no way implies that the agency has determined that the allegations have merit.”

But for Rossman-Benjamin — who says she has been complaining about the atmosphere on campus and how it might affect Jewish students for the past decade — it has been gratifying for her concerns to get any sort of recognition at all.

“It’s disturbing on a number of levels, but one primary concern, as a faculty member, is that this [anti-Semitism] was often coming from faculty,” she said, citing examples of professors who took “virulent” anti-Israel stands in the classroom, and an academic panel sponsored by eight academic departments in which visiting professors directed students on how to work for divestment from Israel.

“If we were talking about events thrown by student groups, like Students for Justice in Palestine or a Muslim student union, that’s what those groups do. I understand that,” she said. “But coming from the university, it really legitimizes it, makes it acceptable at an academic level, and that seems unethical. It’s an abuse of academic freedom.”

News of the investigation originally was released by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, an S.F.-based think tank.

“It is only the second major systemic anti-Semitism case that OCR has opened and may have important precedential value,” Kenneth L. Marcus, head of agency’s Anti-Semitism Initiative, said in the release. The investigation’s outcome, he added, will “demonstrate whether OCR means what it says about its commitment to addressing hate and bias in federally funded higher education programs.”

While stressing that the OCR office acts as a neutral party, a fact-finder, Department of Education spokesperson Jim Bradshaw said OCR will investigate “whether the university had notice of the hostile environment, and, if so, whether the university had an adequate process to respond to complaints about it.”

In regard to whether or not the U.C. Santa Cruz administrators had notice of the environment, Rossman-Benjamin says there’s no question they did — not only because she has repeatedly told them about it, but because students have, too.

“One student wrote a very poignant and compelling e-mail to a bunch of administrators saying ‘This is hurtful to me, I urge you to not sponsor this,’ ” Rossman-Benjamin said, alluding to a university-sponsored event at which there was going to be fundraising for anti-Israel organizations.

“It comes down to academic integrity,” she added. “If you were a student, how would you feel if you couldn’t speak your mind in class because you knew your professor was very anti-Israel, had signed a boycott petition?

“People talk a lot about diversity and inclusiveness and principles of community here. But that doesn’t seem to extend to the Jewish students.”


Posted by grf
03/17/2011  at  08:11 PM

Ross-Benjamin, who is Jewish, identifies with Israel. Anti-Israel sentiment makes her feel uncomfortable. Therefore to be anti-Israel is to be anti-Jewish.

Nowhere does this article cite any alleged instances of anti-Semitic acts. No swastikas, no acts of violence, no hurling of epithets. What we do have are a number of students and faculty exercising their Constitutional right to engage in political protest and discussion.

All Ross-Benjamin can come up with is hurt feelings and discomfort. If her coterie of Israel-supporting students wish for a Nanny to comfort them, then they should hire one, but do not confuse the purpose of a University with that.

This is one of the more blatant examples of demands by supporters of Israel for special treatment. If this were Palestinian students taking the same arguments about pro-Israel activity on campus, Ross-Benjamin would suddenly become a free-speech advocate, arguing they should grow up and learn to argue back, after all that’s what they are there for. 

If her hypothetical student feels he/she can’t speak up in class because they know the Prof has a different opinion, then that student does need to grow up fast. Students have been challenging Profs who hold diametrically opposed ideas for generations - that’s one large reason Universities exist.

Ross-Benjamin should be ashamed of herself, but there’s little chance of that. She has no concern with academic freedom or integrity or open debate. What she wants is to ban any and all critical discussion of Israel from campus under the guise of fighting anti-Semitism.

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Posted by Dan Spitzer
03/17/2011  at  10:28 PM
grf is Himself a Proven Anti-Semite....

We know this from his telling posts in J on line’s commentary site.

As I always say about this Jew-hating infant when he posts here, ignore him. Like Michael Lerner, he just wants attention and it is best not to give it to this bigoted ignoramus…

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Posted by theother
03/18/2011  at  12:31 PM
Information lacking here...

what event made Ross-Benjamin uncomfortable? We are given hardly any information about it.

Boycotts are a legitimate means to fight against injustice. If students are threatened because some professors have differing political views than themselves, they should secular universities.

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Posted by craven_maven
03/18/2011  at  01:43 PM
Good, At last

Maybe now the US Dept. of Education can respond to the complaints of anti-Semitic harassment of Jews on the UC Irvine campus, which it previously ignored, stating that, sorry, religious descrimination was not their business. This is the same school at which Muslims prevented Israeli Ambassador Orin from speaking, Feb. 2010.

Let’s call a spade a spade. Anti-Semitism arises on campuses from two main interrelated sources:

1) The far Left, and
2) Muslims.

The almost uniformly very liberal faculty of American universities provides an environment friendly to anti-Semitism, as was evidenced by the over 100 UC Irvine faculty members who signed a petition to drop charges against the Muslims who disruppted Amb. Oren’s speech. Lest we forget, the Duke faculty never retracted their unfounded racist condemnation of white lacrosse players at Duke Univ.

And when will the US Dept. of Education begin to clean up the cesspool of anti-Semitism which is UC Berkeley?

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Posted by Dan Spitzer
03/19/2011  at  09:43 AM
Well Now, Some Anti-Semitic Loonies have Come Out from Under their Rocks

like grf, theother is yet one more anti-Semite who has returned to post his vitriol here as he has on numerous other occasions. And as I did when it comes to grf, I strongly urge all readers of J on line to ignore this bigoted anal passage.

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Posted by grf
03/19/2011  at  02:37 PM
Michael Lerner? Dan . . .

were you the guy who papered Lerner’s home with threats and anti-Semitic images? I sure hope not, but you do hate an awful lot and you don’t sound as though you’re playing with a full deck.

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Posted by jeffoxen
03/20/2011  at  08:28 PM
I hate you Mr Lerner

Who is Lerner?I believe he is the type of Jews who worked for Nazi’s Judentats in Ghetto.As Russian Jew who knowswhat does mean Anti-Semitism in action I can say honestly I hate these people(?) with every cell of my body.And I’m very sorry to understand that there are too many Lerner like persons among the US Jewry.They hope to find love among local Muslim Anti-Semites in that way,it is huge mistake…..Nazi murdered
these persons day later only in East European Ghettos.I heard Lerners Muslim friends near Israel consulate here in SF ,they screamed “Hitler did’t finished the job”,i believe the blood of 3 month girl from Fogel family is on hands of lerners and their allies

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Posted by iranian_boy
03/25/2011  at  06:42 AM
Where Anti-Semitism doesn't exist for sure

I’ve been in Iran for the past 8 months and to this day, not one sign nor not one person who has said anything hostile to jews….if you do they think you’re psycho and have issues…

So this is the Iran that they keep saying is the greatest threat..yada yada yad…....

When I was in the US, I did feel some anti Jewish feelings and that is primarily because the Jews attack Moslems “indirectly” on news channels like Fox News and CNN and that in turn makes Moslems very upset and they tend to think negatively of Jews….

But for the last 9 months I’ve had some peace of mind, politically speaking,...i haven’t seen nothing hoenstly but genuine respect and coutesy amongst people….however, people here do seem to be a bit into themselves and anti-social but overall there is no hate…people have their own daily issues to deal with….

in the US there is a tendency to attack other groups because overall minorities feel left out of the mainstream socially, so they focus their efforts on attacking one another because they have too much time on their hands…afterall they are not “really” welcomed in America as true Americans…..they are not getting invited to Golf CLubs, they do not get calls from people of power telling them to join a certain deal because their is a lot of money into it….there is an unspoken bond amongst homogenous people which makes them care for one another….you will never find or experience that in the US because it is a heterogenous place and most people are there for the money and convenience of life….but they are definetely not enjoying life….
let me give you an example…the malls in the US are very convenient and clean and those with good income do find that life is convenient, but they hardly enjoy their shopping moment: why?  because they walk into the mall, make a purchase, get a “thank you, have a nice day” response and then its back into the heterogenous crowd which doesn’t care to call and see how you’re doing….

whereas in a homogenous society, you go shopping to the mall, parking is a headache, shopper doesn’t carry everything but when you go in to buy something you feel you know the seller for years, then after you’re done, you get back into the crowd that you know feels, experiences and believes in the same things that you do….

in your homogenous society, you never feel wierd walking up to a family or a group and taling to them randomly because you are welcome and more so because they genuinly want you to do so…..
in a society like the US,  you walk up to a family of Asians and they act like you are bothering their iphone well arranged and coordinated daily outing….

and at night, everyone heads back home to watch a number of channels that spew either hate or shows about people that are celebreties for all the wrong reasons and then it hits you:  am I really workign this hard because I want my kids to grow up in this society?  Is it worth the sacrifice?  Is it worth getting buried in a land where no one will remember me other than some old folks later on….Heck no, I want to LIVE…I want to be with my Own People, I want to live in a house made of concrete and bricks and not woodsy ones….I am tired of things being so organized and am tired of the law being everywhere….I want to make an illegal U-turn and feel ok because I know the cop is from my land and will let it go, instead of being a guy from Arkansas who argues “you broke the law” ...............
you only live once…...don;t wait until you are old to realize that you sacrificed too much…....DIASPORA sucks

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Posted by Dan Spitzer
03/25/2011  at  07:01 PM
Please Stay in Iran

And while you are in that lovely, open-minded society, pay a visit to the former US Embassy which has become a theme park of anti-Semitism. There, thousands of Iranians have exalted in cartoons and posters of evil hooknosed Jews doing evil to those fine, upstanding Persians.

Finally, do attend one of the many demonstrations where porcine Persians by the thousands hop up and down, shouting “Death to America, Death to Israel.”

Yes, those Persians are fine, civilized, upstanding representatives of our species…

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Posted by nobiggovduh
03/28/2011  at  06:21 PM
This is Not Israel

This teacher seems to be under the impression that this is Israel, where anything except absolute support for Israel is illegal.

There is a reason many academic organizations are parting ways with Israeli schools.

Students fund raising for Palestine is not Anti Semitic. Nor is a teacher saying he does not agree with how Palestinians are treated.

A university is a place of learning and passion. Everyone is developing their own opinions in a place of learning. For Jewish students I would say do not be scared, advocate and educate your friends on your point of view.

I’m gay and grateful for the support that Israel has shown for LGBT people. But as an LGBT person I see the same logical hangups being used against another minority.

I understand the threat faced by Israel. But you have reached the point where you are perpetuating that threat.

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