University of California Intolerance Policy Stirs Debate

27 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

AM Alert: Seeking to address anti-Semitism, UC tries again to write ‘principles against intolerance’.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The University of California is going back to the drawing board Monday after a proposed policy on intolerance was rejected by Jewish organizations that say it does not go far enough to address anti-Semitism on UC’s 10 campuses. State Department definition of anti-Semitism, which includes comments “demonizing Israel,” be adopted as part of the policy; that set off further controversy as supporters of Palestinians and faculty objected to what they regarded as infringement of their free speech. The university system has become a focal point in the discussion of freedom of expression on campus following several high-profile incidents, including one in which swastikas were spray-painted on a Jewish fraternity house. The young immigrant recalls her family feeling targeted everywhere: “in the classroom, in the workspace, from federal officers and from neighbors.” An aspiring medical student, she dedicated herself to her schooling and was feeling comfortable in the U.S. The UC’s governing board considered a policy rejecting intolerance and upholding academic freedom drafted by the president’s office at its meeting in September.

But an anti-Semitic barb by a fellow student while exchanging congratulations on their graduation, reminded her that she was not quite on safe ground; that anti-Semitism on campus was real and had grown ugly over her four years at the prestigious West Coast university. In a recent study by Brandeis University in Massachusetts, one-third of U.S. and Canadian Jewish college students reported having been verbally harassed during the past year because they were Jewish. Her remarks drew criticism from free speech advocates and those critical of Israel’s policy toward Palestine, who said they feared it could be used to silence them. “I do believe it is the most authoritative and well-respected definition of antisemitism that is consistent with the understanding of the vast majority of the Jewish community,” said Rossman-Benjamin, who is scheduled to speak Monday. Among the participants are regents Norm Pattiz, who called the draft statement “frankly insulting” to the Jewish community at last month’s meeting, and former Assembly Speaker John A. The study, which polled some 12,000 students, found that nearly three-quarters said they had been exposed to at least one of six anti-Semitic statements, including the claims that Jews have too much power and comparison between Israelis and Nazis.

The situation prompted 32 national organizations representing social, educational, civil and humanitarian causes, to write a letter this past June urging the UC Board of Regents to adopt the current U.S. Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, said it would be difficult for the board’s working group to draft a policy that more precisely defines intolerance without infringing on free speech protections. “In all but the most extreme circumstances, they’re going to find that the First Amendment is an obstacle that they cannot surmount and shouldn’t,” he said. His relationship with UCSF extends back at least a few years: Brown was treated there for prostate cancer in 2012, and in April, he announced a two-year, $3-million initiative to advance data-driven “precision medicine” that will be hosted by the university. THIS IS THE END: As fires rage and the water dries, the California Natural Resources Agency is trying to plan how the state can prepare for and adapt to the worst effects of climate change.

It’s now taking public comment on its draft “Safeguarding California” report, starting with a 10 a.m. workshop at the California Energy Commission on 9th Street. The need for activism to check pernicious anti-Semitism was underscored when a UCLA candidate’s eligibility for a student government position was questioned by Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) activists simply because she was Jewish. The incident drew wide media attention. “A lot of students were taken aback,” says Rabbi Dovid Gurevitch, the Chabad Rabbi at UCLA for 9 years. “They were shocked to realize that this was not only about Israel; it was about their Jewish identity. They’re among the speakers for today’s “women’s empowerment” seminar hosted by California Women Lead, a nonprofit that trains women for elected and appointed office.

They never had to deal with it before.” Hodara remembers another incident during her sophomore year, when she and other students met on the main campus green to hear the results of a student election. While there, she noticed a number of students who brought a large Palestinian flag to the gathering. “I approached the students and asked them why they were bringing international politics into campus politics.

But radicalized elements working to promote BDS over the past two years, and the corresponding and related rise in anti-Semitic activity have led to a hostile, intimidating climate on campus. In addition to a direct response, Gurevitch believes that enhancing Jewish students’ identity through education, engagement and community building, is strategically critical. “Many students are alienated from their own Jewish identity or apathetic, so the long-term strategic answer is not demonstrations or a show of force, but rather a stronger sense of their identity and greater engagement in Judaism.” To this end, the rabbi continues to invest in his classes and programming, leading a class on the Land of Israel, and supporting students one-on-one so they don’t feel intimidated when attacked. Whether it is wearing a kippah or Star of David on campus, or affixing a mezuzah to their dorm-room doorpost, encouraging students to stand tall in their Judaism is “the ultimate response.” At UC Berkeley, Rabbi Gil and Bracha Leeds are also planning a day of Jewish pride with their student board. Rabbi Shmary Brownstein, director of Chabad of UC Davis, responded to the incident by meeting with fraternity brothers and organizing a Jewish pride Shabbat dinner. “It turned out to be quite an uplifting experience. The students here refuse to feel victimized by these events and are proud of their Judaism.” In fact, not long after the student senate adopted the BDS policy, a Jewish student challenged the resolution and the policy was rescinded.

Speaking for Chabad on Campus International, Rabbi Yossy Gordon, Executive Vice-President of the division says that Chabad campus representatives are concerned about students feeling vulnerable, and are “very sensitive about providing them with a safe and secure environment where they feel supported.” At the same time, Chabad on Campus is ever dedicated to fostering Jewish identity by taking positive steps forward. “The stronger and the more united the Jewish people are, the weaker and less effective the forces against us,” says Gordon. Like Gurevitch and the other Chabad representatives working on campus, he insists that increasing efforts to promote commitment to Judaism goes a long way to addressing the problem systemically. “The same irrational thinking that leads someone to become anti-Semitic is the same super rational thinking that leads us to be overwhelmingly, and without compromise, accepting and welcoming to every single Jew. We take that negativity and turn it on its face.” While Chabad staunchly supports Israel as a Jewish homeland, campus rabbis do their best to ensure that every student is welcomed with open arms no matter their politics. In fact, a significant segment of Jewish students have been drawn into the anti-Israel momentum; a vocal group of Jewish protesters loudly condemns many of Israel’s policies and actions at campus rallies, unaware, perhaps, that it is often anti-Semitism that drives so much of the anti-Israel activism. Hodara found that the Jewish student community at Chabad consists of an “eclectic” group of students from a wide range of backgrounds, evidence, she says, that despite their left-wing politics regarding Israel, these Jewish students are just as welcome at the Chabad House.

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