Countering campus hate

On a drizzly Berkeley morning last weekend, two dozen Jewish college students attended a boot camp for fighting prejudice.

Titled “Confronting Anti-Semitism,” the workshop at Berkeley Hillel offered strategies for countering anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiment on campus, a problem that has increased in recent years.

Among the real-life case studies: a note taped to a Jewish professor’s office door that read “Kill the Jewish people.” Turns out the perpetrators were honor students about to graduate. What to do? Student Ronny Beer and her group weighed in.

“This is a precursor to a hate crime,” Beer said. “We would need to educate people and show this is hurtful. We should also penalize the kids that did it.”

Sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, the workshop drew students from U.C. Santa Cruz, Cal State Chico, U.C. Berkeley and other institutions.

After studying the origins and scope of anti-Semitism, students got down to brass tacks, examining case studies of campus incidents of anti-Semitism and exploring ways to respond.

Led by Gary Levin, ADL’s Orange County-based director of traditional education programs, the Sunday morning session began with students breaking into small groups and selecting one of 23 case studies provided for analysis. Each was based on a real-life incident, but all the particular details were removed. Levin asked the students to brainstorm responses, as well as consider the pros and cons of those responses.

One group looked at a case involving a virulently anti-Semitic speaker invited by a student group to lecture on campus. The speaker blamed Jews for the slave trade and claimed they control international banking and the news media. What, asked Levin, should Jewish students do about it?

After huddling with her small group, Jasmine Joshua, a student at U.C. Santa Cruz, said she would complain that student funds were used to spread hate speech. She added that she would also organize a protest on the day of the event. However, she added with a laugh, “At Santa Cruz, everyone protests everything. It’s not original anymore.”

The case studies triggered memories of incidents from the students’ personal experience. Jessica Wiggins recalled a “teach-in” at her college on the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Only problem: No one bothered to invite anyone with a pro-Israel point of view. Rather than correct the imbalance, the administration canceled the event.

Levin then brought up the concept of hate crimes, noting that reporting even the most innocuous incident was worth the trouble. “Documentation is very important,” he told the students. “If the person were ever to commit a serious crime later, the background could be crucial.”

Other groups kicked around a few other scenarios before breaking for lunch.

Just before they adjourned, Alan Markow, former president of Hillel of Silicon Valley recounted a lesson learned from his own encounters with campus anti-Semitism.

“We did our protests with a love message,” he told the students. “We got much more coverage than those with a hate message.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.