Anti-Israelism a systematic problem on campuses, book claims

When it comes to raucous anti-Israel rallies, it’s quiet on the nation’s campuses.

Too quiet, says San Francisco’s Gary Tobin.

The chaotic, oft-violent anti-Israel campus demonstrations that occurred in 2001 and 2002 caught the eye of the media and provided an easy example for pro-Israel activists to say, “See? This is what we’re up against.”

But as the 800-person rallies of 2002 give way to the seven disgruntled socialists shouting into a bullhorn to disinterested lunchtime crowds, it would be foolish to think the problem of anti-Israel behavior on campuses has been whipped.

Far from it, says Tobin in “The Uncivil University,” a new publication put out by his Institute of Jewish & Community Research. Campus demonstrations are “just the tip of the iceberg.”

“When there are not a lot of mass rallies on campus, it makes the level of anti-Israelism more insidious and more dangerous. The next time there’s a precipitating event, you’ll see the rallies again,” he said.

The real problem doesn’t involve bullhorns and building occupations, he continued. It’s coming in the classrooms, where holding views strongly critical of Israel is not only politically correct but, increasingly, de rigueur.

The Israeli-Palestinian debate is “framed in the politics of race, which is why it has so much currency on campuses. Jews are the white colonial oppressors and the Palestinians are portrayed as the brown victims of colonization. So to be a white, Jewish student in support of Israel means you risk being branded as a racist as a 19-year-old. And that is far more insidious on a day-to-day basis than any mass rally,” said Tobin.

“The whole field of Mideast studies was hijacked by Edward Said and his Orientalism. … The field on the whole has become mediocre. People are hired and promoted on the basis of their ideology, not on scholarship. You will never find a field so thoroughly corrupted by ideology.”

In his book, co-authored by Aryeh K. Weinberg and Jenna Ferer, he provides several examples of anti-Israel machinations deep within academia, including:

n Robert Johnson, a widely respected history professor at the City University of New York, was denied tenure for “uncollegial behavior” following disagreements with fellow faculty members over his personal pro-Israel views.

n DePaul University professor Thomas Klocek was dismissed without a hearing after pro-Palestinian activists claimed he told them that “most Muslims are not terrorists, but most terrorists are Muslim.” After dismissing Klocek, Tobin notes that DePaul subsequently invited Colorado University professor Ward Churchill, who infamously referred to victims of the World Trade Center attacks as “little Eichmanns,” to lecture at the university.

Tobin encourages alumni, donors, trustees and faculty to get involved. Eighty percent of American students go to public schools, so voters ought to get involved as well.

And the outcome of this battle couldn’t be more important, he adds. Polls he has taken show college students growing more and more anti-Israel over five-year increments. A poll he will release in the spring of 1,300 university faculty members queried about opinions on Israel — “and they’re not very good.”

“We are losing the ideological battle on campus. Over the past 40 years, anti-Semitism has decreased in America, and the American public, on the whole, is still highly supportive of Israel. But given what’s going on, on campus, that’s not going to last forever.”

“The Uncivil University” by Gary Tobin, Aryeh K. Weinberg and Jenna Ferrer (299 pages, Institute for Jewish & Community Research, $23.50).

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.