U.C.s pro-Israel Jewish students should not be discounted

As a U.C. Santa Cruz student who worked closely with pro-Israel Jewish students at UCSC and other U.C. campuses, I can say that the U.C. Campus Climate report on Jewish students accurately describes the experiences many of us have had over the last several years with anti-Israel bias and agitation.

The recent criticism of the report is unwarranted and indefensible (“Results marginalize, misrepresent students critical of Israel,” op-ed Aug. 24). Indeed, the campaign calling for tabling the report has been instigated by many of the same groups and individuals who have led the charge on campus against the very existence of the Jewish state — the very same ones who have abused the academic environment to promote hate. Their campaign is direct evidence of the very problem the report describes — an effort to discredit, intimidate, and silence Israel’s supporters on campus.

Contrary to the critics’ claims, the report’s recommendations will not undermine free speech or prevent criticism of Israel’s policies. Instead, it sets parameters for reasonable debate, marginalizes extremism that crosses the line into bigotry and anti-Semitism, and calls for the university to stay above the political fray.

If departments officially cosponsor one-sided events, they should also cosponsor events that present other points of view. Surely the mission of the university is to create a marketplace of ideas, not to officially fund and sponsor only one narrow and highly questionable political agenda. I hope that pro-Palestinian groups aren’t suggesting that they can’t put on a pro-Palestinian event without resorting to hate speech.

Many of the anti-Israel events on campus simply do not meet any standard of reasonable debate or reasonable criticism of Israel’s policies. The “Apartheid Weeks” I have witnessed are fanatical and irrational. Accusing Israel of “apartheid” is not analysis. It is an effort to brand the country with the most reprehensible form of racism. The organizers try to make students associate Israel with Nazi Germany and the Star of David with the swastika, and preposterously accuse Israel of genocide in order to portray it as so unspeakably evil that no one should be allowed to come to its defense. They twist the knife into the hearts of Israel’s supporters by accusing them of being like the Jewish people’s tormentors in the genocidal nightmare of the Holocaust. This cannot pass muster as legitimate and factual criticism of Israel’s policies or an invitation to debate.

Indeed, as one student in the report said, there is much to discuss, but no discussion is possible because “we are constantly confronted with the argument that there is no benefit to dialogue because Israel simply has no right to exist.”

Too often, anti-Israel events on U.C. campuses have included practitioners of hate speech such as Amir Abdel Malik Ali, whose overtly anti-Semitic diatribes are defended as “free speech.” Ironically, too, these critics who claim to be champions of free speech often are on the front lines to defend anti-Israel extremists who forcibly shut down the speakers and events sponsored by pro-Israel students at U.C. Irvine and U.C. Davis.

Such bigotry and racism should have no place on U.C. campuses. For more than 10 years, pro-Israel students have been subjected to an organized campaign whose primary goal is to vilify and de-legitimize Israel. U.C. has developed admirable policies to prevent offenses in word and deed against LGBT students, African Americans, and other minorities. No one has complained that these policies threaten free speech. Jewish students should have rights, too.

Some critics of the report complain that pro-Israel events and speakers should also be criticized. But the programs that pro-Israel students put on are conducive to dialogue and conversation. It is instructive that the Campus Climate Report on Arab/Muslim students’ experiences did not mention any anti-Palestinian events. That is because there were none.

Anti-Israel extremists can put on events on campus. But the report recommends that they should not get university funding or sponsorships to put on hate-filled events that clearly cross the line into anti-Semitism and bigotry. University officials should condemn the content of such bigotry as they do when any other minority is targeted.

The President’s Advisory Council should certainly not entertain the possibility of tabling the report on Jewish students. The good news is that we are finally being heard.

Guy Herschmann is a UCSC senior, and a former co-president of the Santa Cruz Israel Action Committee and a former campus coordinator for StandWithUs.