Fueling a roiling debate over antisemitism on college campuses, more than 500 alumni from the University of California wrote a letter to UC President Janet Napolitano on Tuesday urging the UCs to adopt a number of measures to rein in antisemitic acts against students.
Joining a coalition of 23 organizations that simultaneously sent a missive to the UC president, the alumni called on UC administrators to adopt the State Department definition of antisemitism, which includes the demonization or delegitimization of Israel along with a more religious or ethnic prejudice or hatred directed against Jews.
The students called on the UCs to train campus staff and authorities to “identify anti-Semitic behavior, and direct them to develop clear protocols for addressing campus antisemitism with the same promptness and vigor as they do other forms of racial, ethnic, and gender bigotry and discrimination.”
They called for greater on-campus initiatives aiming to educate students about antisemitism and anti-Jewish behavior.
“No student should feel harassed, intimidated, threatened or marginalized. We implore you to better protect Jewish students at the University of California,” they said, commending three UC student bodies for adopting resolutions condemning antisemitism.
The alumni letter came just a day after 57 rabbis from California and 104 UC faculty members sent a similar request to UC administrators urging the adoption of the State Department definition, which appears to be at the crux of the debate.
Critics of a resolution based on the State Department definition say it would restrict students’ ability to criticize Israel on campus.
An open letter by more than 250 members of Jewish Voice for Peace asked the State Department to amend its definition fearing it could be used to “silence critics of Israel.” Other critics have said lumping together criticism of Israel with genuine antisemitism would undermine real instances of antisemitic behavior.
Meanwhile, a similar bill calling on the UCs to adopt a resolution condemning antisemitism on campus was presented to the California state senate in late March, and passed the first hurdle.
The Brandeis Center released a report earlier this year together with Trinity College indicating that at least 54% of Jewish students experienced or witnessed antisemitic behavior on campus in 2014.
Many believe a situation where faculty or campus groups strongly criticize the Jewish state for its policies in the West Bank or Gaza Strip has created an environment where Jewish students feel threatened in class, on campus or in their residences.
Flyers discovered around UC Santa Barbara last October blamed the Mossad for causing the 9/11 terror attacks.
Swastikas were discovered daubed on a fraternity at UC Davis just a few months ago.
And protesting Israeli policies, Students for Justice in Palestine has erected fake checkpoints across the UCs, even spurring one student at UC Los Angeles to file a complaint over “harassment.”