Few disputes fought by student governments have ever been as acrimonious as those raging intermittently across this state over whether to push University of California regents and the trustees of other universities to join an international campaign against Israel. This movement seeks to boycott Israeli companies and academics, demands divestment from companies doing business there and calls for trade sanctions.
Directly involved are only the small minority of students who vote in school elections. But the student officers they select purport to represent all students, even those unaware of what they’re up to.
Leading the campus boycott movement, known as BDS (boycott, divest and sanction), is an outfit called Students for Justice in Palestine, whose membership includes many foreign students. These folks keep maligning the Jewish state even while the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel are affirmed. They ignore obvious human rights violations by countries such as China, Syria and Iran and those of the murderous, head-chopping Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (often called ISIL or ISIS).
Now they’ve gotten Local 2865 of the United Auto Workers — the union representing 13,000-plus graduate student teaching assistants in the UC system — not only to adopt BDS as its policy but also to advocate that members “teach … the struggle of the Palestinian people.” The union’s early December vote was 1,411 for BDS and 749 against, with only about 15 percent of the teaching assistants voting.
Both the UAW local and the Palestinian student group claim they’re not anti-Semitic, only anti-Israel, yet the original promoters of the BDS movement include officially-designated terrorist organizations like Hamas, some with charters that call not only for destroying Israel, but also for killing Jews everywhere. So this is a bogus distinction.
Following rancorous meetings, UC student governments at UCLA, Irvine, Berkeley, Riverside, San Diego and Santa Cruz have voted, like the union, to ask that university regents join the BDS movement. Regents show no signs of complying.
The union stance also raises key questions about academic integrity: Will UC officials do anything if and when teaching assistants inevitably bring anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric to their classrooms?
Previously, UC administrators circulated a memo forbidding this. But it’s uncertain what they might do if and when it happens. This is the same UC that did nothing two years ago when camouflage-clad Arab students at Berkeley used mockups of automatic rifles to stop and harass any students they could identify as Jewish — and no one else. An action singling out Jews like that, of course, is the very definition of anti-Semitism.
The hatred behind the UAW local’s action was never more open than at one Berkeley session shortly before the union vote. Lisa Kawani, executive director of the San Francisco-based Arab Resource and Organizing Center, speaking for the union’s BDS Caucus, responded to a Latina graduate student’s statement that she is Jewish, supports Israel and felt “a strong sense of hatred” in the meeting by saying, “As long as you choose to be on that side, I’m going to continue to hate you.”
Added Kawani, —… liberal democracy loves to make it seem like everyone has a right to speak. … I don’t think this form of liberal democracy has a place in terms of real struggle.” So much for free speech.
In short, don’t bother us with any facts, we’re going to keep hating.
"Make no mistake," responded Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a UC Santa Cruz lecturer and co-founder of an anti-boycott organization, "calling for the elimination of the world’s only Jewish state is anti-Semitic. Not only do the United States and Canada officially consider denying Jews the right to self-determination a prime example of anti-Semitism, but the vast majority of Jews … see BDS as deeply anti-Semitic…"
Besides that, she contends, the contentious, emotional battles over BDS resolutions at UC campuses and others, including Stanford University, “have created a hostile environment for many Jewish students.
"The BDS campaigns are a front for a larger coordinated effort to demonize, delegitimize and ultimately destroy Jews and the Jewish state."
There is no way university administrators in California can resolve the generations-old Arab-Israel conflict, but they must keep their campuses civil, keep academic instruction free from prejudice and prevent the rise of racist, poisonous anti-Semitism on their campuses. Will they?