There were so many new and/or successful pro-Israel initiatives on U.S. campuses in 2013, that, in order to explain how creative and successful each one was, we had to divide the article into a two-part series.
This is the second part, the first ran on December 31, “Guess What: 2013 was a Great Pro-Israel Year on US Campuses!”
Most of the stars reported here were born out of some stalwart’s refusal to allow the anti-Israel forces to get away with the kind of mischief they have enjoyed for far too long on far too many campuses.
Hat’s off to the initial seven and to the following five:
8. A brand new, student conceived of and run organization was created in late 2013 in response to a specific event, but so generalizable, it’s a surprise it took this long for pro-Israel students on U.S. campuses to create.
The name of this new initiative is Students for Accuracy about Israeli and Palestinian Affairs. According to Daniel Mael, co-founder and Brandeis University junior from Newton, Massachusetts, SAIPA was not created as a “hasbara” organization. Instead, it is intended to ensure that public conversations or events about the Arab-Israeli conflict take place before an audience that has been provided with accurate facts and appropriate context.
Think of SAIPA as a CAMERA-like organization that deals with campus events about the Middle East, rather than with media coverage of the Middle East.
Mael, whose op-ed in The Jewish Press described a pro-Israel event at Brandeis last spring that went wrong and which was one of the main inspirations for SAIPA, and co-founder and fellow Brandesian Guy Morag launched SAIPA in October. It became an approved student organization at Brandeis in December.
9. Tammy Rossman-Benjamin teaches Hebrew Language at the University of California, Santa Cruz. A few years ago she and a colleague, Leila Beckwith, started the AMCHA Initiative, the mission of which is to investigate, document, educate about, and combat antisemitism on U.S. college campuses. If this list were not year-specific, the AMCHA Initiative would be on the list. But what Rossman-Benjamin did in her personal capacity in 2013 has earned her a spot.
The Hebrew professor originally filed a Complaint alleging anti-Jewish discrimination by California colleges in 2009. But the Office of Civil Rights, the entity which has jurisdiction over such claims, rejected Rossman-Benjamin’s complaint and two others alleging anti-Semitism at California campuses this summer. Rossman-Benjamin refused to accept the dismissal.
The mistakes made by the OCR which Rossman-Benjamin pointed out in the appeal she filed in October – ones that are made constantly and nearly universally by academic institutions – is the confusion between “free speech” and “academic freedom” to make horrible, false statements about Jews and/or the Jewish state, and support of such events by the academic institutions themselves. The latter constitutes an element of discriminatory harassment, one that is not blanketed with immunity with constitutional protections, even when those may at times may be applicable for individual speakers.
So whether the Office of Civil Rights is willing to recognize Rossman-Benjamin’s painstakingly thorough appeal as valid, her efforts to require academic institutions as well as the U.S. Office of Civil Rights to apply appropriate legal standards and offer legal protection to victims of anti-Semitic activities on U.S. campuses is heroic and a model to be emulated.
10. An example of pro-Israel (or simply anti-anti-Semitic) activity similar to Rossman-Benjamin’s was undertaken by several pro-Israel Brooklyn College students who refused to accept their ouster from an anti-Israel event on campus.
On February 7, Brooklyn College hosted an event co-sponsored by its own political science department promoting the economic and legal warfare movement against Israel known as BDS (Boycott of, Divestment from and Sanctions against Israel). Efforts to remove the school’s official promotion of the event went unheeded.
But several intrepid pro-Israel students ultimately gained access to the event, armed with factual material they intended to distribute at the conclusion of the event, and with points they hoped to raise during the question and answer session.
The Greek chorus chanting academic freedom and diversity of views and free speech who insisted the one-sided anti-Israel BDS panel be hosted at Brooklyn College somehow became mute when it came to the rights of pro-Israel students. The four were not only not permitted to share their views, they were rounded up and forced from the room within minutes of entering the event, and later publicly and officially labeled as troublemakers by the university.
Luckily a (different) pro-Israel student surreptitiously made an audio recording of the event from which it became clear that the pro-Israel students who had been expelled had not disrupted the BDS speakers or the other audience members. Were it not for the audio recording, the public castigation of those four pro-Israel students as troublemakers would have been the last word on the subject. Because the recording was made, however, Brooklyn College and its parent body, City University of New York, were compelled to institute an “independent” investigation and issue a report.
The report itself, while prepared by seemingly qualified legal experts, was deeply flawed. At this time, nearly a year after the infamous fascistic BDS event at Brooklyn College, three of the four pro-Israel students are still seeking appropriate responses from CUNY and the Brookyn College administration. Those students are Melanie Goldberg and Ari and Michael Ziegler.
The reason these three students merit placement on the list of pro-Israel bright lights is that, unlike the vast majority of pro-Israel victims of unfair treatment on U.S. campuses, they refused to simply accept the unfair treatment, even when it was endorsed or actually meted out by the administrations of their own academic institution.
It may seem like a small step. It isn’t. It requires enormous fortitude and those students, and all who supported them, deserve a great deal of credit.
11. Crossing back over to the other coast, we find a bright pro-Israel light at Claremont McKenna College in California. Yaron Raviv was a reluctant actor in the pro-and anti-Israel wars on campuses. But he came through not only by doing what was right, he has also refused to accept the enormously ugly vilification of him because of the steps he took.
Raviv is an economics professor at CMC. Although Israeli by birth, Raviv had not been overly involved in campus activism regarding the Middle East conflict.
But last spring, on March 4, a Jewish student called him, practically in tears over an anti-Israel event taking place at Claremont McKenna. Students from Pitzer College, one of the other schools in the Claremont Colleges Consortium, were blocking the entrance to a cafeteria at CMC. These were members of Students for Justice in Palestine, and they were dressed up as Israeli soldiers, pretending they were manning a checkpoint at the cafeteria entrance, demanding students show their college identification cards in order to pass the checkpoint and go into the cafeteria.
The Jewish students were upset after a day of encountering other ugly demonstrations at Pitzer. Raviv left his office where he had been grading papers, and went to the mock checkpoint. He observed that the SJP mock “checkpoint” violated school policy by blocking the entrance. Although the students moved several times when the cafeteria manger demanded they do so, they quickly filed back into a line blocking the door.
What followed was ugly.
Raviv claims the lead SJP student, Najib Hamideh, demanded Raviv show his identification, Raviv refused, but when Hamideh saw Raviv show the ID to a campus security officer whom Raviv had called, Hamideh shouted out: “You are faculty! We will hunt you down.” Raviv admitted he then cursed at the student and called him a “cockroach.” Hamideh insisted the term is a racial slur against Palestinian Arabs. Hamideh said he could not recall whether he said he would hunt down Raviv, but a CMC investigation found that others present heard him say it.
Both Claremont McKenna and Pitzer investigated the incident. Raviv followed the instructions of the institutions and refused to speak publicly about the incident during the investigation. Hamideh’s allegations, however, reached far and wide. The student charged Raviv with being a racist. That charge was fanned by Hamideh’s “faculty advocate,” Pitzer’s Daniel Segal, who spoke out repeatedly although he had not been present at the incident. Segal was also required to refrain from public comment during the pendency of the investigations. He ignored that.
The vilification of Raviv went viral. There were dozens of media accounts of an Israeli professor cursing and making racist remarks to an Arab student.
The single most significant factor, of course, was not reported. The name calling took place immediately after the street theater mock checkpoint. Hamideh was dressed as an Israeli soldier, not attired in a keffiyah or with any other Palestinian identifying clothing or accessories.
He also has entirely western features. There was no way Raviv could have assumed Hamideh was anything other than a fair-skinned American student dressed up in Israeli fatigues. They had never met before and Raviv did not know Hamideh’s name. This, and the fact that “cockroach” is not Israeli slang for Arab or Palestinian, should have served as a warning to those repeating Hamideh and Segal’s charges of racism against Raviv.
Because Raviv followed the universities’ instructions not to discuss the incident while the schools were conducting internal investigations, his side of the story was not publicly aired until much later than were the initial reports slamming Raviv as a racist. Those reports also falsely described Raviv as an opponent of free speech who tried to shut down the demonstrations. All he tried to do, as corroborated by witnesses, was to get the SJP students to comply with the CMC demonstrations policy.
Raviv filed a grievance with Pitzer College against Hamideh and Segal’s assaults on Raviv’s reputation, but Pitzer rejected his claims as meritless without ever interviewing Raviv. Claremont McKenna found that Raviv should not have used foul language at the student, but agreed with Raviv that the SJP students violated CMC’s policies.
Whether we should include what happened at the Claremont Colleges last year as a pro-Israel bright light may be worthy of debate. The reason it is included is because it is evidence of how a single, principled individual can do something that is both unusual and especially important. Raviv refused to simply ignore what was an intimidating demonstration by anti-Israel students who were giddy with power and flush with the false immunity of “free speech” that so often leads pro-Israel students to cower and remain silent. Raviv also refused to back down when the game plan changed and the students then turned on him, smearing him with the most incendiary of all slurs, that of racism.
12. The final entry in this year’s pro-Israel bright lights on U.S. campuses is Charles Jacobs. Jacobs has had a long history in pro-Israel and human rights advocacy. He has founded and headed several organizations including the American Anti-Slavery Group and the David Project. In 2008, Jacobs co-founded Americans for Peace and Tolerance.
APT‘s mission is “promoting peaceful coexistence in an ethnically diverse America by educating the American public about the need for a moderate political leadership that supports tolerance and core American values in communities across the nation.”
Jacobs and APT have undertaken many righteous battles both on campuses and elsewhere, some of which have been successful. But the reason Jacobs is on the 2013 Top Twelve list is because of his willingness to come out strong, clear and early on an issue, and then to call out the mainstream organizations who later come out credit claiming for Jacobs’ successes.
A perfect example is Jacobs strong leadership displayed in the face of extreme hostility to Israel by professors and a Muslim chaplain at Northeastern University. The chaplain, Abdullah Faarruq, had been at Northeastern for 15 years. But after a series of videos APT produced and released exposing the chaplain’s terrorist-supporting activity, Faaruq was removed from the position.
Jacobs was pleased, but not yet satisfied. He and his organization continued to expose anti-Israel diatribes and positions espoused by NEU professors.
While Jacobs was pursuing the matter, the mainstream Jewish leadership in Boston remained in the background. For the most part, organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and Hillels prefer building relationships with leaders of offending organizations, in the hopes that quiet diplomacy will eventually help those leaders make better choices.
In an important article, “Israel Apartheid Week – Campus Blood Libel,” Jacobs addressed exactly that kind of methodology, and explained why he finds it flawed.
As if to prove his point, or simply to pour salt in the wounds, the ADL recently took credit for opening the eyes of Northeastern University’s president Joseph Aoun to anti-Semitism on his campus, including the bullying and intimidation of pro-Israel students by NEU professors.
Of course, all the legwork had already been done by Jacobs’ APT and in extensive interviews of students by the Zionist Organization of America. The ZOA then took that information and compiled a thorough, substantive report about the problem. Neither APT nor ZOA were publicly credited by the ADL with their extensive work in bringing to light the NEU anti-Semitism.
So Jacobs and his APT are amongst the pro-Israel bright lights in 2013, refusing to follow in the sha shtill version of quiet diplomacy practiced by so many mainstream Jewish organizations. He may watch glumly as the credit for success is snatched by those same mainstream organizations, but he consistently refuses to back down before either the anti-Semites or the non-leading but self-proclaimed leadership organizations.
Without APT’s videos, interviews and exposes, NEU’s Aoun would have continued ignoring the problem and NEU’s pro-Israel students would have continued to endure rank anti-Semitism and anti-Israel diatribes.
May 2014 bring at least as many pro-Israel bright lights!
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email: Lori@JewishPressOnline.com
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