Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Intimidation of Jewish Students on American College Campuses

Sympathy for the Palestinians is pretty easy to understand. It is normal and natural for any liberal, open minded, compassionate person to feel empathy towards people who are poor, downtrodden, and oppressed. Yes, many of us know, intellectually, that much of the Palestinian's suffering is self-inflicted, as in the case of the destruction of greenhouses in Gaza (see my post of September 29th) which could be providing food, employment, income and hope to the people of Gaza, or by their own leadership (see my post of September 8) in walking away from the peace process and starting a war of terrorism instead. That knowledge doesn't stop us from feeling sympathy for people who are, unquestionably, suffering under miserable and often chaotic conditions. There are others who either aren't as well informed or else have an agenda and use this natural sympathy for the Palestinian people as justification for anti-Zionism (inevitably arguing, at least indirectly, for the destruction of the state of Israel) or, worse, outright anti-Semitism. Just plain old-fashioned hatred and discrimination can never be justified.

There is a piece by Leila Beckwith this week on the Opinion page of the Los Angeles Jewish Observer about the intimidation Jewish students face on University of California and California State University campuses. To quote Ms. Beckwith:
...the biased and inaccurate presentation of the Israel/Arab conflict by instructors and guest speakers creates an intimidating environment for Jewish students, and is inconsistent with a university's mission of pursuing truth through critical inquiry and honest discourse.
She writes about protest by "Jewish faculty at the University of California and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East" and an open letter to Governor Schwarzenegger and an online petition. The letter, in part, states:
The problem of Jewish students being intimidated in the classroom and on the campuses of the University of California and California State University was recognized by Governor Grey Davis in a letter in June 2002 to President Atkinson of the University of California and to Chancellor Reed of the California State University system. In this letter, Governor Davis stated his concern about anti-Semitism on California campuses and asked for a system-wide, comprehensive plan.
The petition is simply to ask Governor Schwarzenegger to, in Ms. Beckwith's words:
...implement former Governor Gray Davis's directive to college administrators: to review existing courses and to ensure that campuses are "forums for intellectual inquiry and not vehicles for discrimination, intimidation and hate."
I encourage everyone who is reading this to follow the links in this blog entry and read the letter for yourself and join the over 2,800 people from all over the world who have signed this petition. Whatever your feelings about the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel I would hope that you are willing to stand up against intimidation, anti-Semitism, and bigotry in all its forms.

The sad fact is that what we are seeing in California isn't an isolated case. Conditions at Columbia University in New York were so bad it led to the making of the film Columbia Unbecoming. To quote the Columbia Unbecoming website:
The anti-Israel campaign on college campuses differs greatly from legitimate criticism of Israel's policies; it hides behind the language of human rights and national liberation to demonize Israel, Israelis, and their supporters. It includes the national divestment movement and promotes a one-sided and misleading view of the Middle East conflict that favors Israel-bashing over fair and honest discussion.

Too often, individual professors drive animus toward Israel and pro-Israel viewpoints on campus by using their positions to promote a narrow political agenda that clashes with free and open inquiry. Sometimes such animus is directed at students who dissent from the professors' political point of view.

Those of us who value higher education need to stand up for intellectual honesty and an approach to all conflict, not just the Arab-Israeli conflict, that looks at all sides of an issue, not just the side that is politically fashionable.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Shana Tovah

Shana Tovah! May you have a happy, healthy, and sweet new year.

I'll be back with more political commentary after the holiday.