Anti-Semitism on Campus…in the U.S.

From San Francisco, Laurie Zoloth sent out an email message in May to San Francisco State University faculty and administrators which was quickly circulated around the world. Zoloth wrote, in part:

After nearly 7 years as director of Jewish Studies, and after nearly two decades of life here as a student, faculty member and wife of the Hillel rabbi, after years of patient work and difficult civic discourse, I am saddened to see SFSU return to its notoriety as a place that teaches anti-Semitism, hatred for America, and hatred, above all else, for the Jewish State of Israel.. .I cannot fully express what it feels like to have to walk across campus daily, past maps of the Middle East that do not include Israel, past posters of cans of soup with labels on them of drops of blood and dead babies, labeled “canned Palestinian children meat, slaughtered according to Jewish rites under American license,” past poster after poster calling out “Zionism=racism, and Jews=Nazis.” This is not civic discourse, this is not free speech, this is the Weimar Republic with brown shirts it cannot control. This is the casual introduction of the medieval blood libel and virulent hatred smeared around our campus in a manner so ordinary that it hardly excites concern—except if you are a Jew, and you understand that hateful words have always led to hateful deeds.

Yesterday, the hatred coalesced in a hate mob. Yesterday’s Peace in The Middle East Rally was completely organized by the Hillel students, mostly 18 and 19 years old. They spoke about their lives at SFSU and of their support for Israel, and they sang of peace. They wore new Hillel t-shirts that said “peace” in English, Hebrew and Arabic. A Russian immigrant, in his new English, spoke of loving his new country, a haven from anti-Semitism. A sophomore spoke about being here only one year, and about the support and community she found at the Flillel House. Both spoke of how hard it was to live as a Jew on this campus how isolating, how terrifying. A surfer guy spoke of his love of Jesus and his support for Israel, and a young freshman earnestly asked for a moment of silence, and all the Jews stood still, listening as the shouted hate of the counter demonstrators filled the air with abuse.

As soon as the community supporters left, the 50 students who remained… were surrounded by a large, angry crowd of Palestinians and their supporters. But they were not calling for peace. They screamed at us to “go back to Russia” and they screamed that they would kill us all, and other terrible things. They surrounded the praying students, and the elderly women who are our elder college participants, who survived the Shoah, who helped shape the Bay Area peace movement, only to watch as a threatening crowd shoved the Hillel students against the wall of the plaza….

As the counter demonstrators poured into the plaza, screaming at the Jews to “Get out or we will kill you” and “Hitler did not finish the job,” I turned to the police and to every administrator I could find and asked them to remove the counter demonstrators from the plaza, to maintain the separation of 100 feet that we had been promised. The police told me that they had been told not to arrest anyone, and that if they did, “it would start a riot.” I told them that it already was a riot. Finally, Fred Astren, the Northern California Flillel Director and I went up directly to speak with Dean Saffold, who was watching from her post a flight above us. She told us she would call in the SF police. But the police could do nothing more than surround the Jewish students and community members who were now trapped in a corner of the plaza, grouped under the flags of Israel, while an angry, out of control mob, literally chanting for our deaths, surrounded us. Dr. Astren and I went to stand with our students. This was neither free speech nor discourse, but raw, physical assault.

Jenni Mangel, associate director of Hillel at the University of California at Berkeley, told LILITH that in the past year, “the UCB campus became a difficult place to be Jewish. The Hillel building was vandalized on erev Pesach, and Hillel received a bomb threat. There were many anti-Zionist campus demonstrations. Accusations against Israel as an apartheid state, and calls for the university to divest from Israel were heard regularly on Sproul Plaza. The Jewish Student Union president, who is entering the UAHC rabbinic program, even recommended that prospective students who are not yet comfortable with their Jewish identity spend their collegiate years elsewhere.”

Susan Weintrob, a Jewish day-school director and former college English instructor who last June attended a conference for women historians at the University of Connecticut, said that she was taken aback at the intensity of anti-American and anti-Israel sentiments that participants there expressed. For example, Weintrob said, one female panelist criticized what she called “American feminism,” advising her colleagues to instead look to Afghanistan “to see what sisterhood really is.” Moreover, Weintrob recently told LILITH, colleagues have been informing her that those who not at least publicly accept pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel/Western rhetoric should not plan on receiving promotions, tenure, or friendships within their departments. Weintrob recently posted a query on a list serve asking if other academics were experiencing these disturbing trends. She received over 100 responses, from all over the world, testifying to the academic bias she’d been told about.