UC reports clarify, cloud campus controversies over Middle East
By Bruce Kesler
ENCINITAS, California — When students return to University of California classes in the Fall, those who are involved in or interested in the debates about Israel or Palestinians will have two new reports to chew on. Similarly, faculty who may be affected by the reports will have to face tensions between their own career interests and ideological leanings. The two reports offer quite a contrast.
On July 9, the University of California Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture, and Inclusion issued its reports on matters affecting Jewish and Muslim students. The Advisory Council was established in June 2010 by UC President Mark Yudoff following a number of incidents at UC campuses of harassment of Jewish students and speakers and castigation of Israel by pro-Palestinian campus groups. Following a progress report, it was decided by the Council to also do a report on the position of Muslim students.
There are no reports of a split among the Advisory Council members, indeed none may be characterized as conservative. However, the composition of the subgroups that issued the two reports indicates a notable difference in degrees of expertise and objectivity. Similarly, the fact that there are two reports issued by two subgroups of the Advisory Council, rather than one signed by all, does not lead me to see unanimity of interests. That may be just that different Council members did different tasks, but a unified report would lead to less contention about the recommendations.
The report on Jewish students is by the president of the California NAACP, Alice Huffman, and a renowned attorney who is also a national leader of the Anti-Defamation League, Rick Barton. The report on Muslim students was compiled by two Muslims, Jihad Turk, Director of Religious Affairs of the Islamic Council of Southern California, and Armaan Rowther, an undergrad Public Health student at UC Irvine; Nan Senzaki, a Japanese-American clinical social worker at UC Davis with professional interests in diversity issues; and Tyrone Howard, an education professor at UCLA and director of the Black Male Institute.
The report on Jewish students http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/documents/campus_climate_jewish.pdf states: “The anti-Zionism and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movements and other manifestations of anti-Israel sentiment and activity create significant issues through themes and language which portray Israel and, many times, Jews in ways which project hostility, engender a feeling of isolation, and undermine Jewish students’ sense of belonging and engagement with outside communities….What came through in our discussions, however, was a sense from Jewish students and others of a double standard when it comes to the themes and language used by those protesting Israel and its policies. Specifically, Jewish students described the use of language and imagery which they believe would not be tolerated by faculty and administration, or would at least be denounced with more force, if similar themes and language were directed at other groups on campus.”
Although Jewish students are diverse in their views, including of Israel, prominent on many campuses, and active on social justice issues, “Jewish students detailed how being a supporter of Israel can limit those opportunities. Many described being denied access to work with organizations dedicated to issues of social justice specifically because of the stance those non-Jewish student organizations have taken regarding Israel.” Particularly, Jewish students pointed out “fear and intimidation were an annual occurrence” with regard to “a movement which targets Israel and Zionism through an ongoing campaign of protests, anti-Israel/anti-Zionism “weeks,” and, on some campuses, the use of the academic platforms to denounce the Jewish state and Jewish nationalist aspirations….On every campus pro-Zionist Jewish students described an environment in which they feel isolated and many times harassed and intimidated by students, faculty and outsiders who participate in these activities. Most often students expressed the perception of a double standard, insensitivity, and a lack of understanding on the part of faculty and administrators regarding the depth of what Jewish students experience as a result of a movement that is directed at the Jewish state using imagery and accusations evocative of historical campaigns against Jews.” Specific instances are cited.
Faculty and administrators come in for criticism as adding to the problem: “Students also described encounters with faculty in class and outside which they believe raise serious questions regarding faculty members’ objectivity regarding the conflict in the Middle East. They described instances of overt hostility toward Jewish or other students who try to express contrary viewpoints on the subject. Students questioned how these activities can be reconciled with the desire of the universities to promote scholarship and Principles of Community.
One of the most significant issues expressed by Jewish students, faculty and community members is their difficulty with sponsorship by university departments, campus organizations and others of events which are very clearly designed to promote themes which are biased and unbalanced in their portrayal of Zionism and Israel. The students indicated that University administrative offices, such as multicultural or cross cultural centers, sponsor student organization events that are dominated by groups adopting anti-Zionist platforms.”
The report states that Jewish students do distinguish between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism, and are respectful of First Amendment freedoms of speech. “Notwithstanding, pro-Zionist Jewish students and faculty perceive a difference in how the movement against Israel and Zionism is viewed and addressed by those in faculty and administration responsible for dealing with campus climate. There is a perceived gap in the level of appreciation by administrators for how the Jewish community sees these protests. That is reflected in the absence of Jewish student representation on the most of the individual campus Climate Councils.” The report concludes on this, “The Principles of Community operate under the assumption that not all speech is protected. Words and accusations which at their core demean, defame and degrade must be addressed and denounced.”
The report’s recommendations include a suggestion that the University of California should review its policies on university sponsorship of “biased events”; “UC should push its current harassment and nondiscrimination provisions further, clearly define hate speech in its guidelines, and seek opportunities to prohibit hate speech on campus;” and most importantly as a recognition of how far many pro-Palestinians on campuses have strayed from civil discourse, “UC should adopt a UC definition of anti-Semitism and provide model protocol for campuses to identify contemporary incidents of anti-Semitism, which may be sanctioned by University non-discrimination or anti-harassment policies.” The report offered, for example, the European Union’s working definition of anti-Semitism.
Ken Marcus, president of the Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, who when at the US Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division extended Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to protect Jewish students from harassment on campus, in a Jerusalem Post op-ed http://brandeiscenter.com/index.php?/publications/research_opinion_full/fighting_anti_semitism_at_the_u_of_california called it a “remarkable report.” Marcus commented, “For a university to solve its anti-Semitism problem, it needs to acknowledge that it has a problem, and doing so means adopting a clear definition which describes the situations that may properly be called anti-Semitic. These are important, long overdue reforms.”
The report on Muslim and Arab students http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/documents/campus_climate_muslim-arab.pdf takes a – to say the least – a different tack. It begins with a broad-brush assertion that sets the tone: “Islamophobia and xenophobia seemingly have since [9/11] become commonplace in American society. This is a national context that does not stop at the boundaries of a college campus.”
This contradicts FBI statistics http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/08/27/99767/hate-crimes-against-muslims-rare.html of hate crimes which show a relatively small incidence against Muslims, and a disproportionately high incidence against Jews.
The report singles out several severe critics of Islam or Islamists, as if indicative of all, and, thereby ignores the preponderance of commenters, who are moderate in their analyses, such as this article in the influential libertarian Reason magazine. http://reason.com/archives/2011/07/18/fear-of-a-muslim-america
Figure 1 in the report appears to contradict the thrust of the report. It shows an increase between 2008 and 2010 in disagreement among Jewish students that they are respected on campus and a reduction of disagreement among Muslim students that they are respected on campus.
The report states: “Overall, the Team considers the University of California campuses to be generally safe and welcoming environments for Muslim and Arab students; however, for students who are visibly and apparently Muslim or Arab, as well as active participants or leaders of organized student groups, the daily experience on UC campuses is notably negative and characterized by institutional insensitivity and daily harassment. Moreover, Muslim and Arab students operate within a climate of suspicion and mistrust of administrative leadership at UC, which in the Team’s assessment, is primarily due to either real or perceived double-standards in the application of campus policies toward Muslim and Arab student organizations and incidents, community interpretations of administrative actions and communication related to Muslim and Arab students, and the persisting consequences of the actual and perceived handling of the “Irvine 11.” “
Basically, the report tells of pro-Palestinian students taking umbrage at restrictions or punishments for their vehement speech and activities, at some faculty who disagree with them in classes, or at writings in campus newspapers. Although it is these pro-Palestinian groups which have repeatedly exceeded campus rules, they complain “campus regulations are selectively enforced during their events, and also that scrutinizing observation by administrators at organization events creates a criminalizing atmosphere.” Unlike the report on Jewish students, which doesn’t include the many empirical studies of anti-Israel campus activities, the report on Muslim students doubles its size by including a one-sided report from Students for Justice in Palestine, who together with the Muslim Student Association (an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood) are the major instigators of anti-Israel activities on campuses.
The recommendations: Create meditation spaces that meet Muslim criteria for religious observance, and advertise nearby mosques; All campuses should have an undergraduate “diversity course requirement” and increased “ethnic departments” (such courses the captive of allied leftist faculty); “specific attention in increasing Muslim or Arab faculty” and “Other students indicated that even when courses on Middle East politics or history are offered, they are usually taught by faculty not from a Middle Eastern or South Asian background and who sometimes project cultural insensitivity in the classroom. The Team acknowledges the budgetary limitations of creating academic programs. Ideally, all campuses should work to create a major and/or minor in Islamic Studies;” “Review policies on uses of cameras and media devices on campuses by off-campus groups, particularly those used to intimidate or harass active members of student organizations.” (which have provided evidence of transgressing campus rules and illegal harassment by pro-Palestinian groups).
Faculty, including many who are sympathetic toward pro-Palestinian positions, may find accommodation of increased Muslim faculty recruitment and course offerings difficult when their own departments and more core or popular offerings are under severe financial pressure in the current and foreseen economics.
I would characterize the report on Jewish students as indicating they want to be included-as-equal and the report on Muslim students as indicating they want to be separate-and-more-equal.
Fortunately, the report on Jewish students does break new official ground in calling for clearer enforcement of anti-Semitism guidelines. Unfortunately, the report on Muslim students may cloud the issue by false and misleading claims of equivalency. I don’t think so, however, as the report on Muslim students is mostly a transparent defense of abusing civil discourse.
Kesler is a freelance writer based in Encinitas, California. He may be contacted at email@example.com
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