Big Lie on Campus

Jewish students on American campuses today enjoy a unique and unenviable distinction–they are members of the only group targeted by high-profile hate-mongers, including Khalid Muhammed, Tony Martin, Louis Farrakhan, Israel Shahak, Noam Chomsky, Ralph Schoenman and innumerable other lesser-known figures. The animosity toward Zionism and Jews expounded by these individuals often finds sympathetic reflection in student newspapers, quarterlies, flyers, banners and alumni publications and often unites disparate campus groups such as African-American, Latino and Muslim organizations.

At the University of Massachusetts, where a seemingly relentless parade of extremist speakers has besieged the Jewish community in recent years, the student daily Collegian has regularly fueled slanders about Israel, Zionism and the Jewish people. This May saw the appearance of yet another spate of attacks. One author, identified as Omar Ali from the Coalition for the Defense of Palestine, charged in a long tirade that "Israelis have chosen oppression, occupation, invasion, and violence motivated by pathological racism." On May 2 the Collegian published a letter by an emeritus professor of mathematics stating that "Judaism and the Jewish identity are offensive to most human beings and will always cause trouble between the Jews and the rest of the human race." After a first, tepid reply the school’s chancellor responded forcefully in denouncing the anti-Semitic letter.

At Harvard’s Crimson Israel’s Independence Day was heralded on May 3rd by a lengthy article claiming the creation of the Jewish state was an act of ruthless dispossession of the native population. A rejoinder by two "Harvard Students for Israel" expressed a poignant truth about the current atmosphere on campuses. Allowing that they had grown used to defending Israel against cynical distortions of history, they wrote of their disappointed hope "that the famous handshake on the White House lawn was a sign of a new era of constructive dialogue."

That era may be long in arriving. From the West Coast to the East, the trend of recent years, in which virulent anti-Semitism merges with anti-Zionism, has not slackened but intensified. Thus Kwame Toure, the former Stokely Carmichael of 1960’s Black Power fame, tours campuses collecting honoraria often derived from mandatory student fees. For nearly twenty years Toure has followed this route, propounding the notion that "the only good Zionist is a dead Zionist," and providing for his listeners a pamphlet entitled "Smash Zionism." He’s brought his particular form of torment to students at hundreds of campuses, from elite Ivy League schools to state and community colleges. Speaking to a sellout crowd of 500 at the University of Maryland in April, where he received "around $1100" in payment from student fees, he informed cheering listeners that "Zionism is the enemy of humanity." His lies and distortions are rarely challenged by campus media.

A particularly nasty series of events last year at Santa Monica College in southern California illustrates the crucial role of administrative leadership – or the lack thereof. The African Student Union sponsored a talk by Ralph Schoenman. Well-known for his paranoid world view and diatribes against Israel and the United States, he told his audience that Jews dominated the slave trade, Zionists collaborated with the Nazis to create the Holocaust and Israel is an apartheid state where Palestinians are the true Jews. Incendiary flyers called for united efforts to crush Zionism.

The Corsair, Santa Monica’s student newspaper, fanned the flames of anti-Jewish hostility, reporting Schoenman’s scurrilous charges as fact, without comment, and charging the Hillel Club pursued a "witch hunt" in responding to these and other venomous denunciations of Israel. The school administration under President Richard Moore ignored pleas by Jewish students that he exert the authority of his office to deplore this and other grave instances of defamation. Deflecting all such entreaties, Moore sent a memo to the college leadership that asked, "So. What should be done? Officially, nothing!"

In contrast, only weeks earlier when Latino students expressed dissatisfaction with a cartoon and Corsair article concerning illegal immigrants, items only obliquely critical of Latinos, emphatic apologies by school officials, including the president, had been swiftly issued. Fortunately, the abject response by officials to Jewish appeals at Santa Monica is not the reaction everywhere, as administrators at San Francisco State and the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, for example, have demonstrated by their forthright and prompt repudiation of anti-Jewish bigotry at their own schools.

Jewish students face equally difficult challenges from strident pro-Arab, anti-Israel campaigns emanating from such groups as the University of California, Berkeley’s, Muslim Student Association. At a February 24th rally there demonstrators waved placards equating Israel with the Nazis, calling Israel the cancer of the Middle East and vowing destruction of the Jewish state. Jewish students also reported verbal threats by participants. Similarly aggressive and hostile campaigns have confronted students at, for example, McGill University in Montreal where the campus Daily has taken an openly pro-Palestinian position in articles and editorials and where the General Union of Palestinian Students, a PLO-sponsored organization with active groups on campuses around the world, promotes anti-Israel activity.

Perhaps most bewildering and destructive to all who hear their message are the Jewish anti-Semites and anti-Zionists. A surreal gathering at MIT this past year attended by 600 people saw the joint appearance of Israel Shahak and Noam Chomsky, two more veterans on the campus speakers circuit. Though marked by attacks against Jews reminiscent of the Nazis – Shahak preaches the inherent evil of Judaism and relates virulent anecdotes of supposed Jewish persecution of Christians, while Chomsky’s loathing of Jews leads him to endorse Holocaust deniers – the event prompted no outcry in the media, no denunciation by campus administrators, no revulsion from Jewish communal leadership. Indeed, there was no reaction at all, so commonplace is the spewing of extreme anti-Semitic slander in the halls of academe.

Gatherings such as this might be ultimately benign if the marketplace of ideas were functioning – if balancing events countered the slanders. But, despite the typically admirable efforts of at least a nucleus of determined students on most campuses, that task is often beyond the powers of nineteen-year-olds. Adult assistance from Hillels, faculty and community agencies is effective at times, but is frequently overwhelmed by the needs. Yet the seriousness of deteriorating conditions for Jewish students, and for all students exposed to virulent distortions about Israel without the antidote of truth, cannot be ignored. The Anti-Defamation League’s recent report of a 168% increase in anti-Semitic incidents on campuses since 1988 points to the worsening circumstances.

What is to be done? One obvious lesson of the last ten years is that school administrators have to exert strong leadership by speaking out forcefully in defense of all vulnerable students. That includes Jewish students. The First Amendment is not a moral loophole for standing by while hate-mongers foment anti-Semitism, and its invocation in this context by campus administrators who regularly take forceful action against hate-
mongering directed at other groups is, at best, hypocritical. Clear and widely-publicized guidelines for administrative action might be an important beginning. Students, faculty, parents, and administrators would then be aware of the obligations of campus leaders and could expect that anti-Jewish bigotry would be unflinchingly stigmatized.