The escalating violence in Israel has given rise to a new set of tensions on college campuses, which had all but disappeared in the early nineties. Throughout the United States, Jewish students have been facing a growing anti-Israel sentiment. Northern California has been no exception to this trend; campuses such as University of California Berkley, University of California Santa Cruz and San Francisco State have all seen speakers, books and protests that equate Zionism to a “colonial apartheid.”
The response among many Jewish students was a strong effort to distribute information about Israel’s commitment to peace and coexistence using flyers, discussions, and campus tabling. At UC Berkeley, students who were tabling were the targets of eggings and consistent harassment. At San Francisco State, pro-peace flyers were desecrated with swastikas and slogans such as “Go home Zionists.” And in Santa Cruz, a pamphlet titled “Zionism the forgotten Apartheid” has been widely distributed. This pamphlet puts quotation marks around every reference to Israel in an attempt to call into question the very moral and political validity of the state of Israel. It says, “Since the period of western world domination, hegemony and colonialism, Zionism has been a thorn in the side of the lovers of justice, peace and oppressed; the Zionist controlled media gives us a picture of ‘Israel’ that makes it seem democratic.”
After the victory of Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon, pro-Palestinian students at Berkeley illegally blocked entrances to the university, dubbing one entrance “Israel” and another “Palestine.” Those trying to enter the Israel side were prevented on the grounds that they didn’t have the proper papers. Students attempting to enter the Palestinian side were similarly harassed. This activity, allegedly meant to elicit support for Palestinians, continued for a couple hours before campus security intervened.
In another provocative episode at Berkeley recently, a so-called “Guerilla Theater” of students performed a mock beating of a Palestinian woman by armed Israeli soldiers.
The less politically active University of California of Santa Cruz also had its share of anti-Israel activity, albeit less dramatic. In October, the Resource Center for Non-Violence planned a panel with three speakers hostile to Israel’s position: Eman Desouky, Middle East coordinator of Global Exchange; City Councilman Scott Kennedy and Stephen Zunes, a professor at the University of San Francisco, whose anti-Israel opinion pieces have appeared in media outlets across the country. The Center originally invited Hillel to bring in a pro-Israel speaker. Hillel objected to the stacked deck – three against one – but the Center did not allow a second pro-Israel representative until after Hillel threatened to boycott the event, which attracted 200.
Propaganda coming from professors, community members and the media leaves many uninformed students with misperceptions of Israel. It is essential that all those concerned about Israel’s well-being counter the deluge. As skewed propaganda which misrepresents Israel as a “colonizing oppressor” becomes commonplae, it is essential to articulate the truth.
It is our responsibility to educate the youth about the facts of history and present events. It seems fitting to end with the wise words of Martin Luther King Jr. who once said, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism.”
Yoni Cohen, a sophomore at the University of California Santa Cruz, is a Koret intern at Hillel