Experts address anti-Semitism on college campuses.
Special to the Jewish News
Kenneth Marcus says anti-Semitism is a serious college campus issue. And he should know.
Staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, an independent bipartisan agency established by Congress in 1957, Marcus is an experienced civil rights attorney, litigator and leader who oversaw the Commission's 2006 study of campus anti-Semitism.
Marcus addressed the community at a public program organized by StandWithUs-Michigan on March 26 at Temple Israel. Also speaking was Aryeh Weinberg, research associate at the San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish & Community Research.
While many campus programs and projects focus on educating and empowering students to challenge misrepresentations and respond to attacks on Jews and Israel, the speakers focused on the need for universities to take action against campus anti-Semitism and the role of outside groups and individuals in ensuring that they do.
Marcus says it is only Jewish audiences who sometimes express discomfort with a focus on issues affecting their own community. Jewish leaders often urge him to talk about civil rights in general and not about anti-Semitism.
"Maybe they are just so concerned about the world and social justice, or maybe they don't want to talk about challenges they would prefer do not exist," Marcus said.
Outlining four different areas of anti-Semitism - classical European, Arab and Muslim; anti-Israelism that "crosses the line"; anti-globalism; and anti-Americanism that blames Jews first - he said that "in many cases" they are "camouflaged" as free speech though "sometimes it is truly anti-Semitic bigotry that merely cloaks itself as anti-Zionism."
In 2004, his department added religion to the list of protected classes. He says that in the 1980s "we thought that campus anti-Semitism didn't exist except as a historical topic" because the challenges Jews face are so much different than quotas or institutionalized discrimination prevalent decades ago.
"It is worse now," Marcus says, though he admits "we don't have the data, and I don't think the government is doing enough to find the data." He says the Commission wants to inform college students of their rights and have them file complaints if they feel they have been wronged.
Lack Of Civility
Weinberg, who co-authored The Uncivil University: Politics and Propaganda in American Education with scholar Gary Tobin, described the book as "a critique of the lack of civility in higher education and how it leads to anti-Semitism on campus."
While acknowledging the high quality of many American universities, which are the envy of the world, he claimed, "a climate of incivility has dramatically subverted the institutions and we've lost the ability to debate and discuss in a civilized manner." He says rhetoric has often replaced facts while vilification of opponents and the silencing of unpopular views has increased, and "one of the most egregious examples are anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism."
"Legitimate criticism of Israel is, and should be, part of the campus debate," Weinberg says, but "Israel often serves as a proxy" for hateful views historically reserved for the Jews.
To prove his point, he gave numerous examples where criticism crosses the line, including the marginalization or isolation of a whole people, physical and/or verbal abuse of Jewish and pro-Israel students, the fundamental rejection of Jewish nationalism, abuse of the legacy of the Holocaust, legitimizing terror against Israeli civilians, asserting Jewish control of America or the world, characterizing Jews as imperialist warmongers and aggressors, and the silencing of pro-Israel speakers.
Many Jewish organizations "spend too much time debating whether there is a problem instead of working to solve the problem," Weinberg says, urging the community "not to fall victim to wishful thinking and become complacent."
Calling it an "American problem," Weinberg says it is "evidence of a deeper problem that affects the university."
He urges universities to have "appropriate mechanisms for student redress," to monitor the use of university funds and to engage in discussion of how to interpret and defend free speech. He also urges parents, alumni, trustees, taxpayers and legislators to become more involved.
Tova Schreiber, a freshman at Wayne State University in Detroit and who is education director of the campus group Students for Israel, told the audience: "All around me I could see evidence of anti-Semitism on campus."
Giving examples that mirrored several of Weinberg's points, Schreiber said, "It's not easy being Jewish or a pro-Israel student on campus today. Israel is bashed with impunity under the guise of academic freedom."
Both Marcus and Weinberg spoke on the Wayne State campus the following day with sign-carrying protestors attending their talk. On March 28, students met with administrators in a closed-door meeting held at the campus office of Hillel of Metropolitan Detroit.
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