The LA Jewish Journal this week reported that four of nine members of the UCLA student government’s highest judicial body “raised concern about a candidate for the board, Rachel Beyda, who could present a conflict of interest and make her unfit to serve impartially as a judge in the student government’s judicial branch.”
What was the problem with Ms. Beyda’s candidacy? She is Jewish, involved with UCLA’s campus Jewish community and therefore, they claimed, has a conflict of interest should the board vote on a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution targeting Israel.
Debra Geller, the chief administrative officer for student and campus life who oversaw the hearing, inserted herself after the vote and told these four board members that they did not appear to understand the difference between ‘conflict of interest’ and ‘perceived conflict of interest,’ and that virtually everyone, including them, could be seen to have a perceived conflict. The four then reversed their vote, and apologized – sort of.
They said: “We ask the Jewish community to accept our sincerest apology. Our intentions were never to attack, insult or de-legitimize the identity of an individual or people.” (Daily Bruin, February 20)
The words sound right, but this incident reflects something deeper, more troubling, insidious, and pervasive not just at UCLA but on college campuses nationwide.
Though these four dissenters showed sincere remorse for their initial vote against Ms. Beyda, I question whether they and the UCLA administration understand adequately the nature of the problem.
I try not to speak with hyperbole. I am not one who sees anti-Semites lurking under every bed. I am not a fear-monger. I do not believe that all criticism of Jews or the state of Israel is necessarily anti-Semitic.
Yet, our inability to use the term anti-Semitism when it concerns Jews, when we don’t have a problem calling other forms of ethnic and religious bigotry what it is, raises disturbing questions about prevalent attitudes towards Jews, Judaism, Zionism, and the state of Israel.
It is likely that the four members of the UCLA board do not regard their initial position as anti-Semitic. But I believe that it was, and we should call it what it really is.
The multicultural agenda in American liberal circles, that I personally support, includes virtually all other minorities but excludes Jews who, it seems, have been reduced to being simply a successful white American religious group. This attitude belies a deeper understanding of what constitute Judaism, Jewish religious history, Jewish peoplehood, Zionism, and the meaning of the state of Israel in contemporary Jewish identity.
This reductionist Jewish definition has the effect of challenging Israel’s legitimacy and feeding the international de-legitimization movement against Israel. It is not only an anti-Israel and anti-Zionist position, but it is anti-Semitic because it is essentially an attack on the right of Jews to define ourselves, and it plays on classic anti-Semitic stereotypes without appreciating how hurtful and offensive these stereo-types are to Jews, and how damaging they are to the fabric of our American multicultural society.
De-legitimizers of Israel have worked very hard over a number of years to promote the belief that the existence of the state of Israel represents a moral injustice to the Palestinians and that even a two-state solution is morally unacceptable. This position is promoted not just at UCLA but on college campuses nationwide, and is having an effect on student attitudes towards Jews and Israel.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported this week that 54% of American Jewish university students have experienced or witnessed at least one anti-Semitic incident during a single year. These experiences “strongly suggests that anti-Semitism is a nationwide problem,” according to the report.
The attitude of the UCLA administration about what is happening there reflects a national attitude as well. One UCLA official wrote: “My impression, when I speak with students, is that there is more ignorance/lack of sensitivity than racism – and I do try to be on the look-out for racism and other forms of bias.”
Perhaps this is the case with many students, but not all. The problem is the successful conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism fed by the de-legitimization movement as it plays upon unsuspecting and uninformed college students and faculty, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, who believe that the perceived underdog, in this case the Palestinians, must be supported regardless of context, merit and truth.
There is a silver lining in this incident. This may create a space on campuses for students and faculty to learn more about Jews, Judaism, Zionism, and Jewish identity, and thereby come to a more inclusive, compassionate and fair understanding of who we are, what hurts Jews, and what kind of attitudes we need to evolve about each other.
Dr. Martin Luther King put it exactly right when he said: “People don’t get along because they fear each other. People fear each other because they don’t know each other. They don’t know each other because they have not properly communicated with each other.”
Obviously, this need to know each other works both ways. Jews need to understand Islam, Palestinians and other peoples just as they need to understand us. Now is the time for deeper self-understanding and self-knowledge, for better communication and better listening to the “other.”
Haaretz on Anti-Semitism on College Campuses – http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/jewish-world-news/1.644105
LA Jewish Journal – UCLA Judicial Board Questioned on Jewish Background in Apppointment – http://www.jewishjournal.com/los_angeles/article/ucla_judicial_board_nominee_questioned_for_jewish_background_in_appointment