Civil-Rights Panel Hears Complaints of Anti-Semitism on Campuses
By JENNIFER JACOBSON
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Representatives of Jewish groups have told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that anti-Semitism and
anti-Israel bias are rampant at colleges and universities across the country, and should be halted by campus
officials or, if necessary, through federal and state government intervention.
"Anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism are systemic ideologies in higher education," said Gary A. Tobin,
president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, a San Francisco-based group, at a November
hearing before the commission. Those ideologies, he said, "find their expression in the classroom and
outside the classroom, producing what we consider to be an environment of harassment and intimidation of
The hearing, held at the commission's offices here, marked the first time it had examined the issue of anti-
Semitism on campuses.
Although the commission does not have enforcement powers, it can draw attention to rights violations by
investigating complaints of discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or
national origin, and by submitting reports, findings, and recommendations to the president and the Congress.
In recent years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has generated a wave of controversy on many college
campuses. Faculty members and students have circulated petitions calling on universities to divest financial
holdings in companies that do business with the Jewish state and to boycott its scholars.
The issue came to a head last fall at Columbia University, after a documentary accused professors in the
department of Middle East studies of intimidating pro-Israel students. Although a university investigation
found no evidence that faculty members had made anti-Semitic statements, the allegations sparked headlines
in New York newspapers and prompted a member of Congress to call on the university to fire an assistant
professor (The Chronicle, November 5, 2004).
The events at Columbia were often cited by speakers at the commission hearing.
Mr. Tobin presented findings from The Uncivil University: Politics and Propaganda in American Education
(Institute for Jewish and Community Research, 2005), which documents what he described as anti-Semitism
interviews with students on a variety of campuses and more than 40 interviews with leaders of Jewish
organizations from 2002 to 2005, among other sources.
Mr. Tobin told the commission of a flier created by Muslim student groups at San Francisco State
University. The flier depicts a Palestinian baby with the words "Palestinian Children Meat" and "Made in
Israel" above it and "Slaughtered According to Jewish Rites Under American License" below it. The flier
refers to "the medieval anti-Semitic blood libel of Jews slaughtering children — this time, Palestinian
children — for ritual purposes," the book says.
Based on incidents like that, Mr. Tobin said, "we do encourage Jewish students to begin filing complaints."
In October 2004, the Zionist Organization of America filed one with the U.S. Department of Education's
Office for Civil Rights on behalf of Jewish students at the University of California at Irvine, Susan
Tuchman, director of the group's center for law and justice, testified. In the complaint, which she said the
Office for Civil Rights is now investigating, Ms. Tuchman wrote that Jewish students at Irvine "have been
subjected to longstanding and pervasive hostility and intimidation."
She said Muslim student groups had invited campus speakers who incited hatred for Jews and Israel, and
she told of how Jewish students avoid certain areas of the campus where they feel physically threatened. Ms.
Tuchman said the university's administration had ignored Jewish students' concerns.
Sarah Stern, executive director of governmental and public affairs for the American Jewish Congress, also
offered examples of campus anti-Semitism, including a 2002 incident at San Francisco State in which pro-
Palestinian students shouted at Jewish students, "Hitler didn't finish the job."
Columbia and Irvine officials declined the commission's invitation to testify at the hearing, Kenneth L.
Marcus, the panel's staff director, said. He read a letter to the commission from Alan Brinkley, Columbia's
provost, who said the university abhors anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination.
During and after the testimony, members of the commission spoke freely about anti-Semitism and a range
of other hot-button issues about American higher education, including the hiring of what one commissioner
described as "lunatic" professors and the leftist ideological bias that is said to be rife in the academy.
Abigail Thernstrom, the commission's vice chairman, spoke of her experience as a Jewish student in Middle
East studies in the 1970s and said the programs, then and now, are very much alike: "violently anti-Israel"
and "very pro-Palestinian."
But the commissioners offered few specifics on what to do about the host of problems they heard about, and
they seemed to reject Mr. Tobin's proposal of government intervention.
Under the Radar
"I'm not sure what the remedy is," said Ms. Thernstrom, who ran the meeting in the absence of the
chairman, Gerald A. Reynolds, the only member who did not attend. She added that she is "extremely
nervous about administrative oversight on university campuses," with officials walking into classrooms and
deciding whether what the professor is teaching is acceptable or not.
Jennifer C. Braceras, a commissioner, also expressed ambivalence about involving the federal government
and administrators in the issue and imposing speech codes. She said part of the solution might be
encouraging universities not to hire professors who promote anti-Semitic viewpoints in the classroom.
"Somehow," she said, "the universities got off track in the 70s and 80s, hiring people like this as a way to
show sympathy for third world people, quote unquote."
Mr. Tobin said that programs in Middle East studies should not be allowed to tenure their own faculty
members. He added that he was not in favor of speech codes.
When commission members asked Mr. Tobin why universities had not dealt with anti-Semitism on their
campuses, he said that administrators are afraid that, in taking action against such bias, they would go down
the "slippery slope" of violating academic freedom and freedom of speech. While they routinely condemn
other forms of discrimination on campuses, he said, anti-Semitism has slipped under the radar.
At a news conference the day before the hearing, Mr. Tobin said that "anti-Israelism is framed in the politics
"Jews and Israel are white, colonial, Western oppressors," he continued. "Palestinians are brown,
indigenous, colonized people." So "in this paradigm, Jews are racist," as is anyone who supports Israel.
Therefore, "anti-Semitic language is legitimate because you're combating racism," he said. "That's how it
Toward the end of the hearing, Mr. Marcus, the commission staffer, asked the guests if they believed that
students knew about their rights on campuses. Mr. Tobin said no.
Ms. Braceras asked Mr. Marcus if it would be possible for the commission to put together a pamphlet or
brochure informing students of their right not to be discriminated against under Title VI of the Civil Rights
Act of 1964.
"It's certainly something we ought to explore," he said.
Section: Government & Politics
Volume 52, Issue 15, Page A21