Someone Should Remind the University of California Regents That It’s Purim

This coming Thursday, March 24, Jews around the world will celebrate the holiday of Purim. This holiday does not commemorate the inauguration of a new country, a great victory for freedom, or even the birth of a great leader. Rather, it celebrates the reversal of a decree of genocide against the entire Jewish nation. No other ethnicity or nationality has such a celebration – primarily because there is no other nation or ethnicity pursued globally by those seeking its eradication.

Following the destruction of the Second Holy Temple in Jerusalem nearly two millenia ago, Jews have lived in communities scattered around the earth, and been subjected to bigotry and persecution. The Holocaust was unique only in its magnitude and modernity. The world has largely forgotten the Crusades, Expulsions, Inquisitions, Pogroms, and Arab riots that annihilated Jewish populations, destroyed their synagogues and displaced their survivors from the seventh century through as recently as the 1960s.

On Wednesday and Thursday this week, coincident with Purim, as it happens, the University of California (UC) Regents will debate and vote on a “Report on Principles against Intolerance,” one which aims to address the latest iteration of that same ancient hatred – as it has expressed itself in a disturbing wave of anti-Semitic incidents across numerous UC campuses.

The Regents boldly identified and condemned “anti-Zionism” as little more than a cover for bigotry against the Jewish people: “In particular, opposition to Zionism often is expressed in ways that are not simply statements of disagreement over politics and policy, but also assertions of prejudice and intolerance towards Jewish people and culture. Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.”

Just as many people fought against references to anti-Zionism in the report of the U. S. State Department’s definition of antisemitism — according to which some forms of anti-Zionism constitute antisemitism — so this part of the report has proven controversial, as there are many discomfited by the inclusion of anti-Zionism as a manifestation of discrimination. Nonetheless, this statement in the report is not merely accurate, but a prerequisite for any substantive effort to combat the antisemitism facing Jewish UC students, staff and faculty. Without mention of hatred masquerading as mere “anti-Israel” protest, what will be left is a meaningless condemnation of antisemitism that omits its primary campus stimulus.

Particularly damaging opposition to this necessary statement comes from scholars like Eugene Volokh, a legal expert on the UCLA faculty, a writer generally recognized for clear thinking, and one who describes himself as not only “ethnically” Jewish, but pro-Israel. Writing in the Washington Post, he claims:

Whether the Jewish people should have an independent state in Israel is a perfectly legitimate question to discuss — just as it’s perfectly legitimate to discuss whether Basques, Kurds, Taiwanese, Tibetans, Northern Cypriots, Flemish Belgians, Walloon Belgians, Faroese, Northern Italians, Kosovars, Abkhazians, South Ossetians, Transnistrians, Chechens, Catalonians, Eastern Ukranians and so on should have a right to have independent states.

This is true – it is appropriate to analyze whether there should be an independent state for Jews just as for the others. It is appropriate when it is at the same level, and arrives at the same objective results. When it fails this test, however – when discussion of the Jewish right for self-determination is guided by standards different from discussion of others’ rights – it becomes clear that this particular “discussion” is a mask for bigotry. This leads to an objective conclusion which is the converse of Volokh’s own.

No one but the dictators of mainland China – and their equally anti-democratic allies – begrudges the Taiwanese their independent country. Had the Scots voted for independence last year, neither the British nor anyone else would have denied them self-determination. Were the Tibetens, Chechens or any of the others to democratically secure their own independence, the civilized world would greet this with universal acclamation.

The Jewish people went through all appropriate diplomatic and democratic processes to secure a modern state to call their own. The British, whose mandatory Palestine covered both ancient Judea and a much larger territory to the east of the Jordan river, concluded that a modern Jewish state was desirable and appropriate. A plan for independent Jewish and Arab countries was endorsed by the United Nations itself, granting the modern state of Israel an unparalleled level of legal “legitimacy.” Israel’s borders expanded only when it successfully defended itself against threats of annihilation. Yet today, no one questions why the vast majority of mandatory Palestine was given to an undemocratic Hashemite clan stemming from Saudi Arabia; only the Jewish democracy is condemned. This is anything but “just as” the way other indigenous populations are treated.

These are double standards applied to Zionism, pure and simple — invocation of which the State Department’s definition rightly categorizes as being antisemitic, and the Regents should do as well.

A recent report from AMCHA Initiative, an organization combating campus anti-Semitism, demonstrates the strong correlation between so-called “anti-Israel” activity and open bigotry and even violence. Only one-third of the over 100 colleges surveyed had anti-Semitic activity in 2015 – unless there were calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. 95 percent of schools with BDS activity had anti-Semitic expression, and with greater frequency.

The study concluded that anti-Zionist student groups and faculty who call for an academic boycott of Israel are “very strong predictors of overall antisemitic activity” – and that “BDS activity is the strongest predictor of incidents that target Jewish students for harm.” In short, the anti-Israel movement is the only “humanitarian” cause whose activities lead directly to open bigotry and discrimination.

Even if you think that anti-Zionism isn’t necessarily antisemitic, it’s incontrovertible that it directly leads to and fuels straightforwardly antisemitic speech and behavior.

This is no coincidence. The leading speakers of this movement repeatedly present ancient anti-Semitic canards of Jewish claims of superiority and control of banks and the media to impressionable students. They repeat old and deadly fictions of Jews poisoning wells from the era of the Black Plague, and the blood libels of Jewish murders of children. They assert false claims of genocide, ethnic cleansing and “state-sponsored terrorism” against Israel, and then incite violence with calls of “we support the Intifada” – a program of knifings, bombings and other acts of terror directed against Jews in Israel and around the globe.

The Regents’ Working Group must be heartily commended for recognizing the true nature of anti-Zionism and condemning it as such. It would be a tremendous disservice to beleaguered Jewish UC students – and to the cause of truth and justice – were this language to somehow be dropped from the final, ratified version of the Report.

On Purim, we Jews celebrate the end of an unbridled attack on our national identity.

This Purim, with the Regents’ vote, may we be able to do the same.

This article first appeared in the Algemeiner.

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6 Responses

  1. Ralph Kostant says:

    “We completely reject Zionism in all of its forms.” That statement is certainly anti-Zionist, but if it is anti-Semitic, then, chas v’chalila, the Rosh Yeshiva of a leading American yeshiva and a member of the Agudath Israel Council of Torah Sages is an anti-Semite.  To state the obvious, he is not–he overflows with Ahavat Yisroel to a degree that should make aware of our shortcomings. Please note further that this distinguished Chacham Yisroel would tell you that he is specifically condemning only the national self-determination aspirations of Am Yisroel, not the Italians, the Kurds, etc. Professor Volokh is correct. Banning all anti-Zionism threatens legitimate speech. One must try to discern whether the speech or the speaker crosses the line into anti-Semitism, and then condemn the transgression. I say this as a committed Religious Zionist who respectfully and humbly disagrees with the revered Rosh Yeshiva quoted above, on Zionism and other issues as well.

    • Yaakov Menken says:

      While true, this has nothing to do with “Anti-Zionism” as expressed on college campuses. The Satmar Rav said “We Jews have a Torah which forbids us to have a state during the exile, and therefore we may not ask the Americans to support the state. But a non-Jew has no Torah, and by supporting the state he feels he is helping Jews. So, on the contrary, if an American non-Jew is against the Zionist state, it shows he is an anti-Semite.”

      Let us remember that Herzl’s dream was to create a secular state and thus eliminate anti-Semitism. Just yesterday the UNHRC approved maintaining a database of Jewish businesses in Judea and Samaria for the next round of Nazi boycotts.

  2. lacosta says:

    i would like to combine this piece with r menken’s comment elsewhere on c-c:

    The non-Zionist Orthodox are far more concerned about Israel’s security than supposedly Zionist Conservative Jews, because the Orthodox are the ones with close relatives living there.

    —the reality is that the O community , including the haredi community [who number ~100000 ‘war criminals  ie living over the ‘green line’] , will have to come up with a solution of how to manage the whole Land ,which is occupied by hostile arabs.  regardless of ones theology on State/Land etc , there are > 1 milllion occupants who are not citizens , who are managed thru force.    It’s almost 50 yrs , and mashiach hasn’t come.  the settlements were built so as ‘not to ever repartition Palestine’, but alas we have no clue , neither DL nor haredi community , on how to manage this situation of resident aliens , whose land we want and claim our own[in case of DL’s] ,but whom we won’t offer any form of citizenship , and remain a hostile irritant, and a reason for the World to delegitimize out ‘democracy’….  tzarich iyun gadol…


  3. Steve Brizel says:

    Take a look at two articles in the latest issue of Commentary Magazine on the increasing threats to free speech on the average college campus. I think that there is more freedom of intellectual expression in any Beis Medrash that is worthy of that term than in the average lecture hall of an American university where students are rarely, if ever exposed to conservative ideas, due to the community of tenured radicals that have taken over American academia since the 1970s.

  4. Sholom says:

    It may appear to you that certain groups are singling out the Jewish state for criticism. But those groups consist of mostly: (a) Palestinians, who are directly or indirectly affected by Israeli policies, (b) American Jews, who feel it’s their duty to speak out against what they see as injustice done on their name, and (c) American citizens who recognize that since what they see as Israeli injustice could not continue without their country’s military and diplomatic support (unlike the other examples you cite), they can actually do something about it.  So it’s unfair for you to argue that these groups who focus their criticisms towards the Jewish state are anti Semitic. 

    • Yaakov Menken says:

      You are assuming these things are either true or justifiable. In reality, the “Israeli policies” about which they complain are the direct result of protecting the innocent against terrorism and terrorist organizations, claims of “injustice” are verifiably false, and American citizens could do far more to affect the human rights situations in places where the human rights violations are gratuitous — e.g. in Saudi Arabia, China, Burundi, Venezuela, and Cuba… all of which are members of the UN’s “Human Rights Council” which attacks Israel instead of dealing with genuine human rights abuses. At their root, the claims against Israel are patently false and unreasonable, and not-at-all-incidentally are used to incite violence against Jews. Whether an individual is anti-Semitic, deluded, misguided or simply stupid, what they support is clearly anti-Semitism, no different than those who supported the Nazis (or Hamas) because they provide(d) social services.

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