Column One: Campus brownshirts rising
Vassar College campus.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
If the rise of brownshirt tactics and anti-Semitism on US campuses goes on at its current pace, it will destroy higher education in the United States.
Jill Schneiderman is an unlikely warrior for Jewish rights. A professor of Earth sciences at Vassar College and a lesbian activist, Schneiderman’s political passions put her smack in the middle of the far-Left academic mainstream.At least they did until she decided to organize a student trip to Israel to study water issues.To get a sense of just how far to the Left Schneiderman is, when her initiative ran into trouble, she contacted fanatic anti-Israel activist Phillip Weiss to ask for his support.Hers was not going to be a ZOA student mission to Israel. Scheiderman needed help, because when the Vassar chapter of the anti-Semitic hate group, Students for Justice in Palestine, got wind of her initiative, their members began picketing her pre-trip seminar. They stood outside the classroom and pressured students to drop the class.Spooked by this thuggish behavior, Schneiderman complained to the college’s administrators and sought redress for her students whose academic freedom and civil rights were being obstructed. In response to her complaint, earlier this month the administration convened a meeting of the school’s Committee on Inclusion and Excellence.Rather than take action against the thugs from the SJP, both the members of the committee and the audience quickly joined forces with them and doubled down on their assault against all even mildly pro-Israel voices on campus.As Scheneiderman wrote on her blog, at the meeting she was “knocked off-center by a belligerent academic community dedicated to vilifying anyone who dares set foot in Israel.”Weiss wrote of the meeting, “The spirit of that young progressive space was that Israel is a blot on civilization, and boycott is right and necessary.If a student had gotten up and said, I love Israel, he or she would have been mocked and scorned into silence.”Weiss is pleased with the air of intimidation. As he sees it, this is the whole point of the so called boycott, sanctions, and divestment movement that calls for institutions to boycott businesses that do business with Jews in Israel.As Weiss explained, the real purpose of the BDS movement in all its component parts is to make it impossible to voice any sentiment in relation to the Middle East on college campuses that isn’t anti-Israel.And the brownshirts at Vassar are from a unique phenomenon.As Scheiderman and her students were being intimidated for daring to study about and plan travel to Israel, members of the University of Michigan’s student government voted to indefinitely suspend debate on a resolution submitted by an anti-Jewish campus group that called for the university to boycott and divest from companies that do business with the Jewish state.The anti-Jewish goons behind the resolution hail from an organization that ironically refers to itself as SAFE, an acronym for Students Allied for Freedom and Equality. They responded to the student government’s decision with rage and violence.They staged sit-ins at the student government, where they cursed Jewish members of the council, calling them “dirty Jew” and “kike.” According to The Washington Free Beacon, some students received death threats from the anti-Jewish activists.According to the Free Beacon, rather than defend its students from these criminal assaults and protect their civil rights, university administrators forced the head of the student government to apologize to the aggressors from SAFE for voting to table the anti-Israel resolution. They also reportedly compelled the student government to hold an immediate vote on the measure.As one Jewish leader told the Free Beacon ahead of the vote, “University administrators are allowing students to be bullied into taking an anti-Israel vote with a gun pointed to their heads.”And he was not exaggerating. The anti-Jewish protesters are open in their embrace of violence.In January, Yazan Kherallah, who serves as SAFE’s “divestment coordinator,” posted a photo of himself on his Facebook page. In the picture, titled, “It’s on,” Kherallah’s face is covered in a khafiyyeh and he is stabbing a pineapple.Speaking to the Free Beacon, Kenneth Marcus, the former staff director for the US Civil Rights Commission who now heads the Louis D.Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, explained that by not protecting its students from anti-Semitic harassment and threats of violence, the University of Michigan is exposing itself to civil litigation for civil rights violations and to federal investigation.Marcus explained, “If the university allows a hostile environment to form without taking effective action, it could be liable for a civil lawsuit or federal investigation….If Jewish students are being called ‘kike’ and ‘dirty Jew’ and the university is not addressing it in a firm and effective way, the university may be liable under federal law.”And this is really the point. As Weiss made clear, brownshirt tactics are the new norm for anti-Semitic activists on college campuses. Indeed, he said that the movement to silence pro-Israel voices on US college campuses is where the “progressive” movement is going these days.This is not only a Jewish problem. If the rise of brownshirt tactics and anti-Semitism on US campuses goes on at its current pace, it will destroy higher education in the United States.Anti-Semitism is predicated and can only survive and grow in an atmosphere in which reason is rejected. Brownshirt tactics are designed to replace reasoned discussion with intimidation and violence. And when violence and unreasoning hatred reign, there is no learning. Hence the threat to the entire university system.Unfortunately, the administrators at too many universities do not seem to care.The only instances where university administrators have taken action against anti-Semites on their campuses have been when outside forces compelled them to do so. And in all cases where action has been taken, administrators have done as little as possible.These instances, and the steps that led up to them must become the basis for developing a general plan for stemming the rise of anti-Semitism on US campuses.Two recent examples illustrate the general trajectory of successful action.Last February, Brooklyn College held a BDS event that was co-sponsored by the college and Students for Justice in Palestine. Four Jewish students who attended the event were forcibly removed by campus police acting on orders from the event organizers, who identified the four as potential sources of pointed questions that the BDS advocates could not answer well.Rather than defend the students, Brooklyn College’s administrators attacked them and endorsed SJP’s transparently false claim that the four — who had been sitting quietly — had been “disruptive.”Three of the students turned to the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and the Brandeis Center for Human Rights for legal assistance. And as a result of legal pressure, City University of New York, of which Brooklyn College is a part, conducted an investigation that found the students had been persecuted for their viewpoints, in violation of their civil rights. On March 10, Brooklyn College’s president issued a public apology to the four Jewish students. She also promised to institute new procedures to ensure that students’ civil rights are respected.While no serious disciplinary action appears to have been taken against the SJP, the university police, or university administrators who violated the students’ civil rights, civil litigation against Brooklyn College is still pending.Likewise, after allowing anti-Semitic intimidation of Jewish students at Northeastern University to go unhindered for years, the university administration finally suspended SJP’s campus affiliation for a year earlier this month.As they have done on other campuses, including University of Michigan last December, SJP at Northeastern placed mock eviction notices under the dorm room doors of pro-Israel students across campus. They affixed anti-Semitic stickers to walls, doors, windows, and other free spaces all around campus (in violation of university rules), and they interrupted Jewish events and intimidated pro-Israel students.Last summer the ZOA sent a letter to Northeastern president Joseph Aoun detailing incident after incident of anti-Semitic agitation and intimidation inside and outside classrooms. The letter mentioned that University of California Santa Cruz is currently under investigation by the federal government for its apparent violation of the civil rights of its Jewish students by enabling an anti-Semitic atmosphere to rein on campus.It is likely that ZOA’s letter had a significant impact in compelling Northeastern’s administrators to finally take action after years of willfully ignoring entreaties from students for help and support.With a gun pointed at their heads, on Tuesday night University of Michigan’s student government voted on the anti-Semitic resolution. Given the administration’s role in supporting the violent hoodlums from SAFE, the council members had no one but themselves to rely on to protect them.And so, before voting on the resolution, the council decided that the vote on the resolution would be cast by secret ballots.The resolution failed 25-9.The members of the student government should be applauded for their moral and intellectual courage. Although no democracy can long survive without a citizenry capable of displaying such strength of convictions and basic decency, these characteristics are becoming all too rare on campuses. Indeed it is the rarity of such devotion to truth that makes the council members’ behavior so heartening.But it is due to the rarity of such displays of moral courage that a campaign to defeat the rising tide of anti-Semitism on college campuses cannot rely on the moral and intellectual fortitude of students and on their willingness to stand up not only to the campus brownshirts, but to their enablers in the administrations.The developments at Northeastern and Brooklyn College make clear that the only way to defeat the anti-Semites on campus is to go after the administrations that enable them. Only the threat of civil lawsuits, federal investigations of civil rights violations, and alumni threats to withhold gifts will force university administrations to take action against the anti-Semitic thugs that are instituting a reign of terror at university after university.The lesson from Brooklyn College and Northeastern is that the pressure should be unrelenting.In both cases, the steps the administrations took this month were the minimal steps they think they can get away with. They need to be forced to do more.For instance, in the case of Brooklyn College, attorneys should push forward with lawsuits for civil damages for all four students for the college’s violation of their civil rights both at the BDS event itself, and in the administration’s subsequent demonization of the students in the media.The pressure must similarly continue until the campus police who ejected the students from the event and the administrators who attacked them in the media are fired from their positions and SJP is permanently barred from operating on campus.Similar demands should be made to Northeastern.Only when universities are made to pay a painful price for their support for anti-Semitism will other university administrators think twice before they give free reign to Jew haters on their campus and so doom their institutions to moral and intellectual destruction.Caroline B. Glick is the author of The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East. www.CarolineGlick.com