A Jewish student responds to the charge of anti-Semitism at UC Santa Cruz

I am a University of California – Santa Cruz (UCSC) student of Jewish heritage and I feel it is important to share another perspective on the allegations of an anti-Semitic atmosphere on campus made in a June 2009 complaint that led to the launching of an investigation by the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office this week. While I wholeheartedly agree that accusations of discrimination against students based on religion, ethnicity, or anything else are extremely serious and should be responded to, I also categorically reject the argument raised in the complaint that speaking out on Israeli policy regarding the Palestinian people is tantamount to anti-Semitism.

Since 2009 I have been involved in a student-led Palestinian awareness group on campus. The focus of our group has always been to educate the student body about the well-documented human rights abuses that Palestinians (also a Semitic people) experience in the Occupied Territories, Israel, and refugee camps around the world, and to discuss their cultural heritage and struggle for self-determination. The 2009 complaint, however, described us as a group that “hates Israel”, has “anti-Semitic activities and messages”, and “calls for the destruction of the Jewish state”.

I cannot express how wrong and offensive I find this assessment of our work to be, especially given my identity as a Jewish student with my own unique relationship with and feelings towards the state of Israel. I also know that some of the Palestinian members of our organization are very upset that their desire to share the experiences of their families and people has resulted in their being labeled as anti-Semitic. Those who actually come to our meetings or interact with us face-to-face can see that spreading hatred towards the Jewish people has never been the goal of our organization, and I would like to note that we are not accused of anything other than putting on events that some people disagreed with on a political basis.

While there are certainly some who oppose our message, we are actually well respected among students, staff, and other organizations on campus for the educational, successful, and generally free events we put on for the student body. Since joining this organization, however, I have been harassed by some UCSC students and even a staff member from Hillel (the center for Jewish student life) for my choice to engage in my Jewish identity and speak out on these issues. Many of these incidents have been documented in complaints made to everyone from our group’s advisor to the Dean of Students, and I know that I am not the only student who has experienced something like this. I hope that any inquiry into the atmosphere on campus looks into these incidents as well.

I chose to involve myself in this organization because I believe that the well-documented human rights abuses against the Palestinian people are wrong and detrimental, not only to them, but to Israel, America, and the International Community as a whole. I am further motivated by the knowledge that as an American citizen my tax dollars finance the illegal military occupation of Palestinian land, and as a Jewish person this is being carried out in my name. I do not believe that speaking out about this makes me an anti-Semite, in fact I see it as an expression of Jewish values regarding social justice.

As I stated earlier, any incidents in which students are targeted for their religious or political beliefs should absolutely be condemned and responded to, but the complaint that prompted this investigation was also about the fact that groups like mine are even given the college sponsorship needed to put on our events. As a public institution the UC is legally obligated to uphold the rights outlined in the constitution, including the first amendment right to freedom of expression, for all of its students. It should be noted that there is a student group at UCSC that specifically advocates for Israel and they far outstrip my organization in terms of presence, frequency of events, and funding. There is also a group on campus (of which I am a member) that endeavors to bring students with varying perspectives on the Israel-Palestine conflict together for constructive dialogue for the purpose of easing tensions on campus.

While I cannot speak to every incident outlined in the complaint, it is my belief that by allowing a variety of campus organizations to put on events, the University has acted in accordance with both the law and it’s own policies regarding free speech. I have been to Israel before and found that a wide range of opinions on the conflict exist there. My only wish is that such debate be allowed to occur here at UCSC.

About Rebecca Pierce

Adam Horowitz is Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 29 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Citizen says:

    Very well said Rebecca Pierce. Thank you for sharing. I wish your piece could me snail mailed to every home in the USA, and to every member of Congress and to the man in the Oval Office. I’d also like to see our Cable TV talking heads discuss it. You express the proper priorities.

  2. Potsherd2 says:

    Seems to me there is grounds for a cross-complaint of harrassment here.

    • Are there documented cases or any existing case law of people suing for having been labeled “anti-Semitic” and winning? If not, it might be time to consider looking at funding a very solid case of the term having unfairly done actual harm to somebody, and pursuing a court remedy to the hilt.

  3. eljay says:

    Thank you for your article, Ms. Pierce.

    >> The 2009 complaint, however, described us as a group that “hates Israel”, has “anti-Semitic activities and messages”, and “calls for the destruction of the Jewish state”.

    This is most likely because you do not approve of the past ethnic cleansing of Palestinians (described by Zio-supremacists as “necessary” or as a “required” evil).

    Then again, perhaps it’s because you fail to appreciate Israel’s right to use offensive military actions to instigate violence and then use that violence to justify “belligerent reprisals”.

    Or maybe it’s because you believe that Israel’s ON-GOING aggression, oppression, theft, colonization, destruction and murder is immoral and unjust.

    I share your views. Unfortunately, Zio-supremacists (thugs and fraudulent “humanists” alike) do not.

  4. Mooser says:

    Get used to it, Ms. Pierce, get used to it. The Zionists have absolutely no intent of arguing this point (the alleged ‘anti-semitism’ of those who criticise Israel) honestly.

  5. seafoid says:

    “Aliyah” from the US to Israel has more or less dried up.
    So the 2 countries’ Jewish populations are bound to drift apart. Especially as Israel goes further and further into rightwing ethnocentric delusion away from the lefty slant of the younger generation of US Jews.

  6. annie says:

    good to hear from you rebecca. when this complaint was first reported here last week i googled around to see if there were any school papers @ UCSC reporting this for student responses. i only found a report from 09. i’m wondering what the reaction on campus is being in the spotlight of a national issue. i also wonder how kids not generally involved in the i/p issue are responding to this or if they are responding. and what about the buzz in santa cruz? is it a big deal?

    are you a member of hillel? has hillel on campus rejected members who support bds or jewish voices for peace? do you have a jewish voices for peace affiliated w/UCSC? how politicized is the UCSC hillel? do you feel the complaint made against the school has polarized jewish students on campus to opposing sides of the i/p debate?

    Are there documented cases or any existing case law of people suing for having been labeled “anti-Semitic” and winning?

    not a bad idea to examine the legal options of false accusations. the conflation of anti israeli policies = antisemitism needs to stop. it just keeps getting humped and should be put out to die instead of this slow drawn out death.

  7. Avi says:

    This good article goes in the folder entitled: “Zionist organizations’ modus operandi to silence Israel’s critics”.

  8. Colin Murray says:

    Since joining this organization, however, I have been harassed by some UCSC students and even a staff member from Hillel (the center for Jewish student life) for my choice to engage in my Jewish identity and speak out on these issues.

    So its actually Zionists who are harassing Jews at UCSZ? ROFLMA Why am I not surprised? We can safely bet that Kenneth Marcus won’t be investigating these incidents. Thank you, Rebecca Pierce, for bringing this hypocrisy into the sunlight.

  9. There are two definitions of anti-semitism:

    1. The prejudices directed against individuals that were born Jewish and are residually Jewish.
    2. The prejudices directed against individuals and communities that are actively Jewish.

    The left affirms that 1 is appalling while 2 is acceptable.

    • AM says:

      Uh the left does not affirm that (2) is acceptable.

      You should stop conflating the ‘actively Jewish’ part with the raping and pillaging of Palestine. And if, to you, being actively Jewish means to support the destruction of another people (not a doomsday word at all – that is quite literally what is happening. I’m assuming you at least read the HEADLINES of the articles posted here) , then there is a much bigger problem beyond your carefully crafted technical definition of anti semitism.

    • Donald says:

      ” The prejudices directed against individuals and communities that are actively Jewish.

      The left affirms that 1 is appalling while 2 is acceptable.”

      Did “the left” criticize apartheid South Africa or the South in the Jim Crow era because they were actively “white”? Was criticism of South Africa anti-Boer?

      Incidentally, Richard, since you’re posting here don’t you think it would be polite to respond to the post that Rebecca Pierce wrote? She says “While I wholeheartedly agree that accusations of discrimination against students based on religion, ethnicity, or anything else are extremely serious and should be responded to, I also categorically reject the argument raised in the complaint that speaking out on Israeli policy regarding the Palestinian people is tantamount to anti-Semitism.”

      Do you agree with that or not? What do you think of the opportunistic attempt at conflating harassment of Jewish students (which would be anti-semitism) with advocacy in favor of Palestinian rights? Should there be an investigation into groups which harass students (some Jewish, some not) who favor Palestinian rights?

      • James North says:

        Donald, (or should I call you Job): He will skulk away and not answer. Rebecca’s post is so persuasive and well-written that Richard has to hide from his conscience even more than usual.

        • Donald says:

          James–

          I suspect he does hide from his conscience. That’s a good sign–the effort he puts into not noticing or responding to certain facts shows that he’s got some internal conflict going on. Or so I’d guess.

    • Citizen says:

      If “born Jewish” means by blood line, then how can anyone born Jewish be a residual Jew? You mean they had a total blood transplant from a Gentile donor? Otherwise, wouldn’t anybody born Jewish always be actively Jewish so long as they are alive?

      Otherwise, it seems, Richard Witty, you must be talking about environmental conditioning, beginning of course, with parental conditioning and then extending outward to local, then wider cultural conditioning. Some people move on from their childhood conditioning, but more do not. A narrow analogy is of course tastes in food, especially the notion of “comfort food” everybody recognizes. Meat & potatoes? Chili, pizza, tacos, hot dogs, corn–at one time none of these food items were basic American fare. But you know this, so I don’t understand your crafted 2-part definition of “anti-semitism.” (Further: I guess you mean blanket hatred of Jews, whatever the hater defines as a Jew?)

    • LeaNder says:

      What does actively Jewish mean? And how is it connected to our topic here?

      Is it prejudice–as defined under 2– to listen to the Palestinian point of view.

      Let’s assume there is an event with Breaking the Silence arranged by a political active friends. Would I, if I go there, make myself guilty of antisemitism as defined under no 2? Since the “actively” Jewish community, individually and collectively considers their point of view prejudiced? Or are only they guilty of self-hate?

      Could you elaborate on definition 2, it’s origin, practical appliance.
      What exactly is a prejudice against “actively” Jewish communities and individuals? Can you give us examples.

      Under what conditions can other groups with different perspectives on whatever topic talk about their own experiences and views, if they differ from the individual/collective Jewish perspective and for whatever reason hurt their sensitivities?

  10. pabelmont says:

    The pro-Palestine students are doing something intrinsically legal — speech and assembly — and the pro-Hillel students are doing two things: [1] complaining to the Civil Rights Office and [2] making life hard for the pro-Palestine students in other ways. The latter, [2], seems an act of discrimination based on religion (namely, the religion of those doing the discrimination) and a complaint should be leveled against them at the very same Civil Rights Office.

    The difference here, though, is important, because the pro-Palestine students are not attacking (or making life hard for) the anti-Palestine students, who are free to ignore them. The pro-P’s are merely telling-it-like-it-is about Israel, a country like any other fully capable of violating laws and behaving badly. The anti-P’s, by contrast, really seem to be directly attacking the pro-P’s on campus

    Since joining this organization, however, I have been harassed by some UCSC students and even a staff member from Hillel (the center for Jewish student life) for my choice to engage in my Jewish identity and speak out on these issues. Many of these incidents have been documented in complaints made to everyone from our group’s advisor to the Dean of Students, and I know that I am not the only student who has experienced something like this. I hope that any inquiry into the atmosphere on campus looks into these incidents as well.

    .
    So it would seem that a counter-charge would be more likely of success than the original charge, though that depends on the biases, if any, of the Civil Rights Office folks.

  11. Shingo says:

    The left affirms that 1 is appalling while 2 is acceptable

    Humanists tend to lie a lot.

    • Sisaket says:

      Say what? Humanists tend to lie, so you say, but as opposed to who is it that you think tends to tell the truth?

      • Donald says:

        “Humanists tend to lie, so you say”

        That’s an inside joke, sisaket. Richard upthread calls himself a humanist and the comment was aimed at him.

        • eljay says:

          >> Shingo: Humanists tend to lie a lot.
          >> Sisaket: Say what?
          >> Donald: That’s an inside joke, sisaket. Richard upthread calls himself a humanist and the comment was aimed at him.

          I make a point of referring to him as a “humanist” – the quotation marks clarify that the term is used sarcastically. Because, really, what true humanist would ever say stuff like this:
          ———————————————
          >> I cannot consistently say that “ethnic cleansing is never necessary”.
          >> If I was an adult in 1948, I probably would have supported whatever it took to create the state of Israel, and held my nose at actions that I could not possibly do myself.
          >> Currently [ethnic cleansing is] not necessary.
          ———————————————

          (RW also believes in “justice” and “morality”. They’re spelled the same way as the genuine versions, but have little in common with them.)

  12. Sisaket says:

    Like the free speech movement that was born at UC Berkeley and the anti-wat movement that brought truth to bear against mendacity and wrong-headed policy un SE Asia, the pollution that infects American discourse about Israel, Palestine and the Palestinian people will one day be cleansed by popular movements that are inexorable and have a vested interested in justice and empathy for their fellow human beings no matter their ethnicity or religion. That’s the way history works.

  13. eGuard says:

    “… of Jewish heritage”. Yep. Jews will come to the rescue of Palestinians. Is what we were waiting for all these years.

  14. others students in solidarity with Palestinians are also being harassed. i’m not at liberty to say where or who, but know it is one of the big name campuses and that an active student has been directly attacked.

  15. Pixel says:

    I applaud your vision and your courage.

    Being courageous sucks.