Caught on tape: California university lecturer smears student activists as anti-Semites with ties to terrorists

ActivismIsrael/Palestine
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Student activists in California have exposed inflammatory remarks made by a university lecturer who is the head of an Israel lobby group that tries to pressure college administrations and state officials into investigating what the lecturer calls anti-Semitism. Activists have started a petition calling on the University of California President to condemn the statements made last year by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a Hebrew lecturer at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). The remarks were only recently publicized after students discovered them through a YouTube video of Rossman-Benjamin’s remarks.

Last June, Rossman-Benjamin gave a presentation on what she calls “campus anti-Semitism” at the Ahavath Torah Congregation in Stoughton, Massachusetts. She unleashed vitriolic comments smearing student activists who work for Palestinian rights as anti-Semites with ties to terrorist organizations, though she did not back up her statements with evidence. Rossman-Benjamin is the head of the AMCHA Initiative, a Zionist pressure group that targets professors and student groups for alleged anti-Semitism, though the actions AMCHA goes after are activism for Palestinian rights.

“They are generally motivated by very strong religious and political conditions–they have a fire in their belly. They come to the university, many of them are foreign students, who come from cultures and countries where anti-Semitism is how they think about the world,” said Rossman-Benjamin, referring to students involved with the Muslim Students Association and Students for Justice in Palestine. “These student groups often have strong ties to international campaigns to demonize and delegitimize Israel as well as to organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood…[They] have ties to terrorist organizations.” Later in her speech, Rossman-Benjamin also claims to have met with state legislators in California.

In response to Rossman-Benjamin’s remarks, activists from UCSC Committee for Justice in Palestine have started a petition that has so far garnered over 850 signatures. They are calling on the University of California President to “take a clear stand against hate speech directed at marginalized communities, and distance itself from extremists like Tammi Benjamin and the Amcha Initiative that work to smear and silence student human rights campaigners.” 

So far, the University of California President’s Office has stayed silent. In an e-mail response to an inquiry from Mondoweiss, Shelly Meron, a media specialist with the president’s office, wrote: “We have no comment on this.”

Rossman-Benjamin did not return an e-mail and a phone message for comment on this story by the time of publication.

The petition from the UCSC Committee for Justice in Palestine also states that Rossman-Benjamin’s remarks “reflect the worst stereotypes and slurs leveled at Arab and Muslim communities in the post-9/11 era. They have absolutely no place in a university environment and it is completely unacceptable for a University of California lecturer to be making them, especially about students.”

Multiple students have also filed formal complaints with the University of Santa Cruz’s Hate/Bias Response Team. A school official told one student activist who preferred to go unnamed that they will look into the complaint and may investigate it and refer it to higher offices and take corrective action if appropriate.

Rachel Roberts, civil rights coordinator for the Council on American Islamic Relations in San Francisco, condemned the statements from the Hebrew lecturer in an interview.

“Her comments are an example of the ways in which Muslim students and Arab students and students organizing for Palestine are disparaged in a way that’s completely unfair to them. I personally don’t see how any reasonable individual could possibly believe that our students have ties to terrorist organizations overseas,” she said. “It’s ridiculous, it’s an attempt to sow fear.” Roberts’ organization has been working in coalition with other social justice groups to fight back against smears from legislators and others in California that conflate solidarity with Palestinians with anti-Semitism.

Other people who signed the petition, including alumni and former professors from the UC system, have echoed the student activists’ condemnation of Rossman-Benjamin. “I have experienced firsthand the intimidation tactics and attempts to silence dissent on Israel on the UCSC campus,” wrote Lisa Nessan, who described herself as a “Jewish UCSC alumna (’00) and a former Santa Cruz Hillel Foundation employee.”

Nessan went on to write that “Tammi Benjamin’s racist and islamophobic remarks are the antithesis of the type of tolerance and diversity that is expected on a University of California campus.” Robert Weil, who described himself as a “retired Visiting Assistant Professor, Lecturer and Union Organizer on the UC Santa Cruz campus,” wrote that he “can attest directly to the chilling effect that Tammi Rossman-Benjamin has had on those of us who hold critical views of Israeli policies and who support the struggle of the Palestinian people. She is a disgrace and a threat to the spirit of free academic debate and the right of all citizens–on and off campus–to express their ideas without intimidation.”

The activists’ petition–and the video that sparked it–shines a light on the tactics of Rossman-Benjamin. Through her organization, the AMCHA Initative, Rossman-Benjamin has targeted professors who show solidarity with Palestinians and who support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) call. Her modus operandi is to conflate support for Palestinian human rights and strong criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

As Mondoweiss has reported, Rossman-Benjamin was behind a 2011 federal complaint against the University of California at Santa Cruz. The complaint charged that the university ignored concerns that a hostile environment for Jewish students was being created on campus due to criticism of Israel. The U.S. Department of Education took up the Title VI complaint, and continues to investigate, according to the student activists’ petition. Rossman-Benjamin also unsuccessfully tried to get the California State University system to distance itself from a tour on campuses that featured Israeli professor Ilan Pappe. Her attempts to get state officials to investigate a professor who supports the BDS call also failed.

Still, activists say the remarks from a lecturer employed by the University of California is a glaring example of a hostile climate on campus when it comes to organizing for Palestinian rights. Last year, the California state legislature passed a bill that conflated activism and the BDS movement with anti-Semitism and also claimed that student activists had ties to terrorist organizations–similar rhetoric to what Rossman-Benjamin used at her Massachusetts appearance. That state legislation also applauded the release of a “campus climate” report on Jewish students in California that has been criticized for suggesting things that would impose restrictions on Palestine solidarity activism.

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist and graduate student at New York University's Near East Studies and Journalism programs. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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33 Responses

  1. seafoid
    February 21, 2013, 9:13 am

    “They come to the university, many of them are foreign students, who come from cultures and countries where anti-Semitism is how they think about the world,” said Rossman-Benjamin, referring to students involved with the Muslim Students Association and Students for Justice in Palestine. “These student groups often have strong ties to international campaigns to demonize and delegitimize Israel”

    As well as destroying modern Judaism the bots will destroy the concept of antisemitism and what an antisemite actually is.

  2. EUR1069
    February 21, 2013, 10:13 am

    Like I have said before: we need ONE legally sound definition of anti-semitism, instead of Zionists throwing that term around at random at anyone they don’t like.

    • MHughes976
      February 21, 2013, 6:40 pm

      I’d suggest that anti-Semitism amounts to a negative attitude to people because they are Jewish.

      • Avi_G.
        February 22, 2013, 1:08 am

        MHughes976 says:
        February 21, 2013 at 6:40 pm

        I’d suggest that anti-Semitism amounts to a negative attitude to people because they are Jewish.

        So not only is Jewish suffering unique throughout recorded history, but all Semites are Jews and all Jews are Semites.

        I guess Arabs better start taking gene therapy drugs to become members of the Han dynasty because clearly they do not belong to the the Semitic tribe.

        The foundation for Islamophobia and anti-Arab bigotry lies in the fact that world history in the West is Euro-centric. That’s why a bigot who posted yesterday under the username “Norman” thought nothing of it when he accused almost half the world’s population of being primitive. And this happens despite Western medicine, physics, chemistry and mathematics relying heavily and borrowing heavily from the mountain of Islamic and Arab accomplishments over the centuries.

        P.S. – My response isn’t personally directed at you, MHughes976. I merely seized the opportunity to comment since you brought up the the issue.

    • Djinn
      February 21, 2013, 9:11 pm

      Why do we need a definition for specifically anti-Jewish bigots? How many people are only prejudiced towards Jewish people? The only REAL anti-Semites I’ve met have also hated all sorts of other people. Bigots works fine.

      • MHughes976
        February 24, 2013, 9:02 am

        Well, Djinn, he reason for stating a definition is that the word is, for good or ill, in common use and confusion may arise if we don’t think what we mean by it. It’s not a disaster if not everyone uses it in the same sense provided each knows what the other means.
        Avi – the def I suggest doesn’t imply that that prejudice or hostility to other, non-Jewish, people doesn’t exist, only that a different word applies to it. I agree that it’s inconvenient that the words ‘Semitic’ and ‘anti-Semitic’ don’t bring the same set of people into the frame, since everyone would call Arabic a Semitic language. But a century of usage has for most people had the effect that ‘anti-Semitic’ relates to Jewish people only and though we could think of another word I think confusion would be spread.
        The definition I suggest concerns negative attitudes because people are Jewish, not negative attitudes to people who as a matter of fact are or are regarded as Jewish: many Zionists would define anti-S to include these attitudes as well. Anti-Zionism (a belief to which I hold) is a negative attitude towards a group of people which prominently includes many Jewish people. This is not anti-S under my definition but under this popular Zionist definition it is and since we can all use words as we think fit, provided we make ourselves clear, there’s nothing I can do about it.

  3. Mndwss
    February 21, 2013, 11:12 am

    She reminded me of that “civilized” man caught on tape:

    link to mondoweiss.net

    She used more words, but the hate was the same…

  4. Citizen
    February 21, 2013, 12:23 pm

    Rossman-Benjamin is the co-founder of an outside political group, the Amcha Initiative, which seeks out professors who criticize Israel, accuse them of “anti-Semitism,” and urge university administrations — or state officials — to take punitive action against them. (They have yet to succeed. For example, Amcha’s attempt to have the state’s Attorney General take prosecutorial action against Dr. David Klein of California State University – Northridge for his open support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement was rejected by the Attorney General herself.)

    Amcha’s co-founders have also attempted to file civil rights law claims at the Department of Education, alleging that Jewish students face discrimination and harassment due to Palestine solidarity organizing on campus.

    link to electronicintifada.net

  5. Allison Deger
    February 21, 2013, 12:33 pm

    MSA always gets blamed for anti-Semitism and politics supporting Palestine. Most of the MSA’s in California are apolitical organizations aside from things like blood drives, fundraisers for low-income groups, and inter-faith dinners that they host with both Christian and Jewish (Hillel affiliated) groups. One one of the UC’s MSA is joined with SJP, the rest are independent nice religious/community service organizations.

  6. chet
    February 21, 2013, 1:06 pm

    The “New Anti-Semitism” = criticism of Israeli policies and actions.

    The “Newer New Anti-Semitism” = support for Palestinian human rights.

    Relentless.

  7. bilal a
    February 21, 2013, 2:20 pm

    I’m confused , is it legal to have a Jews Only ” (JO) frat or sorority at UCSC? A JO newspaper and a JO dormitory Coop? Even if its legal, is it ethical or psychologically healthy?

    ….

    AEPi
    UCSC’s Jewish Fraternity
    The 111th colony of AEPi assures the existence of Jewish culture & community on the UCSC campus. For more information, please e-mail Richard O’Donnell, Santa Cruz AEPi Master. Check out their website by clicking on the picture to the left!

    Sigma AEPi
    UCSC’s Jewish Sorority
    Are you interested in Greek life with a Jewish spin? Check out Sigma, UCSC’s newest sorority. Contact Danielle for more information or to be involved.

    eviathan
    The Jewish Student Voice of Santa Cruz
    Join the staff of the longest running Jewish student newspaper in the country. Writers, Artists, Photographers, Editors, and Staff needed! Email [email protected] for questions and submissions. Meetings are at the Press Center (ARC) Thursday nights at 6:15!

    Twelve Tribes Jewish Co-Op
    A fun happy place to live together and be Jewish! For questions, please contact Laura.

    link to santacruzhillel.org

    • ritzl
      February 21, 2013, 8:00 pm

      Anyone should and does have the right to self-identify and organize as a group (and even espouse views that make others “uncomfortable”). The problem comes (as it does in this case) when those groups claim that others shouldn’t have that same right.

      • RoHa
        February 21, 2013, 11:27 pm

        “the right to self-identify”

        ??? Can you spell out what this means?

      • ritzl
        February 22, 2013, 12:35 pm

        @RoHa “Self-identify” means, to me, an purer, voluntary or affirmative form of freedom of association, not a defensive one (i.e. reactive, like say labor unions), or an externally imposed one (ghettoization).

      • eljay
        February 22, 2013, 7:03 pm

        I’m all for self-identification. I’m completely against “self-identification” leading to the creation of any sort of supremacist “self-identified” state (Jewish, Muslim, philatelist, Christian, atheist, homosexual, left-handed or other).

      • Annie Robbins
        February 23, 2013, 11:44 am

        “the right to self-identify”

        ??? Can you spell out what this means?

        it means if i identify as an american that is how you should regard who i am. as opposed to someone saying to me i am not a real american because of their own concept of loyalty or birthright or something. or for example if a person lived here for decades and was never naturalized but feels like an american and self identifies as one i should respect that. it doesn’t mean i expect my government to respect that, it means i should attempt to relate to a person respecting their own self identification,and not deny the way they regard themselves. iow, it is not for me to tell you who you are.

        and in the context of ritzl’s comment it probably means if people identify as part of a group and want to socialize together identifying as jewish then they should be able to freely, of course as long as it does not infringe or impose upon anyone. and if someone says ‘if you self identify as jewish’ you are therefore zionist that becomes someone else’s limitations on the meaning of ones self identification , so it infringes upon it.

        for example, if hillel identifies itself as a jewish organization for students who identify as jews on campus and then restrict that membership to those who also support zionism or support israel by their standards then are they really “a jewish organization for students who identify as jews on campus”?

        no, they are a jewish-zionist organization for students who identify as zionist on campus. so by identifying by the former and rejecting students who are not zionist the implication is those students are not jewish enough, not respecting their self identification.

        or people who say ‘my self identification as a xxx(whatever people) requires an acceptance of such and such religious stuff’ and therefore you are not really xxx if you do not fit my identification.’

        and taken to the extreme if a boy is raised in the forest and believes he is a wolf then the way to relate to him is with respect to his self identification.

        (of course if you believe someone is purposely lying about who they are then a different standard is applied)

      • RoHa
        February 23, 2013, 7:19 pm

        “@RoHa “Self-identify” means, to me, an purer, voluntary or affirmative form of freedom of association,”

        So membership of the West Brisbane Gentleman’s Cheesecake Photography Club is a way of “self-identifying”?

      • RoHa
        February 23, 2013, 7:48 pm

        “it means i should attempt to relate to a person respecting their own self identification,and not deny the way they regard themselves.”

        So if British Citizen Ieuan Evans, born, brought up, and continually resident in Rhosllanerchrugog, regards himself to be a Crimean Cossack, I should “relate” (whatever that means) to him as such, and not tell him he’s being silly?

        (Annie, I love you, but I will love you more if you look around your keyboard and find the “shift” key.)

      • Annie Robbins
        February 23, 2013, 10:18 pm

        So if British Citizen Ieuan Evans, born, brought up, and continually resident in Rhosllanerchrugog, regards himself to be a Crimean Cossack, I should “relate” (whatever that means) to him as such, and not tell him he’s being silly?

        So if christian, born, brought up, and continually resident in christian household, regards himself to be a muslim, I should “relate” (whatever that means) to him as such, and not tell him he’s being silly?

        yes. your example is rather out there. but lets take the example of a child born a boy who considers himself a girl. do you tell him he’s being silly? a persons self identification is personal and real to the individual. yes, there are instances where they are lying. therefore it is not really their personal self identification. but if a person believes something about themselves, then not respecting that (as in ““with respect to”, obviously one does not need to respect a rapist if they say they are a rapist) or regarding that as their truth or what is real for them, you’re creating a dead end from the get go.

        so if a person tells you they are jewish, who am i to say ‘well, is your mother jewish because if she isn’t then i don’t think you’re a real jew, or then are you zionist, and they say no, well then you are not real jew, and i say, well do you keep kosher and they say no, well then you are not real jew, and on and on. if someone tells you who they are, unless you have reason to believe they are lying, then it is not for you to pass judgement on a persons self identity. that is my opinion. in general, of course there are exceptions to everything. but everyday i am becoming more and more palestinian. i believe that.

      • RoHa
        February 24, 2013, 1:44 am

        “So if christian, born, brought up, and continually resident in christian household, regards himself to be a muslim,”

        I will assume he has a fairly clear idea of what it is to be a Muslim. If he believes he is a Muslim then he considers that his religious beliefs are closer to those of a Muslim than those of a Christian. Since being a Muslim is a matter of the belief one holds, it would seem likely that he is a Muslim.

        “a child born a boy who considers himself a girl. do you tell him he’s being silly?”

        Again, on the assumption that the child has a fairly clear idea of what it is to be a girl, then, tactfully, yes. He is not a girl. He may need some sort of counselling to either help him to accept boyhood or keep him going until he is old enough for the operation, but no good will come of pretending he is a girl.

        When a man thinks he is a teapot, we* may need to be tactful in persuading him he isn’t a teapot, but there will be little point in filling him with teabags and pouring hot water into him. You certainly won’t get drinkable tea. Especially not Earl Grey.

        “so if a person tells you they are jewish”

        Since there doesn’t seem to be a clear idea of what it is to be Jewish, one can hardly argue.

        *Preferably you. I’m not much good at tact.

      • Annie Robbins
        February 24, 2013, 6:06 pm

        one can hardly argue

        oh comeon, how can you say that after your teapot argument?

      • RoHa
        February 25, 2013, 6:25 pm

        one can hardly argue

        oh comeon, how can you say that after your teapot argument?”

        I’ll rephrase that.

        I do not have a clear idea of what it is to be Jewish, so I can hardly argue over whether someone is Jewish or not.

        I do have a clear idea of what it is to be a teapot.

  8. DICKERSON3870
    February 21, 2013, 3:26 pm

    ● RE: “Rossman-Benjamin is the head of the AMCHA Initiative, a Zionist pressure group that targets professors and student groups for alleged anti-Semitism, though the actions AMCHA goes after are activism for Palestinian rights.” ~ Alex Kane

    ● FROM BELOW: “As far as these outside pressure groups (and their campus representatives) are concerned, the intellectual and academic price that the scholarly community pays as a result of this kind of intervention amounts to little more than collateral damage. . .” ~ Goldberg & Makdisi

    ● SEE: “The Trial of Israel’s Campus Critics”, by David Theo Goldberg & Saree Makdisi, Tikkun Magazine, September/October 2009

    [EXCERPT] . . . It is an extraordinary fact that no fewer than thirty-three distinct organizations – including AIPAC, the Zionist Organization of America, the American Jewish Congress, and the Jewish National Fund – are gathered together today as members or affiliates of the Israel on Campus Coalition. The coalition is an overwhelmingly powerful presence on American college campuses for which there is simply no equivalent on the Palestinian or Arab side. Its self-proclaimed mission is not merely to monitor our colleges and universities. That, after all, is the commitment of Campus Watch, which was started by pro-Israel activists in 2002. It is, rather (and in its own words), to generate “a pro-active, pro-Israel agenda on campus.”
    There is, accordingly, disproportionate and unbalanced intervention on campuses across the country by a coalition of well-funded organizations, who have no time for — and even less interest in — the niceties of intellectual exchange and academic process. Insinuation, accusation, and defamation have become the weapons of first resort to respond to argument and criticism directed at Israeli policies. As far as these outside pressure groups (and their campus representatives) are concerned, the intellectual and academic price that the scholarly community pays as a result of this kind of intervention amounts to little more than collateral damage. . .

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – link to tikkun.org

    • DICKERSON3870
      February 21, 2013, 3:42 pm

      ● RE: “. . . It is an extraordinary fact that no fewer than thirty-three distinct organizations . . . are gathered together today as members or affiliates of the Israel on Campus Coalition. . . As far as these outside pressure groups (and their campus representatives) are concerned, the intellectual and academic price that the scholarly community pays as a result of this kind of intervention amounts to little more than collateral damage. . . ~ Goldberg & Makdisi (from above)

      ● MY COMMENT: This is yet another reason I fear that Revisionist Zionism and Likudnik Israel (specifically by virtue of their inordinate sway over the U.S.) might very well be an “existential threat” to the values of The Enlightenment [like "the right of free speech"] ! ! !
      “Down, down, down we [the U.S.] go into the deep, dark abyss; hand in hand with Israel.”

      OTHER EXAMPLES OF ISRAEL’S VALUES TRUMPING (OVERRIDING) THE VALUES OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT HERE IN THE U.S.
      “How We Became Israel”, By Andrew J. Bacevich, The American Conservative, 9/10/12
      LINK – link to theamericanconservative.com
      “America Adopts the Israel Paradigm”, by Philip Ghiraldi, Antiwar.com, 7/05/12
      LINK – link to original.antiwar.com
      “Report: Israeli model underlies militarization of U.S. police”, By Muriel Kane, Raw Story, 12/04/11
      LINK – link to rawstory.com
      From Occupation to “Occupy”: The Israelification of American Domestic Security, By Max Blumenthal, Al-akhbar, 12/02/11
      LINK – link to english.al-akhbar.com OR link to informationclearinghouse.info
      “Brooklyn College’s academic freedom increasingly threatened over Israel event”, by Glenn Greenwald, guardian.co.uk, 2/02/13
      LINK – link to guardian.co.uk
      ‘Israelis are helping write US laws, fund US campaigns, craft US war policy’, by Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss, 6/30/12
      LINK – link to mondoweiss.net
      “David Yerushalmi, Islam-Hating White Supremacist Inspires Anti-Sharia Bills Sweeping Tea Party Nation”, by Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, 3/02/11
      LINK – link to richardsilverstein.com
      “Boston airport security program rife with racial profiling has Israeli links”, by Alex Kane, Mondoweiss, 8/14/12
      LINK – link to mondoweiss.net
      “Obama’s kill list policy compels US support for Israeli attacks on Gaza”, By Glenn Greenwald, guardian.co.uk, 11/15/12
      LINK – link to guardian.co.uk

      P.S. AND HERE’S ANOTHER THREAT TO THE VALUES OF “THE ENLIGHTENMENT” (THIS TIME IN AFRICA):
      “US Religious Right Propelling Homophobia in African Countries”
      , by Common Dreams, 7/24/12
      LINK – link to commondreams.org

  9. IL1948
    February 21, 2013, 5:49 pm

    What an outrageous, baseless smear. We all know the MSAs in California are “nice religious/community service organizations”:

    • Avi_G.
      February 22, 2013, 1:17 am

      Apparently Israel’s fanatical defenders only do sarcasm and answer spitefully when it suites them.

      Yet somehow when a Palestinian solidarity activist answers sarcastically, those same Judeo-Fascists pounce with fury and baseless accusations as they play dumb and point fingers.

      What do you say Mr. Nakba1948?

      D. Horowitz is standing there at the podium, running his mouth off, regurgitating an outright lie that’s been proven time and again to be a lie, and yet it’s the woman with the head scarf who’s to blame when she reciprocates.

      That same disparity is the epitome of the imbalance of power; Zionists can do whatever they want to Palestinians and to Moslems, but the minute the natives become uppity, then suddenly Zionists react with righteous indignation.

  10. yourstruly
    February 21, 2013, 10:32 pm

    antsemites with ties to terrorists?

    anyone who’s a supporter of israel?

    for aiding & abetting a terrorist entity?

    not to mention the abyss?

    then, won’t make much difference who goes first?

    one’s parents, occupation, education, nationality religion & such?

    not withstanding?

    what with time running out?

    unless there’s a turnabout?

    how long before there’s that phone call for the last one out to please turn off the lights?

  11. piotr
    February 22, 2013, 2:24 pm

    Zionist extremists (not all Zionist) long time ago departed from the shores of Common Sense. A good exhibit is the following editorial How Europe Funds Israel’s Destruction (discussion below is quite precious as well):
    link to frontpagemag.com
    A typical quote:
    Seventy years ago the Europeans had to round up the Jews and take them to the nearest railway station. Now they just need to finance a textbook, fund a television show …

  12. Garibaldi
    February 23, 2013, 12:34 pm

    Is it a coincidence that Rossman-Benjamin gave her speech smearing student activists as being “anti-Semites with ties to terrorists” at Ahavath Torah Congregation, a synagogue led by the Islamophobic Rabbi Jonathan Hausman? The same synagogue has given a platform to the wild eyed bigot Pamela Geller, the anti-Muslim neo-Fascist Dutch politician Geert Wilders, as well as Wafa Sultan, who has called for “nuking and crushing” Muslims.

    link to loonwatch.com

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