In 2014, American filmmaker Ami Horowitz tried an experiment. He went to the University of California, Berkeley, and waved the Islamic State's black flag while vocally supporting the terrorist group. Most people ignored Horowitz and walked past him, or they stared and remained silent. But one student gave the "ISIS supporter" a fist bump of approval. Another said "good luck." More waved, smiled, and gave Horowitz a thumbs-up. The only somewhat negative response was a student warning Horowitz, who was smoking, that campus police would cite him if he did not ditch the cigarette. Who says decorum is dead? When the filmmaker changed costumes and began waving an Israeli flag, however, all hell broke loose. "Israel is a thief in the night, and a thief in the day!" one man shouted. "Fuck Israel!" another cursed. One person said the Israeli flag represents "psychological genocide of this planet." "Tyranny isn't cute" and "you're killing kids" were among the other numerous insults hurled at Horowitz, who was guilty of supporting the world's only Jewish state—apparently a great crime.
Horowitz's experiment is no isolated incident; it is a microcosm of a much larger and disturbing trend: the entrenchment of anti-Israel hostility on college campuses across the United States. And that hostility has contributed greatly to a rise in anti-Semitic incidents on campuses. The problem has gotten so bad that the California State University (CSU) public university system had to agree to put in a series of measures to protect and support the rights of Jewish and pro-Israel students on Wednesday, after it reached a legal settlement.
Two Jewish students at San Francisco State University (SFSU) allege that the school and its board of trustees discriminated against them and engaged in anti-Semitism. The students say that SFSU prevented the campus Hillel from participating in the school's "Know Your Rights" fair in February 2017, and that the university failed to respond effectively to anti-Semitic incidents, according to the Jewish Journal. The Lawfare Project and Winston & Strawn LLP represented the students, who brought a lawsuit against their school.
SFSU agreed to a settlement in which it, according to the Jewish News Syndicate,
agreed to issue a statement affirming that "it understands that, for many Jews, Zionism is an important part of their identity;" hire and provide adequate office space for a coordinator of Jewish student life within the school's Division of Equity & Community Inclusion; hire an outside firm to review the university's protocols and enforcement of CSU's anti-discrimination policies and student code of conduct; allow an outside investigation of additional complaints for two years; and allocate $200,000 to "support educational outreach efforts to promote viewpoint diversity (including but not limited to pro-Israel or Zionist viewpoints) and inclusion and equity on the basis of religious identity (including but not limited to Jewish religious identity)."
"California State University's public recognition that Zionism is an integral part of Jewish identity represents a major victory for Jewish students at SFSU and across the country," said Brooke Goldstein, executive director of the Lawfare Project. "Today, we have ensured that SFSU will put in place important protections for Jewish and Zionist students to prevent continued discrimination. We are confident that this will change the campus climate for the better."
That Jewish observers and publications are celebrating the settlement as a big victory shows how serious and systemic the current hostility toward Jewish and pro-Israel voices on campus really is. It should not be a big deal for any organization in a free society, let alone a diverse institution of higher learning, to say that Zionism—which is simply the belief that Israel should survive as a prosperous Jewish state—is important to many Jews—not even all Jews! CSU is taking important and positive steps, but college campuses should not need a nudge from the legal system to foster a culture that promotes dialogue and makes Jews and supporters of Israel feel welcome.
Despite this settlement, hostility toward Israel, and the anti-Semitism that inevitably comes with it, is rising. It seems like every week another student body is debating whether their school should support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Even worse, the faculty responsible for opening students' minds to different points of view is doing the exact opposite, supporting a campaign that seeks, through economic warfare, to destroy Jewish sovereignty. Just last week, students and faculty at Pitzer College in California voted to suspend the school's study abroad partnership with Israel's University of Haifa. College president Melvin Oliver bravely declined to follow through, calling the suspension an "academic boycott of Israel," but it is obvious where most people on campus stand.
Amid efforts to punish Israel, campuses are becoming hubs for anti-Semitic incidents. The anecdotal evidence is striking, as are the numbers. According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses increased by 89 percent in 2017 from the previous year. Right-wing white supremacists and neo-Nazis are responsible for many of these incidents, as are activists on the political left who view Israel, a vibrant democracy, as the world's great evil. Take the example of John Cheney-Lippold, a professor at the University of Michigan who refused to write a letter of recommendation after learning it would help a student study at Tel Aviv University in Israel.
For those who would argue that such opposition to Israel is different than anti-Semitism, I have explained several times why this is a distinction without a difference. People who show such visceral hatred toward Israel and promote policies that would end Israel's existence as a Jewish state are engaging in the most popular form of anti-Semitism, a virus that has mutated through the centuries to adapt to what is socially, culturally, and politically acceptable at any given time.
Those students at Berkeley who lambasted Horowitz for waving an Israeli flag surely thought they were in the right; they probably believe the Jewish state is responsible for the most egregious crimes. But when they are so eager to attack a country that contributes so much good to the world, from medical breakthroughs to technical innovation, and that treats its supposed enemies in its own hospitals, while showing indifference to if not praise for a terrorist organization that actually kills children and burns prisoners alive, forgive me for seeing in these woke Berkeleyites the same illogical contradictions, the same strange obsessions that define the thinking of deranged anti-Semites.