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Anti-Zionism as Anti-Semitism

With the beginnlng of the intifada-the Palestinian uprising against Israel in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank-in December 1987, campus anti-Semites had a seemingly endless supply of material to justify their claims of "Zionism is racism" and "Zionist imperialism." Many of these anti-Israel statements were more than mere criticism of Israeli policy, which would, of course, be legitimate; they were anti-Semitic because they questioned Israel's right to exist, singled out the Jewish state for harsh criticism while ignoring anti-Israel terrorism, condoned international Zionist conspiracies or reflected other double standards. Anti-Jewish sentiments were often mixed into anti-Israel speeches or written pieces, showing that many of the critics were not seeking a political discussion, but were intent on spreading hateful stereotypes. Anti-Zionism became an acceptable way to express anti-Semitic sentiments.

Anti-Israel statements also became socially acceptable material for college newspapers and speakers in the late 1980s. When Jewish students would attempt to protest editorials or lectures, they were sometimes accused of attempting to stifle the free exchange of ideas. For example, Kwame Ture (the former Stokely Carmichael), a Black nationalist figure, was often applauded by large segments of students for regularly vilifying Zionism, Israel, and Judaism in frequent appearances at colleges and universities beginning in the mid-1980s. He coined one of his favorite phrases, "The only good Zionist is a dead Zionist," at Columbia University in 1985, and used it regularly. At Colgate University in February 1991, he said that Zionism was a "diabolical movement," and that Zionists were "enemies of the people." The day after he spoke at Tufts University in March 1991, an Israeli flag owned by four Jewish students living off-campus was set on fire and the charred remains placed back in the stand.

In another example of the former acceptability of Anti-Zionism, the University of Michigan's daily newspaper regularly published anti-Israel rhetoric during the 1988-89 academic year. The editorials included support for a "Zionism is racism" statement, censure of a Jewish group that tried to call attention to Arab terrorism, and an accusation that Israel had been behind the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. These unfounded attacks on Zionism prompted a protest by 200 members of the Jewish student community and drew national attention.

- The Changing Mood
- The Rabin Assassination

The Changing Mood

But with the 1991 Gulf War, the subsequent election of the Labor government in 1992, Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, and increasing acceptance of Israel by the Arab world, campus Anti-Zionism has become largely passe. Israel, once treated as a pariah by many nations, has been clearly accepted by most of the world, as demonstrated by the large number of countries that have established diplomatic relations with Israel in recent years and by the overwhelming turnout of foreign dignitaries for the funeral of assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995. While Muslim student organizations at a few schools-such as the University of California at Berkeley, San Francisco State University and the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee-are still engaged in anti-Israel and Anti-Zionist propaganda as if the intifada never ended, and other radical student groups continue to sponsor anti-Israel speakers and materials, college and university campuses have mirrored the world's acceptance of the Jewish state.

However, while campuses were overwhelmingly sympathetic to Israel in the wake of the Rabin assassination and the spate of Hamas suicide bombings in Israel in February and March 1996, these tragedies perversely gave Israel-bashers at some schools a fresh excuse to spout their rhetoric. The violence in Israel served as a catalyst to show that Anti-Zionist beliefs more common to the 1980s are still held by some students.

Four days after the round of deadly Hamas suicide bombings in Israel, U.C. Berkeley's Muslim Unity Group, which includes Hamas supporters, staged an anti-Israel rally on campus on March 8, 1996. The Jewish Bulletin of Northern California reported the following about the incident: "In front of a few hundred onlookers . . . Muslim students and Hamas supporters trampled and spat on an Israeli flag as they glorified the recent suicide bombers and chanted 'Destruction! God is great!' in Arabic. A half-dozen men wearing military fatigues and Hezbollah headbands accepted blessings from a Muslim cleric and vowed to become martyrs for the cause."

On the same day, two advertisements ran in the student newspaper. One was sponsored by the local Jewish community and featured a Star of David and language "condemning these vicious acts of terrorism." It was signed by 67 individuals and groups, including government officials, the University religious council, and student campus leaders.

However, it was not signed by Berkeley's Chancellor, Chang Lin Tien. A university spokesman said Tien sponsored a separate advertisement to avoid the appearance of taking sides. While the task of balancing competing interests often proves a delicate one for university heads, incidents such as the bombings fall outside the pale of normal political disputes and should be treated as such. Instead, the Chancellor issued an ad that called violence and the deaths of innocent people "reprehensible," and stated, "I encourage the entire campus community to engage in constructive and respectful dialogue on these important issues."

Tien also declined to issue a statement after the pro-Hamas rally. Coupled with his refusal to forcefully stand alongside the Jewish populace in its hour of grief, this lack of action outraged the Jewish communities of Berkeley and the surrounding area. ADL wrote a letter to Tien that stated in part:

While we wholeheartedly support the right of free speech . . . we feel it is incumbent upon the Administration of Cal to exercise moral leadership and disassociate itself from such poisonous rhetoric and conduct that threatens the very security of Jewish students. While we commend your initial statement . . . we feel that it doesn't go far enough in addressing the hurt, outrage, and overt threats felt by the students and the community at large. Your encouraging the campus community to engage in dialogue implies condonation of a vile and hateful activity like the March 8 rally.

The Rabin Assassination

The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, an event that traumatized Israel, also proved an excuse for some students to engage in anti-Semitism. One of the most flagrant examples came from the pages of the newspaper at California State University, Fresno, The Daily Collegian. While hardly representative of the response on the nation's campuses to the Rabin murder, it demonstrates the depth of hatred that still exists among some students.

The newspaper's lead story on the Monday following the assassination, November 6, 1995, (incorrectly dated as November 7) was a venomous attack on Israel. The writer, Hadi Yazdanpanah, wrote of "varied reactions" on campus to the assassination, but the article's first quotation was of an anonymous student who said, "I was kind of happy." Given the shock and outrage with which most of the Western world greeted the shooting, this quotation hardly seems representative of most students' reactions.

Yazdanpanah went on to quote the student as saying, "When they [the Jews] disobeyed God, they broke the covenant; from that point on it's no longer their land." Paraphrasing the source, the reporter wrote, "he is against the proposed peace accords because it will return only part of the land taken over entirely by the Zionist-Jews to the Palestinians."

These quotations and statements took up the first part of a lead news article, not an Op-Ed piece. It contained far more opinion than reporting, and in no way purported to explore the real range of reactions on campus. The editors failed in their responsibility to draw a line between balanced writing and racist implications.

The editors showed their judgment to be flawed once again by publishing an extended commentary by Yazdanpanah on Monday, November 13. Entitled, "Rabin's military barbarism forgotten while world mourns," it began, "Yitzhak Rabin was the most despicable mass murderer that the 20th century has seen, making Hitler look like Big Bird." The piece descends from there into blatant anti-Semitism, with references to "the Jew-nited States of America" and "the Jew-nited Nations." He wrote that "The Zionist-Jews have the American government on a dog leash . . . bowing to Israel." Its bigoted rhetoric fell far outside the pale of a serious Op-Ed page.

On November 17, after criticism by Jewish students and the surrounding community, university president John Welty issued a statement that condemned Yazdanpanah's pieces but did not mention anti-Semitism. The writings "indicate to me that simple civility and respect for others has diminished markedly during the past few months," Welty wrote. While his comments were on the right track, and while he did write that "intolerance . . . will not be supported," Welty's comments fell short of a strong, direct response to such clear Jew-hatred. Yazdanpanah's writing reflected much more than simple lack of respect and civility, and should have been treated as such.

Following criticism by ADL and others for his inadequate response, Welty wrote a letter to the editor of The Collegian on November 20, for publication. It was a much stronger condemnation of Yazdanpanah's Op-Ed piece and of the newspaper for publishing it:

The article is a shameful example of bigotry and hatred which has no place in civilized discourse. . . In choosing to print the November 13 opinion piece, The Collegian staff failed to either recognize or exercise [their] responsibility. There was a failure to recognize the difference between opinion and bigotry; between public discussion of the issues and hatemongering; between editorial and tirade. Further, in spite of your claim that six hours were spent verifying the accuracy of content, the piece is riddled with inaccuracies.

Sources: Schooled in Hate: Anti-Semitism On Campus, ADL, 1997. Copyright Anti-Defamation League (ADL). All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.