Hillel leader minimizes BDS inspired anti-Semitism

RainbowsIn an opinion piece recently published in Seattle’s JTNews, University of Washington (UW) Hillel Director Rabbi Oren Hayon put forth that it may be best for Jewish students to capitulate to BDS divestment efforts. Hayon explained that while he is not enamored of the BDS movement,  his opposition, such as it is “is not because it will usher in a new wave of anti-Semitism or violence against Jews anytime soon” but rather because “it makes Jewish communal institutions entrench themselves like armies and forces educators to think like generals” (whatever that means).

Hayon’s optimistic assessment would no doubt come as a surprise to David Eden, the Chief Administrative Officer at Hillel. Eden told Inside Higher Ed  in an interview published today that “There was more anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity on American campuses in this past one year than there have been in the last 10 years combined.”  


Meanwhile Hayon informs us in his JTNews piece that students searching for a “a legitimate, nonviolent way of raising their voices in protest” are attracted to the BDS movement.  While Hayon is ever vague about the actual goals of BDS, Eden in contrast has no difficulty clarifying that  “The goal of BDS is to sow the seeds of discord on college campuses,” and goes on to describe the movement as “pro-hate” and “anti-peace.

The Institute for Jewish & Community Research (IJCR) also does not share Hayon’s tempered assessment of the BDS threat.  Having conducted one of the largest and most comprehensive surveys  of its kind the institute found that “Over 40% of students confirm Anti-Semitism on their campus.

Attorney Joseph Klein notes  that according to the IJCR report “Ample anecdotal evidence suggests that, over the last decade, Jewish college students have faced rising levels of anti-Semitism on campuses across the United States,” the Institute’s report concluded. “[Anti-Israel] divestment campaigns, protests, rallies, guerrilla theater and inflammatory speakers have featured anti-Jewish rhetoric. With insufficient response from administrators, these events have developed into hostile environments, where Jewish students and others have been maligned and threatened.”

According to the ADL  Some of those incidents included the use of anti-Semitic imagery under the guise of anti-Israel activism, with conspiracy theories about Jewish political and economic control being voiced on campus

Jessica Felber was assaulted at a 2010 Apartheid Week event at UC Berkeley,

Jessica Felber was assaulted by BDS supporters at a 2010 Apartheid Week event at UC Berkeley,

The Daily Californian reported that UC Berkeley student, Jessica Felber alleged that she was assaulted at a 2010 Apartheid Week event “during which Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Muslim Student Association established a mock checkpoint that included fake barbed wire and AK-47 firearms. The plaintiffs alleged that Husam Zakharia, campus alumnus and former leader of SJP, rammed Felber — who was a member of Tikvah Students for Israel — with a shopping cart. Felber consequently sought medical treatment and a restraining order against Zakharia.

Members of SJP [at UC Berkeley] set up these mock checkpoints and demanded that students passing by announce their religious affiliation, with Jews picked out for intimidation”  according to Klein He adds that “Jewish student events have been disrupted and speakers heckled with chants such as “Seig Heil.

The atmosphere that some of these Jewish kids have been subjected to (is) reminiscent of what went on in Nazi Germany in the 30s,”  Farber’s attorney Neal Sher told The Daily Californian , “And the university has the capability to step in and to stop this, but it hasn’t in years.” Although Farber had filed a lawsuit against the University regarding the incidents and atmosphere on campus, she dropped the legal action against UC Berkeley in July 2012 after the University promised to make systemic changes.

“Recently, the president of San Francisco State’s General Union of Palestine Students, Mohammad G. Hammad, posted a picture of himself with a knife, writing: “I seriously cannot get over how much I love this blade. It is the sharpest thing I own and cuts through everything like butter and just holding it makes me want to stab an Israeli soldier.””

 The Northeastern University branch of BDS affiliated Students for Justice in Palestine were suspended in March of this year following multiple instances of intimidating Jewish students. The group was chastised by the University for disrupting pro-Israel events and trying to bully pro-Israel speakers off of the campus. Many Jewish students reported finding mock eviction notices slipped under their doors by SJP activists.

BDS leader at SF State "I seriously cannot get over how much I love this blade - just holding it makes me want to stab an Israeli soldier.”

BDS leader at SF State “I seriously cannot get over how much I love this blade – just holding it makes me want to stab an Israeli soldier.”

At Vassar College earlier this year the SJP chapter posted Nazi cartoons and nightmarish anti-Semitic imagery on their Tumblr feed. 

Molly Rosen, a Jewish senior at the University of Michigan described a campus atmosphere so hostile that students who publicly support Israel are subject to brutal and thuggish intimidation.

 “It was not just individual students who were the victims of violent threats and intimidation by pro-Palestinian forces.  Student Government representatives were similarly targeted and, most tellingly, called “kike” and a “dirty Jew.” Both CSG representatives and ordinary students were afraid to attend their classes because they felt unsafe.”

 The situation on the UM campus became so ugly that the  Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) felt it necessary to intervene. In a tersely worded letter to counsel for UM President Mary Sue Coleman issued this past April, ZOA president Morton Klein wrote

Given that such anti-Semitic campaigns are proliferating on campuses around the country, and given how hateful and bigoted the campaign was on your campus, even causing fear among students for their physical safety, a statement from President Coleman at this time – affirming that the University of Michigan opposes and will not support any BDS efforts targeting Israel – is vital.

Meanwhile at UCLA this year, SJP demanded that student leaders sign an “ethics” pledge against participating in non SJP approved trips to Israel. Two student leaders were charged with ethics violations for the crime of participating in one of those “unapproved” Israel tours.

Whether these and many other disturbing incidents across the country represent the apex or just the beginning of a trend is unknown. The need to acknowledge and address the situation is obvious.

How or why  Hillel UW’s Hayon  is committed to an understanding of the campus situation that is diametrically opposed to his organizational leadership as well as reality is beyond us. Although the impulse to deny unpleasant things can make life delightfully blissful, our students require and deserve a grounded, lucid leadership, able to confront the true challenges facing Jewish students on our campuses in 2014.