Anti-Zionism at Anti-Semitism
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
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 passé. 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 in
order 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 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, "Yitzchak
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.
Next: Responding to Campus Extremism