A widely publicized anti-Semitic incident at a major American university, in which a teaching assistant threatened to lower the grades of pro-Israel students, has focused attention on the broader issue of hostility and harassment directed at Jewish students on America’s college campuses.
The incident also highlighted a growing culture of intolerance and bigotry not only in academia, but among influential wings of the liberal left that threaten the right of free speech in this country.
The teaching assistant, identified as Rasha Anayah, is also a leader of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Johns Hopkins, according to a Jerusalem Post report. In a Twitter post, Anayah posed what she called an “ethical dilemma,” asking her viewers, “If you have to grade a zionist student exam, do you still give them all their points even though they support your ethnic cleansing?”
Anayah’s targeting of Jewish students and wild allegations that they “support ethnic cleansing” drew fire from university students and anti-Semitism watchdog groups. “We find it alarming that a teaching assistant at a major university is expressing a clear intent to punish students on the basis of their Jewish identity or national origin as Israelis,” said Yael Lerman, director of the legal department of Stand With Us, a pro-Israel advocacy organization.
The University administration said it was looking into the incident, and Jewish students who felt their grades had been unfairly lowered by Anayah were encouraged to step forward. It is unclear how many did so—or how many would have done so were they not intimidated by fear of retaliation. The SJP enjoys broad support at John Hopkins University, sources say.
Anti-Israel Groups Single Out Jewish Students
SJP, the most active anti-Israel group on campus in the United States, is a network of pro-Palestinian student groups which disseminate anti-Israel propaganda laced with anti-Semitic rhetoric, according to an ADL report, Anti-Semitism and the Radical Anti-Israel Movement on U.S. Campuses.
SJP promotes Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns against Israel which has become a central feature of the anti-Israel movement on campus. The movement works to harm Israel through boycotting Israeli companies and student exchanges with Israeli universities. Its proponents deny Israel’s right to exist, scoff at concerns about terrorism and habitually malign the Jewish state.
They propagandize the belief that Israel engages in “ethnic cleansing” and genocide against the Palestinians. This inflammatory rhetoric revives age-old slurs about Jewish sinister intent and exacerbates hostility toward Jewish students.
Student governments at American universities have been increasingly active in pushing for BDS against Israel or companies connected to Israel. Some proposals, at New York University and Pitzer College, for example, have called for the end of study abroad programs at Israeli universities.
Muslim backers of the BDS proposals at these institutions control the Mideast narrative, ensuring that lies and distortions of the record go unchallenged, and that many of these proposals are passed by student governments.
In the hostile atmosphere permeating student meetings, Jewish students are often too intimidated or outnumbered to fight back. Many lack an adequate grasp of contemporary Mideast history to be able to expose anti-Israel falsehoods and propaganda.
According to the ADL report, some radical anti-Israel groups on campus have expressed support for terrorism against Israelis by promoting the terrorist group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; applauding convicted terrorists; condoning violent tactics of Hamas, or honoring Palestinians who were killed while attacking Israeli civilians.
Other acts of hostility on campus include tearing down Israeli flags from their displays, circulating petitions urging fellow students to boycott all pro-Israel groups on campus, heckling pro-Israel speakers and noisily disrupting pro-Israel events.
Israeli Apartheid Week
One of the most virulent anti-Israel programs on campus is the annual “Israeli Apartheid Week,” which features a series of anti-Israel and pro-BDS lectures, demonstrations and other events on campuses across the world.
For the past several years, this event was held on roughly 20 American university campuses, according to ADL. One of the primary purposes of the program, usually run by SJP, is to highlight the alleged brutality of Israel’s security fence against the Palestinian people through theatrical performances and displays.
Favored tactics include constructing mock Israeli checkpoints and “apartheid walls,” (Israeli security fences), screening an anti-Semitic documentary, “The Lobby,” that highlights the “all-powerful” influence of the pro-Israel lobby on the U.S government; and distributing fake “eviction notices” to dramatize Israeli “racism” and oppression of Palestinians.
The SJP of Georgetown University in Washington used Israeli Apartheid Week to infuse a fresh injection of hate-Israel sentiment into the student population, writes the ADL report. The group’s events spanned a full week of nightly events, including erecting an “apartheid wall, disseminating conspiracy theories about Jewish control of the government, and glorifying Muslim hate-mongers.
During the same week, SPJ at Emory University in Georgia posted mock “eviction” notices on many Jewish students’ doors to mark Israel Apartheid Week.
These events turn into hatred-spewing propaganda campaigns across U.S. campuses, leaving Jewish students feeling besieged, isolated and threatened.
Harassment of Jewish Students Reaching All-Time High
Far from being an isolated incident, the brazen anti-Semitism demonstrated at Johns Hopkins is mirrored in the “harassment and attacks on Jewish students in American universities that is reaching an all-time high,” wrote Inside Higher Education in September.
A female student at CUNY who defended Israel’s right to exist in an op-ed in Jewish Journal found herself the target of pro-Palestinian groups, wrote the Jerusalem Post.
Rafaela Gunz said she had endured an increasing ordeal of confrontations and episodes of harassment at the hands of fellow classmates on campus and online, with no support from CUNY faculty members even after she approached authorities with her complaints. The situation drove her to drop out after her first year of law school, and to review her legal options.
“I was approached by a very far-right organization interested in representing my case but I decided not to partner with them because they do a lot of things I disagree with, she told the Post.
In an incident this year at University of Southern Caliornia, Rose Ritch, former vice president of the Undergraduate Student Government felt she was forced to step down from her position after she was “harassed and pressured” by students who called her a racist for her support of Israel. They went so far as to launch a campaign to impeach her, Ritch stated in an open letter.
The students said her support for Israel made her “unsuitable” to be a student leader. The rhetoric they used played into “the oldest stereotypes of Jews, including accusations of having dual loyalty to the United States and Israel and holding all Jews responsible for the actions of the Israeli government,” Ms. Ritch wrote.
“The sad reality is that my story is not uncommon on college campuses,” the letter continued.
“Across the country, pro-Israel students are being asked to disavow their identities or beliefs” in order to join certain organizations on their campuses. My support for Israel should not and cannot disqualify me from membership.”
USC Launches Stronger Than Hate
Forty-three faculty members condemned the above-mentioned incident with Rose Ritch in an open letter to USC students and staff. The faculty members reject “in the strongest possible terms any and all attempts to associate Zionism with such inflammatory accusations as racism, colonialism, and white supremacy, which are diametrically antithetical to Zionist ideas and aims,” the letter said.
USC president Carol Folt wrote that “it is critically important to state explicitly and unequivocally that anti-Semitism in all of its forms is a profound betrayal of our principles and has no place at the university.”
“USC still grapples with a history of anti-Semitism,” Folt acknowledged in her message. She announced the launching of “a new initiative, Stronger Than Hate, to address biases against marginalized students through educational programming and conversations about culture and identity.”
“Over the last several years, incidents of anti-Semitism in American higher education have dramatically increased, and anti-Semitic attacks remain the most common religiously motivated hate crime in the United States,” Folt wrote. “As a result, this has been an extremely painful period for our Jewish community … It is more important now than ever for our university to serve as a global beacon of belonging.”
University of Delaware Chabad Center Set Ablaze
For Jewish students at the University of Delaware, returning to campus for the fall/winter semester this year was marked by heightened anxiety after an arsonist set fire to the university’s Chabad Center, where many students celebrate their Jewish identity and traditions.
Mark Rotenberg, Hillel International’s vice president and a law professor at American University, said the rise in anti-Semitic attacks on campuses, including many incidents of online harassment, have come from both “far right and far left ideological orientations,” such as white supremacists and those who accuse pro-Israel students of being “Zionist racists.”
“No one is suggesting that universities should suppress free speech, but singling out individual students for attack is an entirely different matter,” Rotenberg said.
He said far too often, university administrators do not call out anti-Semitism for what it is and do not take steps to prevent incidents from occurring, such as providing education programs that help students and staff members understand how anti-Semitism “manifests on their campuses in 2020.”
Jewish students are “fed up” with being marginalized. They want college administrators to call it out when it occurs, rather than put out “plain vanilla statements” about overall commitments to diversity and inclusion, he said.
“Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces”
The marginalizing of Jewish students, especially vocally pro-Israel ones, is mirrored in many universities by equally strident retaliation against anyone who refuses to conform to establishment positions.
This is today’s “cancel-culture”—a form of ostracism used by the liberal left against ideological opponents in which the offenders are publicly shunned and disgraced.
Tolerance, free speech and freedom of conscience have long been core American values. Yet elements of the liberal left, even while preaching these values, set about delegitimizing opponents in ways that threaten a person’s ability to express beliefs without fear of retaliation.
This dynamic shuts down debate on sensitive issues by branding unpopular positions as “hate speech,” “racism” and even “acts of violence.”
A frequent tactic is the circulating of protests demanding a particular speaker (usually conservative ones) be “dis-invited;” calling for students to boycott the speech; physically blocking the speaker’s access to the auditorium; or drowning out the speaker with disruptive questions, chants or catcalls.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (under the Bush administration) last year withdrew as commencement speaker at Rutgers after faculty protested. And following protests by Muslim students, Brandeis University canceled its plan to honor Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a critic of Islam who has protested the oppression of women in Muslim countries.
To shield students from being exposed to words and ideas that might evoke wrong ideas or negative emotions, college campuses have devised “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces.”
A trigger warning is a sign posted near college auditoriums where a speech is to take place, alerting students to the possibility that the speaker may express an idea that could trigger an upsetting response or make a student feel “unsafe.” Should that happen, the sign provides a room number of a “safe space” where one can take refuge or vent.
What is striking is how selective campus culture is regarding which students are entitled to this extraordinary solicitousness.
Many of the same universities that go to great lengths to protect students of color from having their feelings hurt are totally unconcerned about Jewish students being regularly singled out and exposed to insults, vitriol and threats.
A Modern Day (Campus) Inquisition
“Cancel-culture” has been slowly extending its tentacles across academia, experts say, to the point where challenging rules of etiquette imposed by universities can be treated as 21st century “heresy.”
At the University of Central Florida (UCF) this past summer, Professor Charles Negy was trashed by campus activists and the university administration after he raised questions about “systemic racism.”
Negy made the fateful mistake of questioning a liberal article of faith—the notion that “systemic racism”—nationwide discrimination against blacks—runs through American society. In addition, referring to affirmative action programs (that accommodate minorities including African Americans), he went so far as to assert the existence of “black privilege.”
According to Heavy.com which reproduced Negy’s “tweets,” his comments were deemed “racist” and “hateful,” and set off a firestorm at the university where he had taught for 15 years.
“Here’s a suggestion to those who think they are being discriminated against and oppressed in the U.S,” Negy wrote. “Stay in school. Be the best student possible. Avoid crime. Avoid gangs. Avoid drugs and alcohol. Amazing what a little common sense can do for your destiny.”
A second tweet by Negy that posed a politically sensitive question added even more fuel to the fire.
“Sincere question: If African Americans as a group, had the same behavioral profile as Asian Americans (on average, performing the best academically, having the highest income, committing the lowest crime, etc.), would we still be proclaiming “systematic racism” exists?”
Adding insult to injury, Negy posted a video clip in which a white woman is approached by someone claiming to be with the Black Lives Matter movement. The woman is asked to get on her knees to atone for her white privilege. Negy’s comment on the video was apparently the final straw:
“Hilarious. Okay Whiteys. Get on your knees and start atoning for being white. While you’re at it, start sharing your paycheck with random person of color. And donate your house to same…..” Negy posted.
Cancel-Culture Springs Into Action
Outraged students immediately began accusing Negy of “hate speech” and calling for him to be fired.
“Please report and hashtag #UCFfirehim TO GET HIM REMOVED. Unless you want this man teaching your classes next semester. His entire twitter feed is filled with hate messages. He states that black ppl should in fact be accountable!” wrote a student leading the charge.
UCF President Alexander Cartwright did not even pretend to take Negy’s right to academic freedom seriously. He informed students that due to the protection afforded by the law, he could not fire Negy for his tweets although they were wrong and hateful.
“The Constitution restricts our ability to fire him or any other university employee for expressing personal opinions about matters of public concern. This is the law,” he said.
Cartwight then got around the obstacle posed by “the law” by launching an investigation into Negy’s behavior in previous years.
“If any student, current or former, believes they may have experienced abusive or discriminatory behavior by any faculty or staff member, we want to know about it. UCF takes every report seriously. Concerns can be reported to UCF’s IntegrityLine, which also takes anonymous complaints,” Cartwright posted on the University website.
Inviting students to make anonymous complaints against Negy yielded the expected results. The grievances poured in and the university administration subjected Negy to an “investigative interview.”
Meanwhile, local activists got busy and organized protests on campus and in front of Negy’s home. The UCF student senate then passed a resolution asking for Negy’s termination.
“As in many other attacks on academic freedom, it is tempting to point the finger of blame at student protesters. However, the most insidious feature of the inquisitorial rage directed at Negy is the collusion of university administrators,” writes Prof. Frank Furedi, author of The Culture of Fear in the 21st Century.
Negy, for his part, alleged that UCF was waging “a witch hunt,” subjecting him to unlawful censorship and soliciting complaints against him in an effort to justify firing him.
He defended himself, saying that he is “pro-equality” but there is no “easy way” or “gentle way” to address difficult problems without offending people.”
Negy had apparently tired of conforming to the racial etiquette imposed by university administrators. He took his chances speaking his mind on a topic that turned out to be outside the bounds of discussion at UCF. As he has held tenure since 2001, firing him will not be easy.
Judicial Watch joined with Legal Insurrection to file a Florida public records request for communications at UCF related to Professor Charles Negy and the incident that landed him in hot water.
The public records request asks for records mentioning Negy, Cartwright, and other university officials, as well as communications with governmental and professional academic organizations regarding Negy.
“The scourge of cancel culture won’t be cured in a matter of days, weeks, or even months. But sunlight is the best disinfectant, and we are committed to shining a light on the Negy case and other cases as well,” said William Jacobson, president of Legal Insurrection Foundation.
“Freedom of speech is under attack at the very institutions that should be encouraging it,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Intellectual discourse on college campuses has now been replaced by angry mobs trying to silence and end the careers of professors who present differing views.”
The Silencing of a Conservative Speaker
In an article describing a shocking experience at CUNY Law School when he was invited to deliver a lecture, Prof. Josh Blackman of South Texas College of Law recalled his complete lack of preparedness for what greeted him.
“It was a talk that I had given many times before without controversy,” Prof. Blackman wrote, referring to his topic, “The Importance of Free Speech.”
Three days before the event, he received an inkling of what was to come. The president of the college department that had invited him wrote to him that after receiving the flyers, “a large number of students are already up in arms about the event. Some enraged students apparently are planning to protest.”
“I had never been protested before and strongly doubted that there would actually be a demonstration,” writes Blackman.
When he arrived on campus, CUNY’s chief of public safety explained to Blackman’s amazement that a few dozen students were already assembled in the hallway outside the auditorium. The officer then asked the professor what his “exit plan” was, indicating there were certain “safe ways” to exit the building.
“As I walked to the classroom,” Prof. Blackman recounted, “students shouted at me and held up signs calling me a white supremacist, a fascist, and other slanders. For the first eight minutes of the hour-long lecture, a dozen students surrounded me—standing inches away—and shouted at me every time I opened my mouth.”
He did his best to engage them, eliciting obscenities in return.
“The protesters eventually exited the room and I then took questions from the students for over an hour,” Blackman recalled. “I did not present any of my prepared remarks, but it didn’t matter. The conversation was civil and professional. I was very proud of the students who stayed till the end.”
The professor went on to say that to his knowledge, CUNY never disciplined any of the students who disrupted the talk. The dean of the law school defended her students, arguing that because of the interruption’s short duration, “limited protest was a reasonable exercise of protected free speech.”
“Students now have a blank check to shut down speeches they dislike—so long as they do so ‘briefly,’ Blackman notes. “Following the event, no one from the CUNY administration contacted me to explain what happened, let alone to apologize.”
“If the CUNY protest is the proverbial canary in the coal mine,” he concluded, “the future of free expression in America looks bleak.”