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Faculty Efforts to Combat Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israeli Bias at the University of California, Santa Cruz

Filed under: Anti-Semitism
Publication: Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism

 No 3, 1 September 2005 / 27 Av 5765

Over the past five years, a distorted and hostile attitude toward Israel has prevailed at the University of California-Santa Cruz, creating an intimidating environment for members of the campus community, particularly Jewish students. Much of the anti-Israeli bias has been generated by the university’s predominantly leftist faculty members, who have injected their personal ideology into course curricula, classroom lectures and discussions, and events and speakers sponsored by departments, research groups, and colleges.

The Uniqueness of the University of California-Santa Cruz

The University of California-Santa Cruz (UCSC), founded in 1965, is one of the ten campuses of the University of California, a public institution. The attractive campus is situated on two thousand acres of hills and redwood forests overlooking Monterey Bay. Fifteen thousand students attend, of whom about 20 percent are Jewish, the highest proportion of Jewish students among all the UC campuses.1

Nevertheless, UCSC is home to a great deal of virulent anti-Israeli rhetoric, which creates an intimidating environment for many Jews on campus. Although such hostility can be found at many other universities, what is unique at UCSC is that the animus is not directed by the usual sources, such as well-funded Muslim student groups2 or faculty in a Middle East studies program.3 In fact, the UCSC Muslim Student Alliance is not very active; nor are other pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli student groups such as the Committee for Justice in Palestine. And while there is a Jewish studies program, there is none for Middle East studies, and no known Arab/Muslim funding of university faculty or activities. Instead, at UCSC the anti-Israeli sentiment is primarily generated by a leftist faculty scattered throughout the university’s academic units.

UCSC is well known for its extremely liberal faculty,4 which includes a contingent of radical leftists. For example, Angela Davis, a professor in the History of Consciousness Department and chair of women’s studies, is a former Black Panther and member of the Communist Party until 1991, who received the Lenin Peace Prize from the state of East Germany. She now leads a movement to free all criminals who are minorities, claiming that they are political prisoners of the racist United States.5 Bettina Aptheker, professor of women’s studies, is a self-identified lesbian activist who was also a Communist Party member until 1991. She was one of the leaders of the Free Speech movement at UC Berkeley, which in 1964 executed the first takeover of a university building in order to protest a regulation forbidding recruitment for political organizations on campus. The success of the Free Speech movement marked the beginning of the politicization of campus life and of university curricula, which continues to this day.6

The political ideology of the leftist faculty is augmented by the goals of many of the university’s academic units. Their mission statements emphasize a concern for social justice, being an agent of social change, and inculcating respect for diverse cultures, rather than scholarly, critical thinking.7 Moreover, these values are promoted, in general, only as they apply to minorities seen as oppressed with regard to social class, skin color, or sexual orientation. Other cultural/ethnic groups not defined in these terms, such as Jews, are either ignored or are themselves seen as sources of social injustice and racist behavior.8 The end result is that many of the colleges and departments of the humanities and social sciences divisions have consistently sponsored events critical of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, without acknowledging the existential threats Israel faces.

Twenty-two of the university’s faculty members, including two department heads and a divisional dean, have signed the UC divestment petition, which calls on the U.S. government to cut off military aid to Israel and demands that the University of California divest from Israel and from all U.S. companies that sell military equipment to it.9 Nine faculty members have signed an open letter from American Jews urging the United States to end all aid to Israel,10 and four have signed a petition to boycott Israeli academics and research.11

The political attitudes of UCSC are reinforced by its location in the town of Santa Cruz (population 55,633), which itself has a reputation for the extreme leftist bias of its city government. For example, the city government declared Santa Cruz a nuclear- and hate-free zone,12 voted to request the U.S. Judiciary Committee to start impeachment proceedings against President George W. Bush,13 and issued an executive order proclaiming Rachel Corrie Day.14 Scott Kennedy, longtime city council member and former mayor, as the cofounder and Middle East director of the Santa Cruz Resource Center for Nonviolence, has adopted the Palestinian cause. Although the stated mission of the Resource Center is “peace and social justice dedicated to promoting the principle of nonviolent social change,”15 under Kennedy’s leadership it has become a key player in sponsoring many virulent, anti-Israeli events both in the community and on campus.

History of Anti-Israeli Activities on Campus since 2000

Whereas the personal political opinions of faculty need not affect how students are educated at the university, and political indoctrination was in fact prohibited under the University of California academic freedom rules from 1934 to 2003,16 there is nonetheless a high correlation between the faculty’s political biases and many aspects of academic life. These include which speakers are invited to the campus, the nature and content of courses, classroom discourse, and the focus of research in the social sciences and the humanities. The almost monolithic leftist posture of the faculty at UCSC, supported by elements of the left-leaning city, has created a campus environment lacking the diversity of thought and balance of ideas that are crucial to the mission of a public university.

This is nowhere more apparent than in the consistent anti-Israeli agenda that has been promoted at the university since the beginning of the major wave of violence against Israel in September 2000. Moreover, there has been a significant rise in activities that spill over into various forms of hate-speech demonizing both Israelis and Jews. Recent rallies and public lectures sponsored by student organizations and academic units have routinely pilloried Israel as “colonialist,” “racist,” “imperialist,” and even “Nazi.” Examples include:

  • Imam Abdul Malik, invited to speak at UCSC by the Muslim Student Association and the local community group headed by former mayor Kennedy, publicly accused Jews of perpetrating the 9/11 attack.
  • Hedy Epstein, an eighty-year-old Holocaust survivor and member of the International Solidarity Movement speaking at the invitation of the Women’s Studies Department at UCSC, compared Israel to a Nazi state and Israeli soldiers to Nazis.
  • A panel discussion, in which ancient anti-Semitic blood libel accusations about supposed Israeli atrocities went unchallenged by any of the panelists, was cosponsored by ten different research groups, departments, and colleges on campus.

The anti-Israeli bias among faculty and students that drives these events is not as openly displayed, but is nevertheless evident in course curricula, lectures, and classroom discussions. Jewish students report frequent expressions of profound antipathy toward Israel and its supporters inside the classroom; some voice concerns that their grades might be harmed by taking a pro-Israeli position in written or verbal discussions.

For example, a Jewish freshman taking a required course was distressed by an assigned book, Palestine by Joe Sacco, a comic-strip account of day-to-day Palestinian life written from an unabashedly anti-Israeli perspective. Noting the one-sided classroom discussion generated by the book, the student acknowledged that she was afraid to express her feelings for fear of being publicly ostracized and penalized on her course grade. Another recounted that a sympathetic professor advised him to give up his idea of a senior thesis on the topic of terrorism in Israel because the “taboo” subject might earn him a failing grade.

Outside the classroom, Jewish students encounter many peers who are openly hostile to Jewish concerns. For example, members of a student group sponsoring speakers on the topic of global anti-Semitism often found that flyers they posted were torn down, occluded, or defaced.

In general, the UCSC faculty has been silent on the issue of anti-Israeli bias on campus. Until 2003, there were few organized efforts by any campus or community groups to combat the growing anti-Israeli sentiment. The authors, when publicly addressing the issue, found themselves ignored or rebuked. In one case, when Rossman-Benjamin protested by email to the heads of the ten cosponsoring academic units about their flyer depicting fighter jets marked with the Star of David bombing innocent Arab civilians, she received not one response. In another case, Benjamin, after writing a letter of complaint to a divisional dean about an extremely biased, anti-Israeli panel discussion, was accused by the chair of the Academic Senate Committee on Academic Freedom of violating the academic freedom of one of the panelists, who was the director of the research group that had sponsored the event.

Aims, Efforts, Challenges

In the fall of 2003, a few faculty members including one of the authors, students, and Hillel staff members met with the chancellor in order to alert her to the rising incidence of anti-Semitism on campus directly linked to the anti-Israeli bias of the university-sponsored talks on the Middle East. When the chancellor suggested that interested faculty and student groups might consider initiating their own efforts at promoting a greater diversity of views about Israel, we decided to pursue the idea.

As faculty members, our strategy for addressing the anti-Israeli bias on campus differed from the efforts of student activists to gain control over student media and government, as discussed in Golub’s case study on Johns Hopkins University,17 and also differed from the decision of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East to work collegially through individual professorial contacts.18 Our strategy had four goals: (1) repairing the imbalance of ideas and information about Israel; (2) educating the campus and local communities about the existential threat to Israel and Jews from the new anti-Semitism; (3) exposing the anti-Israeli bias at the university; and (4) empowering students, faculty, and community members to fight anti-Semitism on the campus and in the community.

1. Repairing the Imbalance of Ideas

To bring balance to the one-sided, anti-Israeli discourse on campus, we instituted a lecture series of pro-Israeli speakers. We sought noted individuals who would present in an intellectually accurate and compelling way a different perspective about Israel than was being heard. We also hoped to add academic legitimacy to these speakers by soliciting the cooperation of departments, colleges, and research groups that had previously sponsored talks and events vilifying Israel.

Utilizing personal contacts and speaker bureaus,19 and operating on a limited budget consisting of private donations, we were able to find several outstanding pro-Israeli writers and academics willing to lecture at UCSC for a modest honorarium. Once the first few speakers were scheduled, we contacted the heads of ten academic units, explaining our desire to bring balance to campus discussions about Israel and the Middle East, and inviting them, in the name of academic integrity and a diversity of ideas, to join with us in sponsoring these speakers. None agreed to do so, and some even cosponsored competing anti-Israeli events during a few of our lectures.

We also sought support for our series from local Jewish organizations. Our funding came mainly from two organizations with which we had personal connections: the synagogue to which the authors belonged, and a local pro-Israeli philanthropy. Additionally, contributions were received for specific talks from Jewish organizations in the local community. However, funding of the series was a constant challenge. Financial contributions within the Jewish community varied from speaker to speaker, and in general reflected the political perspectives of the leadership of the various organizations. For example, some Jewish organizations refused sponsorship of certain speakers whom they regarded as promoting a negative portrayal of Islam or an overly conservative perspective on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Our advertising targeted both the campus and local communities, as well as the Jewish communities in the greater Bay Area. Although we attracted from eighty to four hundred listeners for the various lectures, most came from the Jewish community. Few students and even fewer faculty attended, not even as a courtesy to visiting scholars.

2. Educating about the Threat from the New Anti-Semitism

The anti-Israeli bias at UCSC has effectively denied members of the campus community access to information about the threats facing Israel and world Jewry from the rise in global anti-Semitism. Therefore, one of our goals has been to provide access to this information.

The speakers we chose for our series all addressed the existential threat to Israel and the Jews emanating from the “new anti-Semitism.” Four of them dealt with aspects of anti-Semitism in the Arab world. Khaleel Mohammed, imam and assistant professor of religious studies at San Diego State University, discussed the religious roots of Islamist Jew-hatred. Nonie Darwish, a journalist and translator who grew up in Egypt and Gaza, addressed the sociological and cultural aspects of Muslim anti-Semitism. Richard Landes, professor of history at Boston University, director of the Millennial Institute, and an authority on apocalyptic movements, explored the historical roots of modern jihadism as an Islamic apocalyptic movement whose goals include the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews. Finally, Itamar Marcus, director of Palestine Media Watch, described how mass media and school textbooks in the Palestinian Authority are used to indoctrinate children to become suicide bombers.

Two additional speakers in the series addressed how the new anti-Semitism has manifested itself on college campuses. Dennis Prager, author and radio talk show host, spoke of how anti-Israeli leftist academics have distorted the picture of Israel and the Middle East presented at universities. Rachel Fish, New York regional director of the David Project and producer of the documentary Columbia Unbecoming, described her efforts to expose and combat anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli bias at Harvard University and Columbia University.

Although these speakers presented important information about the new anti-Semitism, our efforts to educate the campus community in this way met considerable resistance from both students and faculty. Flyers for many of the talks were pulled down, occluded, or defaced with statements such as “Zionism is racism” and “Occupation is murder.” One UCSC professor was even caught in the act of tearing down a flyer advertising Itamar Marcus. As noted, few students and even fewer faculty members attended these talks.

Rossman-Benjamin has also supervised two undergraduate independent study classes in contemporary global anti-Semitism. The number of students who chose to participate – fifteen in Winter 2005 and twenty in Spring 2005 – indicates growing interest in this topic.

3. Exposing Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israeli Bias at UCSC

Another important goal has been to constrain faculty/administration anti-Israeli bias through public exposure, and encourage parents, donors, alumni, and interested citizens to pressure the University of California Board of Regents and the UCSC administration to address these problems.

Our efforts in this direction began after Imam Malik’s virulently anti-Semitic talk in May 2002. Two of the authors wrote a letter to the editor of one of the student newspapers, protesting that such a speaker would appear at UCSC and detailing the anti-Semitic aspects of the talk. Although the newspaper printed the letter, the then editor in chief, himself a member of the student organization that had invited Malik, abridged the letter and deleted the description of the anti-Semitic aspects. Only after Benjamin and Rossman-Benjamin threatened the editor and newspaper with a lawsuit was the letter printed in full. However, the editor also wrote an editorial in the same issue asserting that we had stifled journalistic free speech.

After the Dennis Prager lecture, we published an opinion piece in the local newspaper documenting the anti-Israeli bias of many academic units in refusing to cosponsor an alternative view to their consistent support for Israel bashing.20 In another article in that paper, we used the lecture by Khaleel Mohammed to expose the university’s complicity in suppressing the facts about Islamic anti-Semitism.21 An opinion piece in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal used the sponsorship of Hedy Epstein, contrasted to the refusal to sponsor Nonie Darwish, to document the anti-Israeli bias of the faculty of Women’s Studies at UCSC.22 The lecture by Itamar Marcus, the academic units’ refusal to sponsor it, and the removal of flyers publicizing it were used to expose the anti-Semitic effects of the anti-Israeli bias at UCSC.23

Our efforts at exposure were bolstered by community media. A local radio station invited us to discuss anti-Israeli bias at UCSC with an administrator from the university; a reporter from the local newspaper wrote about the defacement and removal of the lecture flyers while withholding the information that a professor had been involved;24 the local newspaper published letters to the editor by supportive community members. The audience for our articles was also expanded nationally and internationally by being reprinted on the Internet.25

4. Empowering Students, Faculty, and Community Members to Fight the Bias

One of the authors’ essential tasks has been to form faculty, student, and community groups. In January 2004, we set up a chapter of the international organization Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME).26 Although few UCSC faculty joined the group, SPME played an important role in giving our efforts legitimacy and support that extended beyond the university. At the same time, we formed the Santa Cruz Middle East Information Coalition (SCMEIC) made up of activist members of the community who collectively held affiliations with almost every Jewish organization in Santa Cruz and the surrounding area. Consequently, SCMEIC proved an important means to communicate our concerns and efforts to the larger Jewish community, both to raise awareness and garner support.

In November 2004, a few students who had volunteered to help with SPME’s speaker series started an official group, Students for Peace in the Middle East, whose stated mission was identical to that of the associated faculty group. As a student group registered with the university, the students had university sanction to post flyers, set up tables for distributing information, and book university facilities for talks and events. These students hosted talks and movie nights, organized counterdemonstrations to anti-Israeli events on campus, and helped advertise our speaker series.

To fortify the efforts of these faculty, student, and community groups, in February 2005 we organized an Israel advocacy workshop in conjunction with people at Stanford University and UC Berkeley. Featuring Roz Rothstein of Stand with Us and Avi Goldwasser of the David Project, the workshop’s goal was to educate participants about the scope and nature of the problem on college campuses and provide strategies for addressing it, including information about other advocacy workshops, trainings, and conferences taking place locally, nationally, and internationally.

The independent study classes on anti-Semitism that Rossman-Benjamin sponsored have also been a source of student support for our efforts. Learning about the threat of anti-Semitism globally and locally has motivated students in these classes to join the activities of Students for Peace in the Middle East and to participate in advocacy training workshops organized by the authors’ group and others. In addition, students from this class have begun constructing an online journal that will feature original student submissions as well as moderated online discussions for students and faculty about local and global anti-Semitism.

The most challenging aspect of forming these groups has been recruiting new members. Most notably, the UCSC chapter of SPME has not grown in number beyond the authors. Even faculty members who have expressed some sympathy with our cause are unwilling to join our efforts. The student and community groups are also small in number, about ten in each, though they have shown steady growth.

Moving Forward

A degree of success has been tempered by having to operate as a marginal group almost entirely outside the formal framework of the university. This effectively means the authors’ voices have not been given the same legitimacy as those of faculty members with an anti-Israeli perspective. Recently we have begun to address this weakness, both by attempting to make our efforts a more integral part of the university’s academic programming and by seeking to effect broad changes in the campus discourse, at the level of university policy.

In May, Rossman-Benjamin wrote a proposal in response to a Ford Foundation grant initiative. The grant was established to support programs in undergraduate education promoting “constructive dialogue around difficult political, religious, racial, and cultural issues” and to encourage, among others, projects on understanding and combating the problem of contemporary anti-Semitism.27 Rossman-Benjamin’s proposal included a plan for offering undergraduate classes, bringing guest scholars, and presenting events and activities for promoting dialogue among students, faculty, and administrators about the problem of local and global anti-Semitism. Although several faculty members and administrators expressed support for the project, the proposal was not forwarded to the Ford Foundation because an administrator whose signature was required by the granting agency, and who herself had signed the UC divestment from Israel petition, refused to endorse it. Nevertheless, Rossman-Benjamin is seeking other sources of funding for the project, and is working with faculty and administrators to establish a campuswide forum on contemporary anti-Semitism as part of the formal academic programming at UCSC.

We have also, as noted, sought to effect change in the university discourse at the level of university policy. This has involved a process that began by educating ourselves about the relevant UC and federal government regulations on academic freedom,28 hate speech,29 and anti-Semitism.30 Understanding these regulations has enabled us to see and respond to cases where their nonenforcement has resulted in anti-Israeli bias on the campus. For example, in response to the professor removing flyers advertising the Itamar Marcus lecture, both the Students and the Scholars for Peace in the Middle East sent formal letters of complaint to the administration at the highest levels, and posted a description of the event on the Internet.31 Through combined pressure from us and the administrator of the Internet organization, who sent the posting to the chancellor and the Board of Regents, the university has brought accusations against the professor to the Charge Committee, advisory to the Academic Senate.

In addition, we have begun to challenge those university policies that do not promote a true diversity of ideas. For example, few California citizens are aware that the academic freedom rules that governed all ten UC campuses from 1934 to 2003 required the faculty to critically and dispassionately examine any contentious political or social issue, and proscribed one-sided indoctrination of students.32 In 2003, the rules were subverted at the request of the president of the University of California, in order, as he specifically stated, to address pro-Palestinian polemics – in other words, by allowing it.33 The authors, in collaboration with the Los Angeles American Jewish Congress, are working to restore some semblance of the original rules by writing about the change, lobbying the Board of Regents, and supporting the passage of academic freedom rules for students. Moreover, one of the authors has requested appointment to the UCSC Academic Senate Committee on Academic Freedom, and has been accepted.

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2. Yonit Golub, “An Analytic Approach to Campus Pro-Israeli Activism – Case Study: The Johns Hopkins University,” Jewish Political Studies Review, Vol. 16, Nos. 3-4 (Fall 2004), pp. 205-13,; Rebecca Leibowitz, “Defeating Anti-Israeli and Anti-Semitic Activity on Campus: A Case Study: Rutgers University,” Jewish Political Studies Review, Vol. 17, Nos. 1-2 (Spring 2005), pp. 199-213,

3. Lee Kaplan, “The Saudi Fifth Column on Our Nation’s Campuses,”, 5 April 2005.

4. University of California, Santa [email protected].



7. For example, the Principles of Community, developed in June 2001, state that the university strives to be: “Diverse, Open, Purposeful, Caring, Just, Disciplined, and Celebrative,” The mission of Community Studies is “to examine theory and practice in a variety of social justice domains,” Merrill College explains its “ethos: Exploring cultural identities and raising global consciousness,” College 9 “emphasizes the importance of both diversity and unity in understanding individuals and societies.” College 10 states: “Our goal is to foster students’ concerns for social justice and their respect for diversity. We try to understand the roots of social problems such as prejudice, ethnic hatreds, poverty, and political oppression.” The Research Center for Justice, Tolerance, and the Community states that it is a “progressive research institute tackling issues of social justice, diversity and tolerance, and the building of collaborative relationships between the university and local community,”

8. “Jewish Studies and the Elusive E Credit: Why Doesn’t UCSC See Jews as an Ethnicity?”

9. (no longer online).

10. Letter from American Jews,



13. Ken McLaughlin, “Santa Cruz Urges Probe into Bush Impeachment,” Mercury News, 10 September 2003,

14. Pacifica Radio,

15. Santa Cruz Resource Center for Nonviolence,

16. University of California Regulation Academic Personnel Manual APM-10,

17. Golub, “Analytic Approach.”

18. “Fighting Anti-Israelism and Anti-Semitism on the American University Campus: Faculty Grassroots Efforts,”

19. Stand With Us,; Hasbara Fellowships,

20. Leila Beckwith, “Marketplace of Ideas Has Gone Sour at UCSC,” Santa Cruz Sentinel, 7 March 2004,

21. Ilan Benjamin and Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, “Moderate Islam Should Not Be Ignored,” Santa Cruz Sentinel, 23 May 2004,

22. Leila Beckwith, “Bias Colors UC Santa Cruz Department,” Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, 4 February 2005,

23. Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, “Anti-Semitism at UCSC,”

24. Jondi Gumz, “Pro-Israel Speaker Hot Topic at UCSC; Some Deface Fliers Advertising Lecture,” Santa Cruz Sentinel, 10 March 2005,

25. FrontPageMagazine, Campus-Watch, Daily Alert, StandWithUs, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East,,



28. University of California Regulation Academic Personnel Manual APM-10,

29. Student Policies and Regulations Handbook: Appendix M, UCSC Hate/Bias Incident Policy,

30. Kenneth L. Marcus, deputy assistant, United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, letter of 13 September 2004, about Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972.


32. University of California Regulation Academic Personnel Manual APM-10, See also Martin Trow, “Reflections on Proposed Changes in the University Regulations Bearing on Academic Freedom in the University of California,”, 24 July 2003, See also Cathy Cockrell, “UC Academic-Freedom Policy, Crafted during Depression, Revisited,” UCBerkeleyNews, 20 August 2003,

33. President Atkinson’s letter to the Regents of the University of California, 14 August 2002.

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Leila Beckwith is a UCLA Pediatrics Department professor emeritus.

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin is lecturer in Hebrew at UC Santa Cruz.

Ilan Benjamin is professor of chemistry at UC Santa Cruz.