Updated: Apr 14
We would like to bring to you attention a very interesting video of 2018 Symposium on Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism: Challenges on the American Campus Today.
In particular there was a very interesting panel (it starts here after all the speeches) that consisted of Ofir Dayan, a Columbia student and the VP of Students Supporting Israel (SSI) chapter at Columbia, Amanda Berman of The Lawfare Project, Elizabeth Berney of ZOA, Stephanie Hauser of Israel Action Network, Alexander Joffe of SPME, Kenneth Stern of Bard Center for the Study of Hate, and Benjamin Sweetwood of Maccabee Task Force.
A few very interesting and useful points were made that need to be call out specifically. Some of these points translate directly into actionable items that can be promoted at Columbia University and the government. Specifically,
Understanding what BDS is about. It is not about doing economic damage to Israel, this is not likely to be effective and is not the true goal of BDS. BDS is primarily a propaganda tool to demonize Zionism, to split the Jewish community and to make Jewish students uncomfortable about supporting Israel. It should be opposed as a tactic full of lies and deceptions promoted by anti-Semitic hate groups.
Importance of adopting the IHRA's Working Definition of Anti-Semitism and of the bipartisan Anti-Semitism Awareness Act to provide a standard by which universities can be held legally accountable under Title VI because administrations repeatedly refused to act voluntarily when presented with complaints, as was the case at Columbia (see also Mitchell's Bard's article). An effort should be initiated at Columbia to push the university to adopt IHRA definition as it was adopted by 31 countries (including the US State Department), by the UK Labor Party (despite its current anti-Semitic bend) and by some other schools, such as Kings College London that blazed the way when it adopted the IHRA definition in May.
Jewish and Israeli students should be encouraged to bring Title VI lawsuits. In particular, students should be encouraged to document all administrative inaction and compile a list of campus incidents and events that creates a hostile environment. CU-MONITOR offers a tool that can help (as we keep a list of such incidents) Given that administration is not acting on its own, the legal action combined with withholding of donations and relentless, multi-faceted negative PR are the only truly effective ways to incentivise the change.
That "freedom of speech" and "academic freedom" are mostly excuses used by colleges to deflect any complaints about anti-Semitism.
Providing pro-Israel (and anti anti-Zionist) programming on college campuses. This idea is not new, but I want to emphasize what one of the speakers said: the quantity matters as much as the quality. Students, alumni, faculty, religious organizations on campus, other pro-Israel organizations and all people of good conscience should work together to bring as many such events to campus as possible. Students and faculty could be particularly helpful as they have the ability to schedule venues on campus. Alumni and pro-Israel organizations can help raise funds and attract speakers and participants. The tone of such events should be diverse, both positive (e.g. "Israel is a great country and here is why", "Israel is great for Arabs", "Jews are indigenous to Israel", "There is no 'occupation'", etc.) as well as negative (e.g. "BDS is a hate group", "Palestinians violate human rights", "This is the hate and incitement in Arabic media", etc.).
In the very interesting Q&A session the hateful rhetoric of Hamid Dabashi was specifically called out. Alums for Campus Fairness and at CU-MONITOR made a significant effort (summarized here) in bringing Dabashi's hateful rhetoric to the Columbia University's administration's attention. Columbia administration was invited to use their "freedom of speech" rights to criticize Dabash's vile statements explicitly and specifically. Unfortunately, Columbia declined to do this claiming, as apparently happens on many campuses, that Dabashi's anti-Semitic speech is immune to criticism due to his "freedom of speech" and "academic freedom." Apparently, the notion, often put forth by free speech advocates, that "hate speech" should be countered by "good speech" is just a PR talking point at Columbia, just like their abstract boilerplate condemnations of anti-Semitism that the administration refuses to apply to specific case of anti-Semitism among its own faculty.
Finally, it should be emphasized that Gerald Rosberg, the Senior Executive VP in the Office of the President at Columba attended the meeting and was mentioned specifically by name. This is a potentially positive development; it means that Columbia administration may be starting to take anti-Semitism seriously and may become more open to the conversation or, at least, is noticing the pressure and is trying to figure out how to deal with it.