After ASUCD-sponsored ADL workshop, Students for Justice in Palestine condemn ADL, send petition to chancellor
Following the posting of anti-Semitic fliers on campus in early October, Jewish student leaders and UC Davis administrators, including Chancellor Gary May, met and agreed to a number of tangible commitments to improve the campus climate and combat anti-Semitism. This included hosting a town hall and having the Anti-Defamation League conduct a series of workshops.
Following the submission of a petition from Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) against the ADL workshops, however, none of the planned ADL-hosted workshops have presently been scheduled, according to Associate Vice Chancellor Sheri Atkinson.
In early December, Chancellor May mentioned in an interview with The California Aggie the mutually-agreed upon commitments made with Jewish students and administrators.
“We came up with a series of things we were going to do, including a town hall and some training from the ADL to improve the campus climate,” he said at the time. “I think after that meeting, everyone came away feeling like we were in a partnership mode rather than an adversarial mode.”
It is now unclear whether the university plans to follow through on this commitment in the near future.
SJP’s petition, which circulated on social media and received 149 signatures from UC Davis undergraduates, graduates and faculty members, condemned and criticized actions by the ADL. In a statement sent from SJP officials to The California Aggie, the group emphasized its support of the “implementation of diversity trainings” and firmly opposed anti-Semitism.
The petition called for the workshops to instead be conducted by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) instead of ADL. The ADL is one of the oldest civil rights groups in the country and the specific group which Jewish student leaders requested during the meeting with administrators.
“ADL […] is a pro-Israeli, anti-BDS group who work to conflate anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism,” the statement from SJP reads. “Implying that criticism and protest of Israel and Zionism always contains anti-Semitic undertones serves as a justification for the repression of people, mainly Palestinians, who protest Israel.”
A workshop, titled “Combating Anti-Semitism as Student Leaders Workshop with the ADL,” did take place on Nov. 29 in the Memorial Union aimed specifically at students and student leaders.
After SJP sent its petition to Chancellor May, he made it clear — in an email responding to the petition sent to him, which was subsequently forwarded to The California Aggie by Atkinson — that the ADL workshop on Nov. 29 was independently hosted by ASUCD.
“This engagement was not sponsored by the university administration,” May wrote in his email in response to the petition. “At this time, there are no workshops scheduled by the campus administration. I can assure you that your perspectives will be considered by the administration as we develop future campus activities related to discussions of hate and diversity.”
Vlad Khaykin, the associate director of the central Pacific region for the ADL, led the event which presented attendees with information about intolerance and bigotry toward various groups, including Jewish individuals. Khaykin referenced the anti-Semitic fliers that were posted around campus as the catalyst to his presentation.
The event was co-hosted by the ASUCD Executive Office and the Jewish interest sorority Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi.
Arielle Zoken, a third-year economics major, the vice president of SAEPi and one of the event’s organizers, addressed concerns over the invitation of ADL to campus.
“I know there were concerns with ADL coming, but I had meetings with students who were concerned and really tried to explain what their role is here and what their work is really trying to do, which is to give a presentation,” Zoken said.
Later in his response to SJP’s petition, May wrote that UC Davis received support from myriad organizations, including both JVP and the ADL.
“Although we appreciate being reminded that there are other issues, other injustices, and other oppressions in the world, as an institution of higher education, I believe it is important for us to hear from and involve many different organizations in our efforts to promote diversity and combat hate, racism, prejudice, and persecution,” May wrote.
The Nov. 29 workshop, attended by an estimated 30 people, focused, in part, on the spike of white supremacist activity on college campuses.
Zoken said Jewish students continue to face discrimination on the UC Davis campus from both students and professors.
“On a personal level, there’s a student in my religious studies class who asked where my horns were because in the Bible it says that Moshe had rays of light and that gets confused for horns,” Zoken said. “I’ve had professors say not great things about Jews and money and making the stereotype and reinforcing it. I was speaking Hebrew on the phone with my mom, and this girl — I don’t know if it was serious or not — asked if I was speaking ‘terrorist.’”
Khayken introduced a thorough definition of anti-Semitism during his presentation in the MU.
“Anti-Semitism is a form of prejudice and/or discrimination directed toward Jews as individuals or a group,” Khayken said. “Anti-Semitism is hatred of Jews because of their religious beliefs, their group membership and sometimes the erroneous belief that Jews are a race. Anti-Semitism is based on age-old stereotypes and myths that target Jews as a people, their religious practices and beliefs or the Jewish state of Israel.”
Pointing to recently released hate crime statistics by the FBI, Khayken noted a 17 percent rise in hate crimes since 2016. Khaykin also pointed out the overrepresentation of Jews in hate crime statistics in relation to their percentage of the global population.
“For the decades the FBI has been tracking hate crimes, Jews have counted amongst the most frequently targeted categories for hate crimes in the country,” Khaykin said. “60 percent of all hate crimes where the motivation is the religion or the perceived religion of the victims are against Jews. When we look across all hate crimes on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, national origin, although Jews are less than 2 percent of the population, they account for 13 percent of all hate crime victims, so we’re overrepresented among hate crime victims by a factor of more than six.”
Additionally, the ADL’s own statistics show that anti-Semitic incidents have increased in recent years. Khaykin said there was a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, “the highest single-year increase on record.”
Khaykin then introduced statistics that showed the perception of Jews worldwide. According to these statistics, 26 percent of the global population was found to have anti-Semitic beliefs, which means they answered six out of 11 anti-Semitic stereotypes in the affirmative.
Describing anti-Semitism as “lethal,” Khaykin also referred to anti-Semitism as a conspiracy theory and a political tool used by powerful individuals who want to prevent progressive reforms. This idea of scapegoating Jews for societal problems is still evident today, Khaykin said.
“Two days before Robert Bowers, a white nationalist, entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and murdered 11 people during the Sabbath prayer services, […] the cover of the largest Russian language weekly in Northern California basically paints a picture of George Soros, who’s a prominent Jewish philanthropist, and blames him for being behind bringing all these immigrants into our country and crushing Uncle Sam,” Khaykin said.
While discussing anti-Semites, Khaykin noted that the justifications given for anti-Semitism are often contradictory.
“Jews are hated for being too weak and for being too powerful,” Khaykin said. “They’re hated for being too rich and ostentatious and for being too poor and penny-pinching. Jews are hated for being pacifists and for being unwilling to defend the country against its enemies and for being too militaristic, for being warmongers. They’re hated for being too nationalistic and for being rootless cosmopolitans without any allegiances. They’re hated for being too insular — sticking to their own kind — and for being a threat to our racial purity by assimilation and mixing among us.”
For Zoken, one of the reasons she immediately called the ADL to report the anti-Semitic fliers on campus was because she wants Jewish students to feel more comfortable speaking up in the face of discrimination.
“These things happen and we need to make sure that there are actions in place, that Jewish students feel comfortable even voicing the fact that this isn’t okay,” Zoken said. “Part of the reason we’re making such a push here is because we want to set an example in the future [that] it’s okay to speak up when these things happen. It’s okay to say, ‘I’m being discriminated against and I want my voice to be heard.’”
Written by: Sabrina Habchi — firstname.lastname@example.org
Hannah Holzer contributed reporting.