Advocacy groups take different approaches to addressing anti-Semitism
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) hosted an anti-Semitism awareness training workshop at the Student Community Center (SCC) on Feb. 27. The workshop, attended by approximately 30 people, was the second on campus event this year to address student concerns about the rising tide of anti-Semitism at U.S. universities.
The organization of these workshops has highlighted different approaches to anti-Semitism awareness within the student body. Both anti-Semitism awareness training workshops were explicitly unaffiliated with the chancellor’s office.
“We are witnessing a rising tide of empowered white supremacists in the United States,” stated the Facebook event page for this event. “From Charlottesville, to Pittsburgh, to college campuses across America, white nationalists are more visible and more violent than they have been in years.”
In an email to The California Aggie, Dr. Tallie Ben-Daniel, a research and education manager for the JVP and a UC Davis alumna, wrote that “as white nationalists are becoming more empowered under the Trump presidency, and in the aftermath of the worst antisemitic violence in the United States, it is crucial that we are all more aware of antisemitism, what it is, and how to intervene when we see it.”
“Everyone should join the fight against antisemitism, racism, and white nationalism,” Ben-Daniel added. “I’m honored to return as [an] alum of UC Davis to discuss this issue with the campus community.”
In its mission statement, adopted in 2009, JVP emphasized its opposition to “anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim, and anti-Arab bigotry and oppression.”
“JVP seeks an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem; security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians; a just solution for Palestinian refugees based on principles established in international law; an end to violence against civilians; and peace and justice for all peoples of the Middle East,” the statement reads. “[Our] members are inspired by Jewish tradition to work together for peace, social justice, equality, human rights, respect for international law, and a U.S. foreign policy based on these ideals,” wrote the JVP.
The workshop first focused on the sociopolitical context of anti-Semitism, with specific reference to recent incidents including the desecration of Jewish cemeteries; the Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va. and the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Ben-Daniel then addressed the definition and origins of anti-Semitism itself. The workshop explored the tumultuous history of European anti-Semitism as well as the experiences of Jews in the Muslim and Arab world. Ben-Daniel also spoke about the intersection of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the context of white supremacy.
The second half of the workshop addressed the need to combat false claims of anti-Semitism, particularly those issued by Canary Mission which, in Oct. 2018, released the personal information of UC Davis professors and students who have publicly criticized the Israeli government’s policies.
Ben-Daniel also discussed forms of anti-Semitism founded in hostility to Israel — examples of this include randomly interrogating Jewish people about their political beliefs with respect to the state of Israel, assuming all Jews are Zionists and holding Jews accountable for the actions of Israel. Ben-Daniel also talked about the use of the Holocaust as a form of emotional blackmail or as a means of comparing genocides and other forms of extreme suffering.
Workshop participants then split up into groups to discuss different real-life scenarios that could be construed as being anti-Semitic, including specific incidents that took place at Tufts University and UC Berkeley in recent years. The prompts included questions such as: Is there real anti-Semitism in this scenario? If you were a part of this situation or heard about it, how would you respond to it?
Group members discussed the necessity to proactively report incidents of anti-Semitic hate speech. For example, one group spoke about the imperative to report a hypothetical scenario in which certain students were photographed performing the Nazi salute. Another group also spoke about the need to address assumptions about prominent Jewish public figures, including George Soros.
“What I appreciated most was the combination of the history of anti-Semitism as well as the discussion of the weaponization of anti-Semitism, and how that weaponization harms all of us,” said Dr. Caren Kaplan, a professor of American Studies at UC Davis, who was in attendance at the event. “I also appreciated how the speaker combined an attention to history as well as more current issues and concerns.”
UC Davis has a troubled history of anti-Semitism, an issue highlighted in Oct. 2018 when fliers appearing to blame Jewish people for the controversy over since-confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh were distributed throughout campus.
Jewish student leaders then met with the chancellor to express concerns over the way the university addressed the issue. After this meeting, the administration agreed to host a town hall which would allow Jewish students to voice their concerns as well as a series of workshops aimed at combating anti-Semitism to be hosted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). None of these events have taken place.
The ADL did facilitate a workshop titled “Combating Anti-Semitism as Student Leaders Workshop” in the MU on Nov. 28. The event was hosted by the Jewish-interest sorority Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi and ASUCD. The administration was explicitly unaffiliated with this event.
The fallout after this workshop highlighted the differences among students regarding the various approaches to addressing anti-Semitism by on campus advocacy groups.
After the ADL workshop, the campus advocacy group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), expressed concerns about the ADL’s involvement in facilitating future workshops, petitioning for JVP to be used instead. The petition, which gathered 149 signatures, was sent to the administration.
Kauser Adenwala, a leader with SJP, explained the group’s stance against the ADL’s presence on campus, stating the ADL has “an explicitly tumultuous history of suppressing the voices of Palestinian activists and deeming them as anti-Semitic.”
“While the work ADL does in the grand framework is integral, especially for the safety of Jewish communities and awareness into what anti-Semitism is, the underlying stances they take by encouraging the subjugation of Palestinians through Zionism is intolerable,” Adenwala said via email. “Although ADL is deemed as a civil rights group, they are selective in which injustices they choose to speak up against and defend Israel for its actions.”
Sheri Atkinson, the vice chancellor of Student Affairs, confirmed that the chancellor had received the “request and petition” from SJP.
“[The chancellor] acknowledged the SJP petition, but made no commitment to honor its request to replace future ADL campus workshops with JVP facilitated events,” Atkinson said.
Moreover, some Jewish students have found the implementation of the Feb. 27 JVP workshop alienating.
“As a Jewish student leader — along with many other members of the UC Davis Jewish community — I chose not to attend the JVP event,” said Arielle Zoken, a third-year economics major and Jewish studies minor, in an email to the California Aggie.
Zoken said JVP does not represent the views of the vast majority of U.S. Jews — “JVP does not combat anti-Semitism and refuses to acknowledge anti-Semitism across the political spectrum,” she added.
Zoken also expressed concern over the lack of communication with students about the second workshop.
“I found out about the event on my Facebook newsfeed, although it is us, as Jewish students, who should be involved in any conversation about anti-Semitism on campus from the get-go,” she said. “We do not agree with the planning nor the execution of this event. Furthermore, no Jewish student leaders were contacted about this event.”
Zoken stated that JVP “is blind to nuance,” has a “narrow view of what constitutes anti-Semitism” and added that JVP “propagate[s] anti-semitic sentiment.” She also alleged that JVP “marginalize[s] the struggles of Jews of color to advance their anti-Zionist cause,” and said that she chose to skip the event to avoid being “triggered by [their] rhetoric.”
And although the chancellor has expressed support for student leaders’ efforts to combat anti-Semitism, the UCD administration has not played a role in organizing the two workshops themselves.
The chancellor has thus remained unaffiliated in any capacity with the SJP, the ADL or the JVP. Despite listing the event on the Equity and Inclusion page of the UC Davis website under 2019’s Principles of Community Week, the Facebook event listing clearly stated that the workshop was “not involved with the Chancellor’s office.”
Written by: Rebecca Bihn-Wallace — firstname.lastname@example.org