Finley: Anti-Semitism fight begins on campus

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

If you're hunting for the places where anti-semitism thrives in America, you'd be better off looking on its college campuses than in the White House.

Just two days after the slaughter of Jewish worshippers inside a temple in Pittsburgh, the University of Michigan staged a teach-in dedicated to the nationwide drive to prod universities to shun Israel.

The Boycott, Disinvest and Sanction (BDS) Movement condemns the Jewish state as an apartheid government for its treatment of Palestinians, and pressures colleges to break ties with Israel.

It has a vigorous presence at UM, and that's caused discomfort for Jewish students who have traditionally found a welcoming environment on the Ann Arbor campus. It's a thin line between demonizing Israel and dehumanizing Jews. 

Finley writes: "College anti-semitism is rarely called out because campuses are the purview of the left, which also gives refuge to such Jew-haters as Louis Farrakhan and Linda Sansour."

Former student Molly Rosen, writing in The Tower magazine in 2014, said when she arrived at UM, "I was not prepared to be told that, if I cared about human rights, I could not support Israel. I was not prepared to be told that my community was racist.

"I was not prepared to see my fellow students attacked with anti-Semitic slurs." 

Recently, two UM professors faced discipline for refusing to write reference letters for students wishing to study in Israel.

The potential of the BDS effort to morph from attacks on Israel to discrimination against Jewish students worries Andrea Fischer Newman, a UM regent. 

"Professors certainly have the right to their personal opinions, and are free to express them," she says. "But they can't allow personal political views to deny educational opportunities to our students."

Newman is a leader on the UM board in battling the BDS movement, noting the university has a number of very positive relationships with Israel. Earlier this month, UM received a $20 million gift from the D. Dan and Betty Kahn Foundation to fund joint research with the Techion-Israel Institute of Technology and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

While she objects to the BDS aims, Newman supports the right of the group to hold the teach-in, paid for in part by university departments. "The freedom to discuss difficult issues is central to our role as a university."

Newman says the discussion should be two-sided, though, and pro-Israel sentiments should receive a fair airing.

But Rosen writes that the anti-Israel activists tend to hold the field. As a student government representative, she says, "Every week certain individuals would urge students to take action against 'the racist, Nazi state of Israel'; and every week I would sit there feeling utterly helpless."

The punditry quickly cited President Trump's divisive rhetoric as a possible motivator of the Pittsburgh shooter, who turned out to be not much of a Trump supporter. 

The anti-Jewish rhetoric on college campuses stemming from the BDS movement also holds the potential for danger. Yet college anti-semitism is rarely called out because campuses are the purview of the left, which also gives refuge to such Jew-haters as Louis Farrakhan and Linda Sansour. 

As Newman suggests, the best way to counter this is for pro-Israel voices to speak louder on college campuses.

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