The Mideast campus wars in the U.S. and Canada are getting physical.
As the atmosphere for pro-Israel students at some colleges reportedly gets dicier, two Jewish students who have allegedly been assaulted by anti-Israeli demonstrators on separate college campuses have struck back.
A civil suit against the University of California at Berkeley and the Regents of the University of California claims the universities were derelict in their legal responsibilities to protect the rights of their students. In filing the suit on behalf of Jessica Felber, 20, her attorney, Neal Sher, said colleges and universities have become battlegrounds for those who seek to delegitimize Israel. As a result, he said, an atmosphere of intimidation and harassment of Jewish and pro-Israel students has been created that is condoned by university officials.
The suit claims that Felber was attacked and injured on campus in March 2010, during a pro-Israel event while holding a sign reading, “Israel Wants Peace.” It identified her assailant as a fellow student who was the leader of Students for Justice in Palestine.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has announced plans to investigate a lecturer’s complaint that Israel’s critics at the University of California at Santa Cruz had created a hostile environment for Jews on campus.
The second student, Sammy Katz, last month filed a complaint with Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal similarly alleging that York University in Toronto has tolerated an environment hostile to Jews on campus.
In the complaint, filed by Sher and professor Ed Morgan, Katz said a male and female student assaulted him in February 2010, while he attempted to record an angry confrontation between pro- and anti-Israel supporters at a pro-Israel table on campus.
It is alleged that the university refused to show Katz a security camera recording of the confrontation that it later played for the press to refute the assault charge. A subsequent hearing found that the university had acted inappropriately and that Katz had indeed been assaulted, according to the complaint.
The JTA news service reported that tension has risen in recent years between pro- and anti-Israel groups at Canadian universities. York expelled a student a year ago for allegedly advocating genocide against Jews, and McGill University in Montreal is now investigating a student who allegedly tweeted a threat to shoot participants at a pro-Israel event.
Meanwhile, in a piece of street theater, members of the Birthright Israel Alumni Community set up a mock bomb shelter in Washington Square Park this week.
The building, decorated with graffiti by Artists 4 Israel, was set up in the middle of the park, adjacent to New York University’s campus. Sirens periodically rang out, which gave participants 15 seconds to run into the shelter, simulating the reality in Sderot and other southern Israeli towns.
“We want to remind people that there are people behind the headlines,” said Rebecca Sugar, executive director of the New York Birthright Israel alumni community, “and that Israelis live with a certain reality. Even if you really deeply care about Israel it can be difficult to connect emotionally.”
The installation will be set up on various college campuses this year, said Sugar, bringing awareness to daily life in Israel and also providing “shelter from the anti-Israel rhetoric” that often permeates campus life.