Call it Intifada III. Through student rallies and verbal attacks, the 18-month-old Arab uprising against Israel is spreading to college campuses across the United States. Anti-Israel and anti-Jewish propaganda, which had faded at historically politicized universities after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, has now assumed its former high profile since the Israeli army embarked on its campaign to root out West Bank terrorists.
As a new weapon in the Arab and Muslim arsenal against U.S. support for Israel, Students for Justice in Palestine, based at the Berkeley campus of the University of California, is launching a drive to persuade universities to divest themselves of investments in corporations that do business with Israel. That tactic, patterned after the effort that helped isolate apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, was announced this week at student rallies at Berkeley, a longtime center of student activism, and seven other campuses in northern California.
This follows the recent smashing of the front door of Berkeley Hillel and anti-Jewish messages written on nearby trash containers.
“Berkeley is very problematic today,” Richard Joel, director of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, told The Jewish Week. “There is blatant anti-Jewish and anti-Israel activity.”
“There have been increasing incidents throughout the year in which Jewish students have felt increasing pressure,” said Paul Cohen, who manages Hillel activities in northern California, although there has not been physical violence against Jewish students, he added.
Area campuses appear calmer, said Robert Lichtman, associate vice president of The Hillels of New York. “As of [Tuesday] I’m not aware of any anti-Israel activity that is organized or impactful,” he said.
Lichtman said the mood at the 20 New York universities that have Hillel chapters has not noticeably changed in recent months; it ranges between Jewish student concern and “a sense of absolute certainty in the [Israeli] cause.”
At other U.S. schools, Israel’s human rights record has come under attack: A book that calls the Holocaust a myth was sold at the University of Michigan; a vigil denouncing “Israeli terrorism” was held at Harvard, where pro-Palestinian students have conducted weekly sit-ins.
And several university administrations, afraid for student security during the ongoing violence in Israel, have suspended study abroad programs there, asking students to return to the U.S.
The University of California suspended its junior year abroad program in Israel, recalling its 27 remaining students at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University. The University of Washington and the University of Colorado placed their programs on hold more than a year ago, when violence in Israel and the territories began to escalate. Brandeis University, in Waltham, Mass., the only non-sectarian Jewish-sponsored college in the country, said it had no plans to remove its eight students studying this year in Israel.
“Just like the country is torn about the Middle East, the campus is concerned about the Middle East,” Joel said.
The situation varies from campus to campus. “It’s like a brushfire,” he said.“There are places that are more inflamed, and there are places more quiet.”
And, he said, Jewish activists on campus emphasize pro-active, pro-Israel activities, instead of reacting to each Arab-Muslim attack on Israel. “It’s not all geared to counter.”
Hillel this semester has sent speakers to some 40 campuses around the country to bolster student activities, Joel said.
“We’re expecting that the next four weeks (until preparation begins for final exams) will be a period of demonstrations … that had been planned for the fall,” he said. “You’ll see more intense activity.”
Following Sept. 11, amid public hostility toward anyone seen as sympathetic to the terror attacks on New York and Washington, anti-Israel activity on campus had assumed a lower profile. “Now it’s safe to do it again, because there’s enough ambivalence” surrounding the situation in the West Bank, Joel said.