Oy Bay!

"My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west." — Yehudah Ha-Levi

Fighting Antisemitism On-Campus: Trading 12 hours for two minutes

Posted by jlifer on September 22, 2006

JLifer SVYAD Connect

This past Tuesday I drove 12 hours in order to speak for two minutes. I was asked by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East to speak to the California State University board of trustees about the hostile environment for pro-Israel students on my campus.

On the way down, there was a long stretch of Interstate 5 where the only clear station was a Christian channel airing a show on the Scriptures with Father Dick. I learned more about the New Testament than I cared to know. But this prelude was soon forgotten when I arrived at the hillside home of a University of California—Los Angeles professor emeritus. We talked about our experiences with anti-Israel sentiment and discussed which points to hit the next day in front of the men and women who control the CSU. We didn’t know yet if we’d have 30 minutes or three minutes.

On Wednesday, we arrived to the Chancellor’s office to discover we had two minutes. I waited for the California Faculty Association to gripe about the deteriorating conditions of our universities and the increasing gap in wages between faculty and administrators.

They called us to the microphone. Leila Beckwith addressed the issues facing the CSU and pro-Israel students: there is a hostile atmosphere and faculty members are inappropriately injecting their personal and political views where it is irrelevant to the coursework. Pro-Israel students are being intimidated for their political views.

It was my turn. I had spent the preceding 10 minutes trying to rid myself of nervousness, but as soon as I faced the crowd, my voice started to tremble. In shaky words, I told the board and others the following:

“I am in my last semester at San Jose State in the journalism department, and I am currently a reporter for Silicon Valley Community Newspapers. I am a pro-Israel Jew and I absolutely love being a reporter.

When I entered into the program at SJSU, I didn’t realize that dedication to Israel would turn out to have academic retribution.

I first encountered this global communications professor was when he guest-lectured in one of my classes on journalistic ethics. He taught that news media were going by their own codes of ethics, they would be fair. He said “if there’s a controversy, you’d get both sides.” He said there is a need to hold the news media accountable and evaluate from an “objective, unbiased view.” But my next encounter with this professor contradicted those statements. I was covering an event— he invited an Israeli journalist to lecture in order to bring a different perspective of journalism to the class. During the lecture, the professor became quite hostile with the journalist, asking him off-topic questions on hot-button issues, such as the security fence. The professor asked: Isn’t Israel illegally occupying Palestine? The journalist had been discussing how to come up with headlines.

I felt that the professor spoke against the journalist because he is from Israel and that conflicted with the professor’s political and personal views. But he didn’t leave it at that; he tried to dissuade other professors from having any speakers from Jewish sources in the future by sending an email to journalism faculty warning that the Israeli journalist, made available in a similar way “turned the class into a propaganda session.”

I wrote an email to the journalism faculty saying that I disagreed with the professor’s assessment. The professor then sent me a personal email lecturing me on the tenets of journalism and taunting me by questioning my professionalism as a journalist. I was very spooked by the e-mail. Since then, I enter the journalism building far from his office and make efforts to avoid him.

I wish that the important lessons I learn in my journalism classes about objectivity, fairness and impartiality would be extended to the subject of Israel. I hope I haven’t sabotaged my academic career by being pro-Israel in contrast to my professor’s political views.

Thank you for your time. I can answer any questions.”

Chancellor Charles Reed asked me if I had taken my issue to the provost.

“This isn’t just one incident,” I offered. I told them if you go to any Jewish organization and ask students, they will tell you similar stories. In an earlier incident, I attended a Middle Eastern studies class as part of a class project, and I asked the teacher about her experience and training in the subject.

She later complained to the religion department coordinator, at least one student and my professor that I was “aggressive and rude” and said she “knew” I was Jewish because of my last name, which is German from my Christian father. I would like to clarify that I never shared my religious affiliation because I did not think it was relevant or for public disclosure. I went to the provost and was advised to drop the matter because she was a visiting professor and would be gone the next semester. Ma la’asot?

Then I drove back for the SVYAD mixer and drank a bit too much.


4 Responses to “Fighting Antisemitism On-Campus: Trading 12 hours for two minutes”

  1. Oyster said

    Wow, J-Lifer. I’m duly impressed that you are fighting this. It’s one thing to kvetch about problems like this, and it’s a whole nother thing to devote this much time and energy to fight back. Mad props and respeck, J-Unit!

    Oh yeah. And you were rockin’ the frummy look on Shabbos. 🙂

  2. Oyster said

    That’s a picture of J-Lifer & friends, relaxing at the SVYAD Connect. This woman earned that drink!!

  3. jlifer said

    I earn every drink I consume!

  4. Oyster said

    In fact, I’d go as far as to say that you’re getting behind; you’ve earned more drinks than you’ve consumed thus far! :-p

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