Pro-Israel University of California president denies Jewish students face “hostility” as Zionist complaints allege

University of California (UC) President Mark Yudof, an avowed supporter of Israel, has denied claims that Jewish students on several UC campuses face a climate of hostility that amounts to a violation of their civil rights, due to Palestine solidarity activism.

Zionist students and groups have lodged federal civil rights complaints at UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Such complaints, as The Electronic Intifada has consistently reported, are part of a nationally-orchestrated strategy by pro-Israel groups to use the civil rights law to suppress Palestinian solidarity activism on college campuses.

The Forward reports today:

And at the University of California, where there are two outstanding Title VI complaints at U.C. Berkeley and U.C. Santa Cruz, Yudof said that while he felt “good” about the extension of Title VI, it would be difficult to prove that the students and faculty in question faced a pervasive, hostile atmosphere. “These cases have to be carefully crafted with a fact pattern that is compelling. I don’t think in either of these cases these fact patterns exist,” he said. “I think it is about people engaged in abhorrent speech on our campuses. But I am skeptical at the end of the day that with those two instances we will be found to be in violation of Title VI.”

Yudof’s comments bolster a 12 January article by Noah Stern in J-Weekly, a San Francisco Bay Area Jewish community publication that states, “Even in the midst of high-profile Israel-related political activity, and contrary to popular belief, Jewish students at U.C. Berkeley do not feel threatened, under attack or marginalized.”

Censorship strategy by pro-Israel groups suffering setbacks

Yudof’s comments undermining the civil rights complaints come just days after a similar complaint at Barnard College was thrown out by the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, the body charged with investigating.

And last month a judge in California threw out a separate lawsuit by students accusing UC Berkeley administrators of allowing an “anti-Semitic climate” to develop on campus, because the accusers had failed to support their claims.

Jewish college presidents and growing BDS movement

Yudof’s comments were reported in an extraordinary article in The Forward highlighting the dilemmas supposedly faced by Jewish presidents of US colleges:

As the debate about Israel rages on college campuses across America, there is one figure for whom the conversation takes on strikingly personal dimensions: the Jewish college president. About 20 Jewish men and women hold the highest positions at universities across the country, including campuses that have become hotbeds of political activism on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For these individuals, the role of president entails a constant balancing act between encouraging free speech on campus and honoring their personal, often supportive, views of Israel.

The suggestion that presidents face a dilemma simply because they are Jewish might be regarded – by some – as an anti-Semitic suggestion that they have a “dual loyalty.”

But the article highlights the enormous power that college presidents have to suppress or derail boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns on campuses and is a must-read:

For many college presidents, the movement to boycott, divest from and implement sanctions against Israel – commonly known as BDS – represented a red line: Presidents who were previously disinclined to speak out against anti-Israel activity on campus in the name of preserving open dialogue found themselves publicly opposing the movement.

Surrendering judgment to the US government

Yudof himself for example did all he could to halt efforts by students at his own universities:

In 2010, when U.C. Berkeley and U.C. San Diego students introduced bills in their student governments calling for divestment from General Electric Co. and United Technologies – two companies that manufacture Israeli military gear – Yudof felt compelled to take a decisive step. That May, he issued a statement saying that the Board of Regents would not consider BDS, since it was the board’s policy to take up divestment only if America’s government said that the regime in question was committing genocide. But for Yudof, there was a secondary reason.

“I thought there was a double standard with Israel,” he said. “It was unimaginable. Other countries were given a pass, and they were going to enforce this boycott against a tiny country in the Middle East. In my judgment, but for it being the Jewish state, it would not be on their list for a boycott.”

It’s remarkable how established power so often works against progressive change and campaigns for universal rights, and that Yudof would surrender any power of independent judgment and investigation – supposedly the role of a university – to government officials.

But it’s all the more remarkable that the Palestine solidarity movement – led by students – marches on despite all the forces determined to stop it.




It's not like Yudo doesn't have an interest in pretending that everything is hunky-dory at his university or anything.


Here in the UK there is a similar irresponsible campaign, in the Jewish Chronicle, to paint Jewish students as suffering widespread hostility at British universities. It's out of all proportion with the facts, and creates fear of non-Jews. As the son of a refugee from Eichman-controlled Austria, I am sensitised to anti-Jewish slurs. When I pick up on these, whether direct or by sly innuendo, I respond forthrightly. I have taught at four universities in the past 24 years, and have read the Higher Education press throughout that time. I have never heard remarks or seen activity that would justify the JC's exaggerated fears, either directly or through reports of Jewish colleagues or students. I taught Palestinian and Muslim students (among others) throughout my career. I have never hidden my ethnic identity from my students, and I often mention Jewish law comparatively (I teach Law and Legal Theory). Throughout, I have found 95 percent of my students to be respectful, open-minded -- mostly in fact keen to learn and delightful to work with. Admittedly, there is another 5% who I did not admire -- but not for reasons of anti-Jewish bigotry. I can, however, understand why some Jewish students may feel beleaguered. They are young people who feel responsible to community leaders who unwisely (and unjewishly, I would say) defend the Zionist state right or wrong. To their credit, they don't want to be disloyal, so it is even harder for them to engage with the the different perspective that most other young people (most of the world!) have on this issue. For this I feel empathy and sorrow for their position. If Jewish students suffer additional psychological pressure, exaggerated reports of Jew-hatred in universities don't help. We should be understanding of this. We would like Jewish and other students to engage with all the alternative perspectives, free of pressure, and consider the evidence for themselves.