Less than two years ago, Palestinian students and sympathizers on the University of California’s flagship Berkeley campus dressed up in combat fatigues, “armed” themselves with genuine-looking mock firearms and set up “checkpoints” where they demanded that students attempting to pass tell them if they were Jewish.
There was no immediate outcry on campus, nor any response from administrators or campus police, as there surely would have been if students set up similar “checkpoints” to determine whether students with tan complexions are really African-Americans or whether students conversing in Spanish are illegal immigrants.
When Jewish groups later sought a court order against similar demonstrations in the future, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg of San Francisco said any attempt to ban them would “raise serious First Amendment issues.”
So, he implied, campuses can ban “hate speech” like the N-word and anti-gay smears, but outright physical intimidation of Jewish students and impinging on their walking space are OK.
In August of this year, both the U.S. Department of Education and the Berkeley administration exonerated the demonstrators of anti-Semitism charges, and found that two other incidents to which Jewish students objected on the UC campuses at Irvine and Santa Cruz also were just fine.
At the time, the Amcha (Hebrew for “your people”) Initiative against campus anti-Semitism and other Jewish groups warned these decisions might lead to an escalation. The whitewashings may not have condoned campus anti-Semitism, but they certainly promised to enable it.
This appeared to come true in November at San Francisco State University, where a student group called the General Union of Palestinian Students set up tables in Malcolm X Plaza featuring messages like this: “My heroes have always killed colonizers.”
Later, Amcha uncovered a since-removed picture on the Tumblr website allegedly posted by the president of the Palestinian student group, showing him brandishing a knife, with the caption saying, “I seriously can not get over how much I love this blade. It is the sharpest thing I own and cuts through everything like butter and just holding it makes me want to stab an Israeli soldier . . .”
Palestinian student groups say they differentiate between Israelis and Jews, but most Jews are skeptical of that claim. Key Palestinian groups like Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and won the last major Palestinian election, make no such distinction. Says that group’s covenant, “Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious.” The mufti of the Palestinian Authority has issued a fatwa forbidding sale of land to Jews. So it’s no wonder many Jewish students feel targeted when Palestinians refer to killing “colonizers” or knifing Israelis.
University officials who may believe Jews have little reason to feel this way and that such references are constitutionally protected free speech might want to look at some once-popular Nazi German anthems that also referred to knifing Jews.
“Sharpen the long knives on the pavement, let the knives slip into the Jew’s body,” goes the lead verse of “Blood Must Flow,” theme song of the S.A. (full name in German: Sturmabteilung, or Assault Division), Adolf Hitler’s notorious “Brownshirts.” “When Jewish blood spurts off the knife, things will be twice as good,” says the “Fighting Song of the S.A.,” another Brownshirt anthem.
To his credit, when San Francisco State’s president, Les Wong, heard of the Palestinian group’s words, he issued a statement saying, “The university is a place where dialogue, debate and the marketplace of ideas are cherished. We must also maintain a safe environment. Engaging in expressions that threaten and intimidate are counter to these goals . . .”
If Berkeley officials had reacted similarly to the Palestinian mock checkpoints, the San Francisco State incidents might never have occurred. But unless Wong follows through, preventing a repeat, and officials of other campuses react as strongly, there will be more intimidating demonstrations and Web postings.
Soon they may not merely target Jewish students. Example: An investigation is now underway of an alleged anti-black hate crime at San Jose State.
Jews have long been like a canary in a coal mine: They are often the first targets in waves of discrimination and hate, but those waves almost always wind up washing over plenty of others.
Thomas Elias is a California author. Reach him at email@example.com.