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University of Texas Students Speak Out

Edward Kunz, Brandeis Blog

March 15, 2017

Last week, the student government of The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) unanimously approved A.R. 26, a motion intended to condemn recent anti-Semitic incidents in and around their campus. The assembly resolution, officially titled “In Support of Jewish Students at The University of Texas at Austin,” cites the recent incidents of “a center for Jewish student life at the…Texas [H]illel [being] vandalized…and a heavily anti-Semitic Facebook post [being] published to the University…Class of 2020 Facebook page” as the impetus for the resolution. Jonathon Dror, one of the authors of the resolution, told the student newspaper that “[s]everal Jewish students that I know don’t even feel comfortable wearing their (Star of David) necklace out or small things like that just to express their religion.” The resolution also comments upon the recent bomb threats to Jewish community centers nationwide and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries in the United States.

UT Austin is home to over 3000 Jewish students. Previous incidents regarding BDS activity on campus have led to professors being publicly attacked, as well as speakers being disinvited from campus. These incidents, as well as harassment of Jewish students on campus, have harmed what A.R. 26 refers to as the “core values” of the University: learning, discovery, freedom, leadership, individual opportunity, and responsibility. Jason Taper, a Texas Hillel member, said in a recent interview with the Daily Texan that “it is still – luckily – unacceptable to hate Jews at the University of Texas. That said, the people that are anti-Semites, the people that are vandals, the people that are phoning in these threats, [they] don’t care [that it is unacceptable]…so knowing that we have the community behind us really helps.”

The students at UT Austin are the latest of those from many universities worldwide, who are working within their school’s systems and student governments to fight against anti-Semitism and the influence of the BDS movement. In August of 2016, Leipzig University in Germany saw a condemnation of the “anti-Semitic BDS campaign” by its student government. Various student governments in the US , have adopted resolutions condemning anti-Semitism on their own campuses and within America at large, and some have gone further – such as those at such as those at Indiana University, UCLA, Capital University, UC Berkeley, UCSC, and others – and have adopted the U.S. State Department’s Definition of Anti-Semitism.  The Indiana University resolution, for example, cited the Marcus Policy, initiated by LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus in 2004 during his tenure at the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. This policy extended Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects students from discrimination based on their race, color, or national origin at federally funded post-secondary educational institutions, to protect Jewish students based on their ethnic or ancestral background. In order for universities to remain a bastion of academic integrity, free thought, and equal opportunity, these condemnations and individual actions must continue.

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Over 50% of Jewish American college students report that they experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism on their campuses during the 2013-2014 academic year. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has announced that campus anti-Semitism “is a serious problem which warrants further attention.” Campus anti-Semitism can include subjecting Jewish students to different treatment, harassment, violence or a hostile environment. In some cases, campus anti-Semitism is related to anti-Israel sentiment. In other cases, it is not. For most purposes, we define anti-Semitism according to the U.S. Department of State definition of anti-Semitism. .
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David E. Bernstein
David E. Bernstein is Foundation Professor at the George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, Virginia, where he has been teaching since 1995, interspersed with visiting appointments at the Georgetown, Michigan, and Brooklyn law schools.
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