Middle East studies in the News
Jewish student protection advised
After receiving reports from various Jewish groups that anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiments are rampant on college campuses, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights voted this week to recommend that the Department of Education take steps to protect Jewish students.
The commission, which studies and reports on civil rights issues and makes recommendations based on its findings, decided to recommend that the Department of Education more stringently enforce Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which authorizes the withdrawal of federal funds from public institutions that practice discrimination.
But some members of the local Jewish community said the commission's conclusion is not applicable to the UCLA campus.
Of the many universities he has visited, Rabbi Yonason Quinn, with the Jewish Awareness Movement on campus, said he finds UCLA students to be significantly different from students at other schools.
"Maybe it's the weather," he said jokingly. "But students at UCLA are very open and warm. Never, except for once, have I seen any incidents (of anti-Semitism) during my time here."
At least one Jewish student leader agrees. Candice Daneshvar, president of Bruins for Israel, chose to attend UCLA rather than UC Berkeley because she believes the Los Angeles campus is more accepting of Jews and pro-Israel views than its northern counterpart.
Daneshvar attributes UCLA's accepting environment to Los Angeles' large Jewish community.
"We have a lot of backing in the area. ... We feel more comfortable expressing our opinions," Daneshvar said.
The commission also reported that the Middle East studies departments at several universities presented a one-sided view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, making Jewish students feel uncomfortable because of the close ties many Jews see between Israel and Judaism.
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller of UCLA Hillel said though it is sometimes true that UCLA professors offer hostile or one-sided views on Israel, such classroom behavior should not be a problem in an academic setting.
"A university is a place for people who hold strong opinions. ... I know of no students who have complained of being graded unfairly (for articulating) a different point of view," he said.
Given that the reports to the commission were so vastly different from what he sees to be the climate at UCLA, Seidler-Feller said he believes the commission should not have based its decision on one set of opinions.
"I was outraged by the fact that all the people who presented at the meeting (of the Commission on Civil Rights) were representative of the same point of view," he said.
And for some, the idea of a federally enforced climate of acceptance on campus is problematic, whether or not students find anti-Semitism to be a significant problem.
"I think it would make things worse," Quinn said. "(The government) will come into something that isn't their territory and not be effective."
Seidler-Feller said he believed the government should not have to interfere, especially at a university.
"The first place to seek redress from is within the university," Seidler-Feller said. "It speaks poorly about a community that needs to call in the 'feds' to solve a problem that intelligent individuals should be solving internally."
But on the other hand, Daneshvar said she welcomes federal and state involvement if it would protect students from discrimination.
"We're a public university, and students deserve a non-hostile environment in which to study," she said. "If students feel their rights are being violated, the government should intervene."
Seidler-Feller also said he disagrees with the broad definition of anti-Semitism used by the commission.
The report defines anti-Semitism as statements that makes Jews feel uncomfortable.
"We live in an environment where there is a conflict. Of course there are statements (that make) students uncomfortable," Seidler-Feller said.
Sielder-Feller said he does not view Jews merely feeling "uncomfortable" as a sign of anti-Semitism.
There was also concern on the panel about the commission's jurisdiction on religious matters.
Gerald Reynolds, chairman of the commission, questioned whether the commission should be involved in examining matters of religious discrimination.
But whether Judaism is strictly a religion is a matter of debate – Jessica Braceras, a member of the Commission for Civil Rights, said Judaism encompasses both a religion and an ethnic group, which would place anti-Semitism under the commission's authority.
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