Friday, May 21, 2004

If asked "Say, Jennifer, what do you reckon it's like these days to be a Jewish student at Cal [UC Berkeley]?", I'd probably have grimaced and said "It's probably a form of hell." This week's issue of the East Bay Express erased any doubts I may have had. Its cover story comprises page after page detailing the more or less relentless torment Jewish students (and faculty, and speakers at events) are subjected to on campus: from pedestrian niceties like name-calling, spitting, and constant anti-Semitic graffiti, to more advanced intellectual discourse like wholly unprovoked punches in the face and death threats. Worse than I could have imagined, and my imagination's pretty pessimistic.

Of all of the emotions I felt while reading the article, though, surprise wasn't one of them. At least not surprise at the acts themselves: what does surprise me is the university's response. Namely, that there isn't one. Ordinarily I avoid parallels like this - they're too easy and superficial - but imagine for just a moment what would happen if a student demonstrator's dorm-room-made sign read "DEATH TO BLACKS", instead of "DEATH TO THE JEWS". Would this be permitted as a perhaps odious, but nonetheless permitted expression of free speech? I'm guessing no. I'm guessing most of the student body would faint when they heard of it, and that the university administration would trample each other in their rush to establish yet more multiculturalist indoctrination. And that would be for an isolated incident, not a pervasive culture of overt and sometimes violent bigotry, as evidently exists with campus anti-Semitism.

I'm not naive. I wouldn't expect the Cal administration to address this with any sincerity. But to fail even to dispense half-hearted pap about Tolerance, or A Place For All, etc.? Says to me that they ought to raze the place. It says to me that Cal has ceased to serve its purpose and has become spectacularly worse than any conservative caricature of the leftist university could ever be. The physical safety of students is being blandly ignored. Raze it. There's a difference between possibly ameliorable ethical mouldering and this kind of necrotic ethical rot, and I don't believe the latter's fixable.

(Many readers of the Express article, this being Berkeley, are probably dismissing the situation as yet more conservative crying of "Anti-Semitism! Anti-Semitism!" when what's really at issue is U.S. support of Israel, not Jewishness per se. Does that happen? Do some stoutly pro-Israel commentators accuse their critics of anti-Semitism when the charge isn't warranted? Certainly. It happens routinely (if about 75% less often than the anti-Israel side claims). But this situation has obviously long since left that realm, especially since the majority of Jewish Cal students are far from pro-Sharon hawks with an eye towards a cozy little home in a Gaza settlement.)


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