Thursday, January 23

Eitan Arom: Nature of divestment talks reflects poor campus climate


Last week's Undergraduate Students Association Council meeting had almost nine hours of public comment. (Angie Wang/Daily Bruin)


As a Jew, there’s no word I reserve when describing how I feel about anti-Semitism. “Abhor” is my go-to. “Despise” is fair game. “Disgusting” is appropriate as an adjective.

But the other side of that coin is casting a wary eye at those who apply the term “anti-Semite”
only for its shock value.

For instance, at last week’s Undergraduate Students Association Council
meeting, conservative radio personality Ben Shapiro took the microphone and, in his best sneering AM-radio voice, called a resolution to divest from Israeli military activities “violent, despicable Jew-hatred.”

Shapiro’s
grandstanding declarations – there is no better word for them – were part of a rhetorical arms race that, even as it has evolved in intensity, has devolved in its tone and regard for facts.

Over the last two weeks, UCLA
has seen a vicious back-and-forth of barb-slinging even as a massively important conversation about our priorities as a campus has languished in the background.

While Shapiro,
a UCLA alumnus, showcases some of the most hotheaded speech, it’s hard not to agree with him on one point: “I have never been more ashamed to be a Bruin.”

If the events of the last two weeks have
shown me anything, it’s that UCLA has in large part failed to teach its students to critically evaluate rhetoric and separate the good from the lazy and ill-informed.

The implication that to be pro-divestment is to be anti-Semitic is one of the best examples of the lazy, ill-informed rhetoric that has taken hold.
Indeed, the students that made that claim along with Shapiro at the USAC meeting are in pretty poor company.

Three separate unsigned emails to USAC
Student Wellness Commissioner Savannah Badalich, who was seen as a swing vote on the divestment issue, made that comparison, with one saying “if you as a council member vote for this you are undoubtedly anti-semitic.” Another wrote that those pushing for divestment should “watch your backs.”

These anonymous and semi-literate messages are the worst instances of a campus climate that is pretty poor on the whole.

Of course, accusations of anti-Semitism are not the only piece of rhetoric deserving of condemnation.

The suggestion that those who support Israel and Israel’s actions are Islamophobic or morally decrepit is also insulting, and sours the tone of what might have been a productive and mutually respectful conversation.

UCLA students, including members of student government and the leaders of pro-Israel and pro-divestment groups, need to be discerning about what words and statements they employ and allow others to employ.

Part of any constructive discourse – which is certainly necessary, although often absent in campus discussions of the Israel-Palestine conflict ­– is the willingness to recognize and reject inaccurate and toxic rhetoric.

None of this is to say we should be uncritical during that discourse. Quite the opposite: We should be critical of statements that are unilateral, unfounded or ad hominem. We should be critical of our own lines of argument, as well as those with which we don’t agree.

Only by sifting through the statements we hear about this issue can we have a productive dialogue about issues that matter to the student body, leaving out all the snarling and stupid nastiness that serve only to cloud our judgment and good sense.

Campus climate, rarely rosy at UCLA, has boiled over into an unacceptable circus of derision, bullying and hate speech, much of it played out online, on Facebook and in the comments on Daily Bruin articles. We need to de-escalate.

How to do that is unclear. Two campus climate reports commissioned in 2012 by then-UC President Mark Yudof – one dealing with Muslim and Arab students and the other with Jewish students – were unsurprisingly noncommittal, with one suggesting a bizarre restriction of free speech and the other failing to make any unexpected suggestions.

But a good first step would be for the leaders of organizations like Bruins for Israel, Students for Justice in Palestine and Hillel at UCLA to turn to the people who follow their lead and tell them to disengage with rhetoric that is one-sided, factually weak or personally directed.

False or intentionally hurtful statements are immoral by nature. It appears, then, that the UCLA community has strayed far from its moral principles.

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  • Concetta

    I really appreciated this article.

    However, I will say that in the 9 hours of public comment, I don’t recall a single pro-divestment commenter calling others Islamophobic simply for bring pro-Israel. Being pro-Israel is not Islamophobic. Nonetheless, Islamophobia and racism were constant themes among pro-Israel students’ comments that night.

    When pro-divestment students referenced Islamophobia, it was in response to the many accusations that the Palestinian people are “terrorists.”

    • lulabelle

      I agree with Concetta. The vitriol and histrionics are on one side here.

  • garyfouse

    One might ask why the UCLA student government has to devote 9 hours into the wee hours of the morning to this one particular issue when it could be devoting its time, energy and work to issues that really impact students. The same question could be asked at all the other UC campuses.

    It is because of a massive world-wide effort by the pro-Palestinian forces to deligitimize the Jewish state of Israel. And why is that? Because at the root of it all, the 300 million strong Arab nations that surround Israel will never accept a Jewish state in the region.

    So is it anti-Semitic to criticize Israel? No, not necessarily, but ask yourselves why nobody is calling for BDS against Israel’s neighbors, whose human rights violations are atrocious and where little religious liberty exists. Where are the protests against what is happening in Egypt and the persecution of Coptic Christians? What about the horrors in Syria with the Christians being hunted down by the Syrian rebels? Why is nobody protesting the on-going massacres of Christians in NE Nigeria? Why is there no call for BDS against Sudan or Iran?

    Why is nobody calling for BDS against Russia? Have you heard the news lately?

    The BDS drive is, indeed, anti-Semitic because it was created by anti-Semites in the Middle East who disguise themselves in the cloak of Palestinian human rights to convince gullible westerners that Israel is an apartheid state violating the human rights of Palestinians. They have teamed up with the far left in the West-especially among academic faculty- to literally indoctrinate college students about this issue. The result is that on virtually every UC campus, an atmosphere of intimidation exists whenever these anti-Israel hate fests come around. The administrators of the UC system have failed in their responsibility to provide a safe and friendly environment when it comes to this issue because they themselves are intimidated. As a part-time (Gentile) teacher at UC Irvine, I have witnessed it first-hand for the last 7 years. It is a disgrace.

    And Ben Shapiro was 100% correct.

    • Dismantle USAC

      Why is nobody calling for BDS against PAKISTAN? Have you heard the news lately?

      The BDS drive is, indeed, anti-Hindu because it was created by
      anti-Hindu Islamists in Kashmir who disguise themselves in the cloak of Kashmiri human rights to convince gullible westerners that India is
      an apartheid state violating the human rights of Kashmiris.

    • mxm123

      Ask inconvenient questions about Israeli apartheid and the usual shrieks “anti-semitism” emanate from its apologists. Along with their straw man arguments. Same old same old.

      • garyfouse

        Mxm123,

        I would have thought that my points in para 3 would have helped explain the difference in what is anti-Semitic and what is legitimate criticism of Israel, but you call them straw man arguments. The point is that Israel is being held to a standard not demanded of other countries-in particular those countries with their miserable human rights records who are Israel’s sworn enemies. It is also anti-Semitic within the region because ultimately, this conflict is not about who owned what land prior to 1948 or after 1948. It is about religion. Israel’s neighbors cannot accept a Jewish state in the region.

        As to your use of the apartheid buzzword, you ought to carefully compare Israel’s Arab population and their rights with those of blacks in apartheid South Africa. If the Palestinians would ever abandon terrorism and their determination to take the land “from the river to the sea”, things like walls and checkpoints would not be necessary, would they?

  • http://www.jonnyhung.com/ Jonny Hung

    EITAN AROM IS THE TRUTH

  • garyfouse

    Dismantle,

    Leaving aside the question of Kashmir and the Muslim-Hindu battle, Pakistan could be the object of BDS simply for its persecution of Christians.