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21 Retaliation: The High Price of Speaking Out about Campus Antisemitism and What It Means for Jewish Students Tammi Rossman-Benjamin Tammi Rossman-Benjamin became alarmed as departments and student organizations at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) sponsored anti-Israel events and lectures exclusively. The rhetoric in these events and in the classroom called for violence against Israeli Jews and against their American supporters. Approached by Jewish students who felt threatened, Rossman-Benjamin asked administrators not to endorse such hatefests. To her surprise, rather than protect the university’s Jewish students, the faculty senate opened an investigation against her, charging that her work on behalf of Jewish students violated the freedom of speech of the anti-Israel activists. Rossman-Benjamin soon became the target of a massive student-led national campaign to paint her as a racist Islamophobe and to destroy her career. Introduction I have been a lecturer in Hebrew at the University of California, Santa Cruz since 1996 and a vocal advocate on behalf of Jewish students on my campus for most of that time. I am also cofounder and director of AMCHA Initiative, an organization dedicated to investigating and combating campus antisemitism throughout the country. As a result of my advocacy work on behalf of Jewish students, I have, on several occasions, come under personal attack from students, faculty, administrators, and anti-Israel groups outside of the university . This essay will focus on the sustained campaign of harassment, intimidation , and defamation that was carried out by an anti-Israel student group on my campus, the Committee for Justice in Palestine (CJP), and members of affiliated Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) groups on other University of California (UC) campuses. Retaliation | 299 The campaign in question ostensibly focused on remarks I had made during a talk I gave in June 2012 at a synagogue in Stoughton, Massachusetts. Like most of the numerous presentations I make before groups in the Jewish community, my Stoughton talk included a survey of campus antisemitism and a discussion of one of its primary sources: Muslim and pro-Palestinian student organizations—in particular, the Muslim Students Association (MSA) and SJP. I described how some members of these groups engage in behavior unlike members of other student groups on campus, behavior that has created a hostile environment for Jewish students. I mentioned that a number of MSA and SJP members have been responsible for physically harassing and assaulting Jewish students, vandalizing Jewish communal property, disrupting pro-Israel speakers, and aggressively confronting Jewish students at pro-Israel events; that some MSA and SJP chapters consistently sponsor speakers, films, and exhibits that engage in discourse or use language considered antisemitic by the US State Department; and that some MSA and SJP chapters have associated with individuals and organizations that are linked to terrorist activity and call for violence against Jews. Finally, I emphasized how difficult campus life can be for Jewish students who are not ready for such confrontations and who are, in general, not nearly as motivated to defend Israel as MSA and SJP students are to attack it. In February 2013, Rebecca Pierce, the head of the UCSC CJP group and a former student of mine, used a two-minute clip that she had created from an online recording of my Stoughton talk as a pretext for launching an extensive campaign accusing me of having made openly racist and Islamophobic comments about SJP and MSA students. With the help of her CJP group and SJP members throughout the UC system, Pierce coordinated a series of actions that included: posting and promoting a defamatory online petition accusing me of racism and censorship and calling on the UC president to condemn me;1 posting hundreds of defamatory flyers about me on the UCSC campus;2 posting a dozen videos about me on YouTube that wrongfully accused me of being hateful, dangerous, and Islamophobic;3 calling for SJP students UC-wide to fill out hate/ bias reports against me on their respective campuses;4 and calling for the passage of libelous resolutions condemning me for my “inflammatory, hateful, and racist assumptions” in the UC Berkeley,5 UC Santa Barbara,6 UC Davis,7 and UC Irvine8 student senates. Anti-Israel online publications (e.g., Electronic Intifada9 and Mondoweiss10) picked up the story and widely circulated these defamatory allegations. This campaign of harassment and defamation, which continued for several months, affected me both professionally and personally. On a campus like UCSC, there are few more damaging allegations...


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