Home inFocus The Rise of Campus Anti-Zionism in California

The Rise of Campus Anti-Zionism in California

Larry Greenfield Winter 2008

America’s college campuses have long been bastions of Leftist anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism, and anti-globalism. In recent years, they have also become host to a wave of anti-Zionism. Muslim Student Associations regularly demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state. Recently, the non-sectarian Yale Political Union publicly condemned the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship. Professors have joined in, promoting a dubious criticism of the American foreign policy alliance with the Jewish state.

The strongest anti-Zionist campus movements have been observed on America’s “Left Coast.” California’s Jewish students face increasingly inflammatory rhetoric. Islamist student groups have repeatedly brought fiery anti-Israel speakers to campus, including some who praise suicide bombers, express support for Hamas and Hezbollah, and rail against America and its “Zionist Jews.”


At the University of California-Irvine, anti-Israel demonstrations in 2002 featured the display of mock “body bags” of Palestinians “murdered” by the Israeli army, with no mention of the terrorist violence that prompted Israeli military actions. Graduation ceremonies in 2004 featured Muslim students wearing green arm sashes in support of Hamas “resistance.”

One frequent campus speaker, Oakland-based Muslim cleric Amir Abdel Malik Ali, gave a notorious lecture at UCI in 2006 during a week of activities sponsored by the campus Muslim Student Union under the rubric “Holocaust in the Holy Land.” Speaking on a campus plaza behind a sign reading “Israel, the 4th Reich,” Ali proudly stated that Israelis are “reluctant to get on buses and things, or go to the café,” for fear of terrorist attacks. He gloated, “It’s about time that they live in fear.”

Ali also glorified terrorism, stating that the Israelis are opposed by “people who are ready to die, who say either ‘victory’ or ‘martyrdom.’ You can’t fight against that.”

During a 2005 speech at UCI, he referred to Palestinians who blew up Israeli buses as “freedom fighters,” railed against the “Zionist-controlled media,” called America “the belly of the beast” and accused Palestinian supporters of a two-state solution of being “Uncle Tom” leaders.

Another repeat guest speaker of UCI’s Muslim Student Union is Muhammad Al-Asi, an outspoken cleric and admirer of the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini. Al-Asi condemns the media for failing to present “information that debunks the Holocaust,” calls for Muslims to “take on the cancerous Israeli presence in the Middle East” and says that U.S. troops are in Afghanistan in order “to set back Islamic self-determination for many years to come.”


At the University of California-Berkeley, anti-Israel incidents have ranged from Palestinian marches demonizing Israel’s “Apartheid Wall,” to the arrest by campus police of 79 pro-Palestinian protestors who stormed a building to disrupt a 2002 Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration. An organization known as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has also found faculty support for the divestment of state pension funds from companies that do business with Israel.

Muslim student groups at Berkeley (as well as UC-San Diego) posted anti-Semitic fliers in 2002 featuring fabricated and distorted quotations from Jewish and rabbinical literature. These “quotations” are found on extremist Internet sites. One alleges that, “a Jew is permitted to rape, cheat and perjure himself, but he must take care that he is not found out, so that Israel may not suffer.” Another states that, “a gentile girl who is three years old can be violated.” Yet another states that, “when the Messiah comes, every Jew will have 2,800 slaves.”

UCB also hosted the aforementioned Abdel Malik Ali, who continued to impart his vitriolic, anti-Israel and anti-American ideas to students. “In America, you’re mostly fighting with your tongue. But you should also learn how to fight with the sword,” he told a 2004 Muslim Student Association West conference at UC Berkeley, according to a report in the East Bay Express. He reportedly urged attendees to “work on building Islamic infrastructures in the USA now,” implying his desire for America to be ruled by “Sharia law.”

Los Angeles

At the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), incidents have included graphic multi-media emails of dead Palestinian children and demonstrations comparing Israelis to Nazis. The Muslim Student Association has helped students forward resolutions condemning Zionism as racism, and assists in sponsoring anti-Israel speakers, posters, marches and rallies.

Al-Talib, the Muslim newsmagazine at UCLA and Al-Kalima, the Muslim newsmagazine at UC-Irvine jointly published a highly anti-Israel publication entitled “Zionism: the Forgotten Apartheid.” Al-Talib treats Hamas and Hezbollah as legitimate and noteworthy resistance movements. The magazine has also been distributed at San Diego State University, UC-San Diego and the University of Southern California.

Santa Barbara

At the University of California-Santa Barbara, a construction site for new dormitories at UCSB was defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti including the phrases: “Anti Zion/Nuke Israel,” “God Hates Jews,” and “Burn the Torah.”

In March 2008, when a Palestinian terrorist massacred yeshiva students in Jerusalem, pro-Israel students put up posters on campus in memory of the students. According to reports, not a single one lasted more than 48 hours and several were defaced, with phrases like “Zionist occupier,” and “rich, white, heterosexual male.”

At UCSB, Muslim groups have invited several radical speakers who were paid with university funds. In February 2008, the MSA hosted Edina Lekovic, who has written of Osama bin Laden as a “brother” and “freedom fighter.”

The SJP chapter, using university funds, hosted Marcy Newman on campus. Newman, who was arrested in Israel for abetting Hezbollah, incited students to “resist.”

Other Alarming Reports

At the University of California-Davis, a “National Day of Action in Commemoration of Massacre of Village of Deir Yassin” was held to compete with Holocaust Remembrance Day. Speakers discussed divestment and “resistance” against the state of Israel.

At the University of California-San Diego, the Muslim Student Association sponsored a talk by Hatem al-Bazian, a speaker whose anti-Semitic and anti-American views were challenged by Hillel members who placed fliers around campus featuring al-Bazian’s quotes. Muslim students challenged the Hillel members for doing this, and reportedly threatened violence.

At San Francisco State University, Muslim and Arab Student groups, under the banners “Genocide in the 21st Century,” held rallies in 2002 featuring posters bearing a picture of soup cans reading “Made in Israel” on the label, and listing the contents as “Palestinian Children Meat.” A photo of a baby, with its stomach sliced open, was also on the can, following the words ” according to Jewish Rites under American license.”

University Responses

Officials and professors at some of California’s institutions of higher learning have taken some positive steps. At the University of Southern California, under pressure from parents and donors, officials removed “hadiths of hate” against Jews from the Muslim Student Association website, hosted on University servers. Professors Leila Beckwith of UCLA and Ilan and Tammi Benjamin of the University of California-Santa Cruz have promoted petitions calling on the higher education establishment in California to address concerns about Middle East studies and other humanities teaching about Israel to ensure critical inquiry and deter anti-Israel academic bias.

The University of California system has now hired a respected Jewish academic, constitutional scholar Mark Yudof, as its new president. There is hope that he will work with the board of regents to establish some guidelines and perhaps ameliorate what has become a hostile environment for Zionists on campus. Privately, however, concerns linger that strong university action will not be taken unless violence occurs.

The Jewish Response

Unsatisfied with the inaction of the university administrators, local Jewish professionals, community leaders, and activists are now working to mitigate the growing anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism on California’s campuses. The Stand With Us organization, based in Los Angeles, has grown rapidly, and regularly offers pro-Israel students well-regarded speakers, literature, and educational materials with which to combat anti-Zionism.

The Hillel Foundation of Orange County announced the formation of a task force in 2007 to examine the reports of anti-Semitism at UC-Irvine. Local Jewish organizations have held meetings with campus administrators, parents, and Jewish community leaders. Still, there are lingering concerns that local Hillel chapters are not doing enough to help students cope with an alarming trend.

Government Response

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who oversees the entire state university system, made an attempt early in his administration to invite a range of community voices to express their concerns about the disconcerting events on campus. This effort, while commendable, has yet to yield tangible results.

Local California State Assemblyman Chuck Devore (R-Irvine), has frequently appeared on campus to assert his right to record Muslim student group meetings on video, and has blogged about his efforts. He also attempted to discuss replacing out-dated anti-Communist clauses in the California Education Code with a new legislative effort to ban Islamic hate speech from public education. Other legislators have blocked his efforts.

In 2004, the Zionist Organization of America filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, alleging a “hostile, and at times, threatening” environment for Jewish students at UC-Irvine. The OCR has not taken any action.

Cooperation Needed

To date, bullying on campus and hate speech has often been tolerated thanks, in part, to the academic community’s insistence that this is an issue of free speech. Until the Jewish community and California’s elected officials make a stronger effort to engage the university system, the schools will continue to provide a hospitable environment for anti-Zionism. The university, the Jewish community, and the California state government must all work together to solve these problems on campus.

Larry Greenfield is the California Director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, and a graduate of the University of California-Berkeley.