Posted by on February 15, 2013 in Blog

By Jade Zoghbi

Spring 2013 Intern

One should and must be able to defend a personal set of political beliefs; one’s causes or convictions. This is particularly true in our institutions of higher learning. Therefore, when an academic and supposed role model publicly and blindly accuses entire student groups of being related to terrorist organizations, the outcome is both unacceptable and extremely offensive.

Academic freedom and mentorship are crucial to any student’s university experience, and professors who instill hatred and suspicion on others cannot be tolerated. In the public institutions of the University of California, the student body has for long now been witnessing protests addressing geopolitical conflicts. These are institutions where central political world issues ought to be addressed and defended in a setting where arguments can be debated openly. But in this case, they have taken a decidedly unproductive turn.

A conversation that took place in June, 2012 was recently released  online, bringing this issue back to the foreground. It points out the concerns on California college campuses where such rhetoric is challenging academic integrity.

The released video depicts a woman named Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a UC Santa Cruz Hebrew lecturer, who made some outrageous accusations and comments towards the Muslim Student Association and the Students for Justice in Palestine groups. She also leads an extreme pro-Israel group called the Amcha Initiative.

According to Rossman-Benjamin, pro-Palestine organizations present on all UC campuses are threatening the security of Jewish students and delegitimizing the Jewish state. She also claims that other professors are guilty of pro-Palestine speeches and academic material which they have abused in the name of academic freedom.

The individuals causing this distress for Jewish students, she says, are those with political convictions, the “many foreign students who come from cultures where anti-Semitism is how they think about the world…and is perfectly acceptable to them”.

Student organizations are vital for offering Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian student a space to combat hate crimes and to practice their freedom of speech. Discrimination against Muslims, Sikhs, and Arab Americans remains at the center stage of hate crimes. Now they have been broadly accused of being linked to terrorist motivations and groups as listed by the U.S. such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood, without any evidence or backing for such slanderous claims.

Rossman-Benjamin feels offended by an attack towards Israel, and interprets student organizing against Israeli policies as an attack on her Jewish identity: “What it means to be a Jew is to have a love and a connection for Israel. It’s a part of my identity,”

However, while anti-Semitism in any form should never be tolerated, protecting Jewish students is not accomplished by stifling open discussion on political issues. These incidents are very destructive to Arab American and American Muslim students, and even to Jewish students who have defended the human rights of the Palestinian people.