Treading a Delicate Line on Israel

A sensitive point in criticizing Israel over its persecution of the Palestinians is the need to separate the actions of that government from the Jewish people, many of whom also object to those repressive policies. One bungled case at UCLA raised accusations of anti-Semitism, as Lawrence Davidson describes.

By Lawrence Davidson

On March 5, the New York Times carried a front page story about a second-year student at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) named Rachel Beyda, who is Jewish and was seeking appointment as a member on the university’s Judicial Board, a student committee that considers judicial questions in reference to the activities of student government.

As the story goes, Ms. Beyda’s application was originally rejected because a majority of the board felt that her association with organizations such as Hillel, a group that uncritically supports Israel’s apartheid-style culture and maintains anti-democratic rules and procedures of its own, would represent a conflict of interest and result in possible bias on her part.

The Flag of Israel

The Flag of Israel

Given the tension on many campuses, including UCLA, between those who support and oppose Israeli policies and behavior – tensions which occasionally result in student organizations being disciplined – it was not an unreasonable assumption. Unfortunately, the student board members who questioned Ms. Beyda’s affiliations made it appear that their concerns flowed from her religion and ethnicity.

Then “at the prodding of a faculty adviser who pointed out that belonging to Jewish organizations was not a conflict of interest, the students [on the board] revisited the issue and unanimously put her [Beyda] on the board.”

Of course, the story does not end there. According to the New York Times, the episode has “set off an anguished discussion of how Jews are treated” and served to “spotlight what appears to be a surge of hostile sentiment directed against Jews on many campuses in the country, often a byproduct of animosity toward the policies of Israel.”

The Los Angeles-area Zionists have had a field day blowing the incident out of all proportions. For instance, Rabbi Aaron Lerner, “the incoming executive director of the Hillel chapter at U.C.L.A.” told the Times, “we don’t like to wave the flag of anti-Semitism, but this is different. This is bigotry. This is discriminating against someone because of their identity.”

At least on one point Lerner is wrong. Hillel does “wave the flag of anti-Semitism.” After all, Hillel maintains that “Israel is a core element of Jewish life and the gateway to Jewish identity.” The organization follows the Zionist line that those who strongly oppose Israel, oppose the Jews and Judaism per se.

Lerner’s charge of “bigotry” is harder to evaluate without seeing the recorded video of the board meeting (which has been removed from YouTube). However, in a letter to the campus newspaper, the students who originally voted against Ms. Beyda apologized for the tack they had taken in their questioning of her.

The Times goes on to air the opinions of Rabbi John L. Rosove, senior rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood who called the board incident “insidious”;  Avinoam Baral, the president of student council, who said the board was unfairly suggesting Beyda might have “divided loyalties”; and Natalie Charney, student president of the UCLA chapter of Hillel who complained that this was all the result of an “overall climate of targeting Israel” that has led to the “targeting of Jewish students.”

Well, no one can accuse the New York Times of putting forth a balanced interpretation of events.

What is the Real Issue?

There is certainly something upsetting about this incident. It might very well be that the recent acrimonious struggle that resulted in the UCLA student government endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel set the scene for a less than sensitive approach to Ms. Beyda’s application to the Judicial Board.

Nonetheless, the incident and its repercussions tell us that those who oppose Israeli behavior have to be careful not to fall into the Zionist trap of assuming, or even inferring, that Israel is identical with the Jewish people and that individual Jews cannot do other than support the Zionist state. This is simply not true.

It seems to me that the mistake the board members made was to focus on Ms. Beyda’s membership in “Jewish” organizations. We can infer that from the faculty adviser’s intervention as described above. If those objecting to her application had thought the issue through, they would have realized that the real problem is not membership in organizations that are Jewish, but rather membership in organizations that support institutional racism and oppression.

Focusing on the latter points allows one to get past the issue of being Jewish. After all, there should be a problem if an applicant belonged to any such organization, be it Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, communist or even pseudo-democratic.

In the United States we may be approaching a tipping point in the struggle against Zionist racism and Israeli oppression. As such it is extremely important that those involved in this struggle express their feelings in a way that clearly maintains a separation between what is objected to and Jews generally.

The struggle is against racism, discrimination, oppression, occupation and illegal colonization because they are evils no matter who perpetrates them. The Israeli case has to be prioritized because Israel and its Zionist allies have bought and bullied our own government and political parties in a corrupting manner.

Expressed in this way, anyone who applied for the UCLA Judicial Board, regardless of religion or ethnicity, might properly be asked about their attitude toward such issues.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

11 comments for “Treading a Delicate Line on Israel

  1. P. A.
    March 16, 2015 at 22:17

    Some points;
    1) if a 2 State solution were accepted, Hamas, ISIS, Hezbollah would finnd ways to fire rockets not from Gaza, 30 miles from TA, but from the WB, 13 miles from TA, direct line of sight. Might as well put artillery and SP guns there, even Grads…
    2) Hamas would first hsave to fight Fatah and take over the PA. no problem as Abbas is deeply unpopulat thre. A Pal State run by Hamas? Who want a Pal Caliphate over Palestine? They have said so countless times.
    3) Assuming this were to happen, and all the Pal exiles returned and took over israel, what would happen to 6 million Jews? The Jihadist hates the Infidel. ISIS hates even other Moslems, what would they do to Jews and Christians in palestine? The sanme as in iraq and Syria or as the Egypotians hsae done to the Copts?
    4) Those Israeli Arabs who were offered transfer voluntsarily to a future Pal State or to remain in Israel chose overwhelmingly to remain in Israel, under Israseli rule. Look it up if you don’t believe me.
    5) So Intra Islamic conflicts have arisen as a result of already existing pre-and post-Ottoman social cleavages (pre-1918) not anything to do with Israel per se. Sunni and Shias hate each other since the 7C AD. Stop blaming Israel fort conflicts that have nothing to do wiuth her but are historically intra-Moslem.
    6) Iraq is essentially destroyed as the state the British set up after WW1 in 1918+. Syria is in the process of self-destruction. Egypt is only about because of its strong and popular military. However its threatened by Ethiopia and Nile damming, and by over-population (70 million +) and redesertification. Jordan is in etween Isrsael, ISIS, disntegrating Iraq/Syria. Saudi is embroiled wth Iran. Whether we like it or not these are non Israel related conflicts. They all existed pre-Israel. they wold continue if Israel were there or not.
    7) Isrsael is nuclear yes. So is Pakistan. So might India be. So are China and Russia. Iran has the potential. There is a crazy balance. If the US attacks Iran Iran will close or interfere with the Hormuiz. Europe will self-destruct. The Neocons will go into gaga land of the Great Neocon video game called PNAC, while thery destroy the world bty fighting everyone. Isrsael is not directly invo,lved. The US will do all this with or without Israel.
    8) Think about all the above… Please… The US and Israel are not joined at the hip ANY MORE. Israel is fed up with moralising allies and is headig East to China, India, Russia. The Israeli mil establishment like the other est in the ME has strong connections with the US. But Israeli business is going East. Everything is changing. Only consoiracy nuts and permanent antis want to believbe otherwise. The world is changing as we speak. please don’t get stuck with old perspectives…

  2. Theodora Crawford
    March 14, 2015 at 13:33

    I find it difficult to understand what lessons from the Holocaust were learned by so many Israelis, especially by those who brutally persecute Palestinians who lost their homes and their right to live freely in their own land. And I bitterly resent the hubris of Zionists like Netanyahu assuming he has the right to insult our president and to tell the US what to do. Time to cut off the billions in US aid to Israel! An arrogant attitude and demand for privilege is not endearing but it might explain centuries of emnity and rejection from much of the world? Escalating anti-semitism is tragic and must to addressed with a realistic but compassionate attitude.

  3. Zachary Smith
    March 13, 2015 at 09:53

    Well, no one can accuse the New York Times of putting forth a balanced interpretation of events.

    The NYT and WP are two sites which are no longer reliable for me. The Post is probably the worst; nowadays I assume a story I see there is not correct unless it can be verified elsewhere.

  4. BobW
    March 12, 2015 at 18:46

    I grew up with it in Beverly Hills, and now see it written into law here in Europe. Jews have become the master race. It is against the law for me to say anything that might be controversial,
    but I have been called “goi” in a not friendly way in my life too frequently (mostly by Israelis).
    When do we put an end to this special rights, special status for Jews. More Russians and other real ethnic groups died in the war than Jews, but it is a billion dollar plus business for Jews.. they love the holocaust money!
    Just saying, you keep prodding the bear, don’t be surprised when he finally turns on you full force.

    • Joe
      March 13, 2015 at 08:29

      Very true. About 20 million Russians, over 12 million Chinese, six million Germans (mostly opposed to Naziism), and six million other Europeans. No benefits were given to the other victims, or even discussed, other than the Marshall Plan that benefited all Europe. Benefits are due only to victims and survivors while needed, not to an ethnic group long afterward, and only fascists (those promoting their group unfairly over others) would argue for benefits long afterward.

      • Peter Loeb
        March 15, 2015 at 06:15


        Your view of the Marshall Plan and its “benefits”is the common, comfortable one
        of the West and the USA in particular. I shall not here try to say in a phrases what
        Joyce and Gabriel Kolko’s landmark work THE LIMITS OF POWER….said in hundreds of
        pages. You are not to blame. You have been well “sold”!! And as a result you are
        tragically mislead.

        To be specific, the Marshall Plan did NOT EVER “benefit all Europe”.

        —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  5. Morton Kurzweil
    March 12, 2015 at 09:11

    Why does Consortium distinguish between anti-Semitism in reference to the State of Israel and anti-Racial, anti-Cultural, and anti-Minority practices by the United States Congress and the Supreme Court? The evidence is clear that economic inequity remains the religion of the U.S government regardless of the fact that the prosperity of every nation originates in the free flow of ideas and of commerce.
    When ethics and morality are determined by any government, that government becomes a dictatorship. The safety and security of a democracy depends on the independence of the individual to understand that his beliefs end when they are imposed on anyone else.

  6. Joe B
    March 12, 2015 at 07:52

    The article points out the problem sharply and correctly, and students need the information.

    The distinction should be carefully whenever criticizing an element within a group, to avoid encouraging prejudice or alienating those who recognize that the right wing demagogues of each ethnic/religious/national group are the problem, not the groups themselves. The point must be made that one need not have a negative prejudice to reject a positive prejudice.

    Membership in a political group that has steadfastly and selfishly promoted the interests of an ethnic/religious/national group over all others (which I will term a fascist group) does not prove agreement with the group, but that certainly seems likely. Hillel has acted at colleges not only to voice but to enforce a party line on Israel, viciously attacking students and faculty, although some claim that to be a distortion of its purpose or an accident of circumstances. Questioning the applicant is not likely to lead to plausible explanations.

    There may be a case for the assumption that such membership indicates distorted allegiances, although the fanatic will probably deny or avoid such memberships so as to gain credibility anyway. Fascism is hard to fight when entrenched by training, in groups once the victims of fascism. With limited investigative resources it would seem foolish to give a member of such a group discretionary power over a group making decisions of justice. Naziism in now unlawful in Germany, an excessive measure anywhere else due to the need to protect freedom of speech, but trusting zionist fascists with discretionary power seems excessive as well.

  7. Peter Loeb
    March 12, 2015 at 05:57

    To David: Which “premise”?

    As one of Jewish ancestry (but not of Jewish faith, much less” pro- Israel”i) I find myself bannished from open discussion on Israel and its policies.

    —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA USA

  8. David
    March 11, 2015 at 23:23

    strongly disagree with your premise

    • Gregory Kruse
      March 12, 2015 at 10:29

      I strongly disagree with your premise.

Comments are closed.