Anti-Semitism on campuses
Half a century ago, American institutions of higher education nationwide had quotas sharply restricting the number of Jewish students allowed to enroll. Today, those quotas have ceased to exist — along with the school-sanctioned discrimination they embodied. But while anti-Jewish sentiment no longer receives the blessing of university officials, it hasn't been fully eradicated from campuses. "Many colleges throughout the United States continue to experience incidents of anti-Semitism," states a 2006 report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. "This is a serious problem which warrants further attention."
In terms of numbers alone, the problem may seem small. An audit by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which fights bigotry, found that 94 anti-Semitic incidents were reported on U.S. campuses in 2007 — a number that has remained fairly stable over the past few years and represents only about 6% of known occurrences last year of harassment and vandalism targeting Jews. But such incidents tend to affect campus communities disproportionately, often resulting in very public controversies and bitter disputes between students.
Imam Abdul Alim Musa
College campuses are particularly susceptible to anti-Semitism that originates in certain sectors of the far left. This source of anti-Jewish sentiment often begins with condemnation of Israeli policies and devolves into derogatory statements about all Jewish people. Although criticism of Israel does not typically amount to anti-Semitism — and many critics of the Jewish state are unfairly accused of bigotry — in some cases those who denounce Israel also cross the line into denigration of Jews as a group.
According to the report from the federal civil rights commission: "On many campuses, anti-Israeli or anti-Zionist propaganda has been disseminated that includes traditional anti-Semitic elements, including age-old Jewish stereotypes and defamation. This has included, for example, anti-Israel literature that perpetuates the medieval anti-Semitic blood libel of Jews slaughtering children for ritual purpose, as well as anti-Zionist propaganda that exploits ancient stereotypes of Jews as greedy, aggressive, overly powerful or conspiratorial."
In addition, bigoted speakers who are spurned elsewhere can end up finding a platform on campuses, which are understandably reluctant to bar the expression of even highly offensive views. "Racists and demagogues have ably exploited schools' commitment to free speech, cloaking their propaganda in the guise of academic freedom," states a 1997 ADL report about anti-Semitism on campus. "They have two objectives: hooking the country's future leaders on the ideas they preach, and generating mainstream media coverage through the controversy that inevitably erupts over particularly incendiary events."
The Intelligence Report took an in-depth look at two different examples of modern-day anti-Semitism on college campuses (neither of which occurred in the classroom or was sanctioned in any way by university officials). In both cases, legitimate concerns about Israeli treatment of Palestinians found expression alongside anti-Jewish canards and Holocaust denial. During appearances on public university campuses in California, two Muslim clerics have espoused anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Sept. 11 and asserted that Jews control the media and other powerful institutions. Several hundred miles north, a discussion group seeking justice for Palestinians has morphed into a haven for white supremacists that's brought a string of Holocaust deniers to speak at the University of Oregon.
Imam Mohammad al-Asi
At a California university, two Muslim speakers go beyond criticism of Israel into outright anti-Semitism
IRVINE, Calif. — At a speaker series titled "Never Again? The Palestinian Holocaust," it was no surprise to hear denunciations of Israel.
But students who attended the weeklong event this spring at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) were treated to more disturbing rhetoric when two of the speakers trotted out anti-Semitic canards blaming Israeli Jews for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The speakers, Imam Mohammad al-Asi and Amir Abdel Malik Ali, also asserted that Zionist Jews control the media, financial institutions and the U.S. government.
UCI's Muslim Student Union invited the two men to campus as part of its annual speaker series, which has featured a line-up of critics of Israel. This year's event coincided with the 60th anniversary of the Jewish state's founding and featured nine speakers, several of them Jewish, who lambasted Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.
But al-Asi and Ali went beyond criticism of Israeli policies and ventured into outright anti-Semitism during speeches that drew from 100 to 200 people, many of them Muslim students.
Although pro-Israel advocates sometimes questionably accuse critics of Israeli policy, especially Muslim critics, of being anti-Semitic, both Al-Asi and Ali seem to have repeatedly crossed the line from lambasting Israeli policy to promoting bizarre anti-Jewish conspiracy theories of the sort typically favored by neo-Nazis, as well as by giving voice to loathing for all Jews as a people.
As Al-Asi put it in a previous speech at UCI: "We have a psychosis in the Jewish community that is unable to co-exist equally and brotherly with other human beings. You can take a Jew out of the ghetto, but you cannot take the ghetto out of the Jew."
"Mr. Ali and Mr. al-Asi are part of a speaking circuit that regularly makes appearances at California campuses beyond UCI and has done so for many years," said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. "It's troubling because they embrace anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, glorify violence against civilians, promote antipathy toward democratic institutions and introduce fabrications that go unchecked — not because they have political views critical of American policies, Israel or Zionism."
In fact, between the two of them, Ali and al-Asi have spoken at more than 15 colleges, including San Francisco State University; Sacramento State University; California State University, Long Beach; University of Southern California; University of California, Santa Cruz; University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Los Angeles; Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Portland State University in Oregon, and York University in Canada.
Al-Asi and Ali spoke twice during their respective visits to UCI on May 12 and May 15: once outdoors in a busy area of campus and once in the evening at UCI's student center.
Al-Asi is a member of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought, a think tank that advocates "the assertion of Islamic values in public and political life."
Writing in the February 2007 issue of the group's magazine, Crescent International, al-Asi cited a single example of an anti-Arab comment from an ultra-Orthodox Israeli rabbi and came to this conclusion: "Considering the sort of behavior and attitudes coming from Jewish religious figures, it is rather less surprising to see the actions of a secular Jewish state. This is precisely what qualifies Yahud [Arabic for Jews] for displacement, dispossession and depression. That is why they have been stamped with shame, mortification and the wrath of the Almighty."
Ali leads the Masjid al-Islam mosque in Oakland, Calif.; the mosque is part of the As-Sabiqun movement, which advocates "the establishment of Islam as a complete way of life in America."
Echoing a rumor popular in far-right circles, both Ali and al-Asi claimed during their most recent visits to UCI that Israeli Jews orchestrated the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In response to a question just after he'd left the podium, al-Asi claimed that five Israeli citizens — suspected members of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency — were filming the World Trade Center as the attacks took place.
"That's one indicator that somehow these people had some type of inside information that something like this is going to happen," he said. "Or else they wouldn't be there with their video cameras taking pictures of this event in progress."
Although five Israeli citizens were arrested shortly after the attack — and one of them reportedly had a camera with pictures of the burning World Trade Center — the FBI found no evidence linking the men to the terrorist attacks. They were deported to Israel because of immigration violations.
Al-Asi also implied that Jews who worked in the World Trade Center had received advance warning of the attack and that the media had launched a cover-up. "They [the Jews who died] don't come up to be the same proportion of the people who live in New York or the people who are of the Jewish faith who work in these buildings."
Al-Asi managed to connect this contemporary conspiracy theory to the age-old stereotype about Jews and money. Because the Twin Towers housed financial institutions, he said, lots of Jews must have been employed there. "Jews, generally speaking, they don't work as trash collectors and, you know, hard labor jobs. Many of their jobs have to do with white-collar positions — and especially when it comes to finances."
It's not the first time al-Asi has suggested that Jews working in the World Trade Center stayed home on Sept. 11. Speaking at the National Press Club in October 2001 with members of the New Black Panther Party, an anti-Semitic black separatist group, al-Asi asserted that Israeli Jews perpetrated Sept. 11 because they wanted the United States to share their feelings of insecurity. "There's 4,000 to 5,000 Israeli Jews who were supposed to be in those two buildings on Sept. 11," he said in a news conference aired on C-SPAN. "After the dust settles, we ask how many of these 4,000 to 5,000 were killed in this tragedy? And they can only confirm there was one death and three to four injured. Did they know something we didn't know, and if they did, we want answers: Why didn't they go to work? … Where were those 5,000 and why are you covering up these facts?"
Making a Myth
Ali expresses similar views. As a small group gathered around him after his noon speech at UCI, he said that Carl Cameron of Fox News tried to expose the "truth" about Sept. 11 in a news report. "He named those people who were there celebrating that the buildings were coming down, and how they were Zionist Jews, and how they were arrested and how they were let go. So the story was taken off," Ali said. "The Zionist Jews were behind it. Mossad [the national Israeli intelligence agency] was behind it."
During a speech at UCI last year, Ali told the same the story about Mossad agents rejoicing as the World Trade Center collapsed. He also said Zionist Jews perpetrated the attacks on the World Trade Center in 1993 as well as 2001. "They do things to make people think it's Muslims, when it's actually them behind the scenes," he said.
The rumor about Jews avoiding the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 was unwittingly started by the Jerusalem Post; an article in the newspaper's online edition said the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem knew of 4,000 Israelis believed to be in the vicinity of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon when the attacks occurred. This information was soon twisted into the myth that 4,000 Jews failed to show up for work on Sept. 11. According to the U.S. State Department, which issued a report refuting the rumor, various estimates show that Jews made up 10% to 15% of those who died in the World Trade Center — a figure that tracks closely with the estimated 12% of New York City residents who are Jewish.
The Muslim Student Union, which brought the speakers to campus, didn't respond to two E-mails requesting comment for this article. But the group's spokeswoman, Nida Chowdhry, told the Irvine student newspaper, New University, that "we're trying to foster dialogue and truth. If we found out that something was incorrect, we would change it. Promoting falsehood would be against my faith."
Cathy Lawhon, a spokeswoman for UCI, noted that the university does not sponsor the speakers. "Their views are not reflective of what is heard in any classroom or any other venue on campus," she said. She said the university provides forums to encourage civil discourse and understanding among students, including "Difficult Dialogues," which aims to promote discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and related issues through courses, lectures and other events throughout the year.
Imam Abdul Alim Musa
As for al-Asi, he argued that he couldn't possibly be anti-Semitic because Semites include Arabs such as himself. During his evening presentation at UCI in May, he blamed "Zionists" for controlling public opinion to such an extent that people equate anti-Semitism with hatred of Jews. "You have a monopoly over money, but you're not going to have a monopoly over ideas," he said. Even though Jews comprise roughly 2% of the U.S. population — and less than 1% of the world population — al-Asi implied that they dominate everyone else. "I don't like to use the word, but Muslims and Christians are outsiders," he said. "We're not Jews."
Al-Asi also claimed that several Jewish government officials secretly hold Israeli citizenship. "If we have officials in the United States government who owe their allegiance to Israel before the United States, we'd like to know about it, especially when they are occupying some of the most sensitive positions in the government," he said. "And I'll just give you one example: Michael Chertoff, the head of Homeland Security, a department that has about 185,000 employees. This person is a dual citizen. He's an Israeli and an American. … And how many other dual citizens do we have in this country who owe their allegiance to Israel first and the United States second?"
But the U.S.-born Chertoff is not, and never has been, an Israeli citizen. "He is an American citizen and that is the only citizenship he has ever had," said Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner.
Likewise, Ali has said many times during campus visits that Jews control the media. He has falsely identified as Jewish both media mogul Rupert Murdoch and Flemming Rose, the Danish newspaper editor who published controversial cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad.
In a May 2006 speech at UCI, Ali said: "Rupert Murdoch: Zionist Jew. Zionist Jew owns Fox News. They say that it's anti-Semitic if you say that the Zionists control the media. You better get out of here. Old Rupert is a straight-up Zionist Jew. He is. Put that on Fox News. Rupert Murdoch is a Zionist Jew."
Even when a questioner told him after his most recent UCI speech that he'd gotten his facts wrong about Murdoch and Rose, Ali was undeterred: "They're definitely Jewish. They're Zionist Jews. What's the other question? The media. Yes, Zionists do control the media."
"I just wanted to make sure you're not backtracking," said the questioner.
"No," Ali replied, "I'm not backtracking at all."
On an Oregon university campus, a left-wing discussion group takes a giant leap to the extreme right
Nearly 15 years ago, a longtime pacifist and retired professor in Eugene, Ore., started an informal group whose stated aim was to "provide information and points of view" on "war and peace, militarism and pacifism, violence and non-violence." He named it the Pacifica Forum, after a San Francisco area supper club that discussed similar issues.
Now, the group he founded appears to have forsaken its left-wing origins and made a giant leap to the extreme right. Over the past 10 months, Pacifica Forum has brought a veritable Who's Who of leading Holocaust deniers to speak at the University of Oregon, including Mark Weber and David Irving. "Pacifica Forum acts as if it's striving to become a West Coast stop on the white supremacist speaker circuit," opined the local newspaper, The Register-Guard, in June.
Indeed, the group has created a stir in this college town known for its vibrant arts scene, stunning scenery and liberal politics. Local media outlets have covered the Pacifica Forum extensively, dozens of people have protested the group's speakers, and the University of Oregon president condemned the racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric of a Pacifica Forum attendee. While fewer than 10 people (besides reporters and monitors) usually attend the group's weekly meetings at the University of Oregon campus, much larger crowds have turned out to hear the group's speakers.
"They've truly escalated," said Hal Applebaum, executive director of Hillel, a Jewish campus organization, at the University of Oregon. "They hide behind issues of free speech and claim it's important to hear what these people say. They lend legitimacy to speakers who have been discredited and widely condemned by almost everybody who's taken a look at their stuff."
Community activists fear that white supremacists are seizing control of the group and using it to recruit others to their cause. "It's not just the programming. It's the atmosphere, where expressions of anti-Semitism and racism and homophobia are acceptable — not only acceptable but warmly regarded," said Michael Williams, who has helped organize protests of the group's speakers.
But Pacifica Forum attendees see themselves as a persecuted group committed to free speech and the discussion of taboo topics. "Especially after we experienced — beginning five years ago — efforts to shut us down, we became devoted to free speech," said Orval Etter, the 92-year-old founder and chairman of Pacifica Forum. "We felt that the speakers needed to be heard in this community in order for the community to be better informed about public affairs in general."
Etter denied that the group has been overtaken by white supremacists. Rather, the group's loose structure (it has no bylaws or board of directors) enables people with diverse viewpoints to participate in the group, he said. As for the allegation that Pacifica Forum is anti-Jewish, "If you rub a substantial number of Jews the wrong way, you're anti-Semitic," he told the Intelligence Report. "In that sense, I have to admit that the forum and I, in particular, are anti-Semitic."
The Flirtation Begins
Orval Etter is an emeritus professor of planning, public policy and management at the University of Oregon, a musician who received an award for his support of the arts in Lane County, and a pacifist who was a conscientious objector during World War II and afterward worked for a national interfaith peace organization. He started Pacifica Forum in 1994.
Etter is outspoken in his belief that Israel's treatment of the Palestinians constitutes a "holocaust." Not surprisingly, the programs presented by Pacifica Forum on the Middle East have long been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. But programs that went beyond criticism of Israel into anti-Semitism, particularly Holocaust denial, have also been part of the forum's mix, Williams said. "Until [early 2005], the forum was mostly older people, often more or less progressive but naïve in the sense that they were often unable to distinguish between anti-Israel and anti-Jewish positions, expressions and programming," Williams said.
Between 2003 and 2005, three organizations that had sponsored Pacifica Forum dropped the group due to concerns about anti-Semitic programs. One organization, the Eugene Fellowship of Reconciliation (an interfaith peace group), cited a Pacifica Forum presentation given repeatedly on the anniversary of Kristallnacht in which Etter uncritically summarizes a book by Ingrid Weckert, a German Holocaust denier who claims that "world Jewry" perpetrated the nationwide 1938 pogrom that destroyed the property of German Jews.
Despite losing its sponsors, Pacifica Forum wasn't homeless for long. Etter and former University of Oregon sports information director George Beres created the Campus Civil Liberties Circle, under whose sponsorship they were able to reserve free space on campus for Pacifica Forum. For about a year beginning in early 2005, Pacifica Forum largely turned its back on anti-Semitic programming, significantly increased its attendance, and drew people with more political savvy than before, Williams said.
Then Etter met Valdas Anelauskas, a Lithuanian immigrant who describes himself as a white separatist and racialist, at a talk Etter gave on the imprisonment of Holocaust denier David Irving in Austria. Etter invited Anelauskas, who lives in Eugene, to present a series of lectures on "Zionism and Russia" beginning in May 2006.
An Unsavory Friend
In his lecture series, Anelauskas argued that Jews perpetrated a greater genocide than the Holocaust during the first half century of Communist rule in the former Soviet Union. In one speech, he proclaimed that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which describes a supposed Jewish plot to take over the world, was not the Tsarist forgery that experts say it was; on the contrary, he said, reading it "makes one's flesh crawl." In his first lecture on "Zionism and Russia," Anelauskas said: "There are many good people and also many bad people in every nation, but after many years of my experience and research, I came to the conclusion that among the Jews, for some reason, there is a much larger percentage of bad people than among others." Anelauskas dedicated at least one of the lectures to Germar Rudolf, who was imprisoned in his native Germany for Holocaust denial.
Etter was impressed by Anelauskas's talks. "They were quite well-documented and in those lectures I didn't sense any clear anti-Semitism," he said. Neither did Dawn Coslow, a regular Pacifica Forum attendee, mother of four, and non-traditional college student. "We were spellbound by the amount of facts being offered us," she told the Intelligence Report.
But others say the lectures represented a turning point for Pacifica Forum. "Anelauskas began attracting people for whom anti-Semitism was the message they wanted to hear," Williams said.
Etter has acknowledged that Anelauskas has made some clearly anti-Semitic remarks in conversations with other Pacifica Forum attendees. He said he was greatly upset by the poor documentation in a talk that Anelauskas prepared on Martin Luther King Jr. The lecture — which Anelauskas cobbled together from Internet sources and gave to Pacifica Forum attendee Jimmy Marr to edit and deliver — vilified King as a "moral leper and communist dupe" with a penchant for deviant sex. Identical claims have been made by the white supremacist right for decades.
This February, Anelauskas posted a comment on the website of the student newspaper, the Oregon Daily Emerald, in response to a column that expressed support for the war in Iraq. "Even if the author's name wasn't Deborah Bloom, after reading your opinion piece in the Emerald (Feb. 7) there is no doubt that it was written by someone who is Jewish," he wrote in part. "Because only from people of that peculiar tribe can we expect such Talmudic hatred for humanity. There is even a famous saying that wars are the Jews' harvest."
The Daily Emerald reported that its editor-in-chief decided to take down the post because it constituted hate speech.
Anelauskas declined a request for an interview. "I hope that one day you will end up, as the communist KGB did, in the dustbin of history," he E-mailed the Intelligence Report.
Enter the Heavyweights
About a year after Anelauskas' talks, the Pacifica Forum invited Mark Weber to speak. Weber is the director of the Institute for Historical Review, a leading Holocaust denial group that maintains a scholarly veneer, and once belonged to the neo-Nazi National Alliance. Weber was supposed to talk about "the Israel Lobby," but that didn't stop him from taking aim at Jews as a group. "Jews view non-Jews in a distrustful and even adversarial way," Weber told the audience of about 70 last Nov. 3. "Throughout history, Jews have time and again wielded great power to further group interests that are separate from, and often contrary to, those of the non-Jewish populations among whom they live."
Then came Irving, who has achieved notoriety since losing a libel suit he filed against an American historian who called him a Holocaust denier (the British judge in that case famously labeled Irving "pro-Nazi"). The poster advertising Irving's appearance on June 9 praised him as a "legendary British historian and martyr for free speech" and stated that he would speak about "political imprisonment in modern Europe." But Irving — who once said that more people died in the back seat of Sen. Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than in the gas chambers at Auschwitz — devoted only part of his talk to his legal troubles and spent the remaining time on revisionist history, mostly an effort to exonerate Hitler.
During the question-and-answer session, he claimed that the Jews, not the Nazis, were to blame for whatever might have happened to them during World War II. (Irving generally steered clear of the term "Holocaust.") That's because of the "networking [they do] for their own benefit at the exclusion of non-Jews. Non-Jews don't network with the same intensity. And this was undoubtedly a contributing factor in what we now call the Holocaust." Not only that, but the Jews can expect another "tragedy" in this country if they don't change their behavior, Irving said. "The Jews in the United States are now beginning to occupy the same positions or predominance in the lucrative, wealthy professions and so on that they occupied prior to Nazi Germany, which caused their tragedy," he told about 70 people.
Etter, who attended both talks, contends that Irving and Weber are legitimate historians. "I'm not aware that he's made statements against Jews," Etter said of Irving. "If he's made statements that are critical of Jews, it's not because they're Jews, it's because of what they've done or what they've said."
A pamphlet written by Etter in 1998 and distributed at a Pacifica Forum presentation complained that the term "Holocaust denier" ostracizes and silences people who contend that certain claims about the Holocaust are exaggerated. In his interview with the Intelligence Report, Etter said he thinks those exaggerations include the number of Jewish victims. "I admit that there were some bad things done to Jews during World War II, but I don't believe that everything they claim is truthful," Etter said.
The parade of speakers who share that view has continued. On June 24, about 40 people attended a talk by Pacifica Forum speaker Tomislav Sunic, who only three days earlier had addressed the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) at its national "leadership conference" in Sheffield, Ala. Sunic, a writer and white nationalist, had previously spoken to the Washington D.C.-area chapter of the CCC and the Institute for Historical Review (at least twice). He appeared on the "Political Cesspool," a white nationalist radio show, and was interviewed extensively for David Duke's Internet radio program. Sunic and the former Klan boss (whose latest book is entitled Jewish Supremacism: My Awakening to the Jewish Question) commiserated about Jewish domination, low birth rates among people of European ancestry and discrimination against whites. "Especially in these multiracial cities, like L.A. or Washington D.C., I'm losing my eye contact," Sunic confessed to Duke. "I'm sort of afraid even of raising my head and looking at people right in their eyes because I know they may not be of my species."
Exodus: Fleeing the Forum
The number of people attending Pacifica Forum meetings is less than half what it was two years ago — and it's mostly a different crowd. Among those who left were Mariah Leung and Jack Dresser, who regularly made factual presentations on Israel and Palestine as well as on other topics related to war, peace and justice. "A small group of attendees with a 'white separatist' preoccupation was attracted to the forum and started attending regularly," they wrote in an opinion piece posted on Pacifica Forum's website. "While never part of forum sessions, e-mailed views about 'race-mixing,' 'blood consciousness,' 'miscegenation that tears down civilization and pollutes good races' and 'the genocidal war against our own race' began to proliferate."
Dresser, a former Army psychologist during the Vietnam War, told the Intelligence Report that after the Anelauskas lectures, he spoke to Pacifica Forum attendees about the psychology of racism and its consequences, showing photos of lynchings and anti-Jewish Nazi propaganda posters. "Since Pacifica Forum is a public forum, Mariah and I had no objection to attendance by the self-described 'white separatists' and even entertained some hope of modifying their views," he E-mailed. "However, we could not allow them any control of programming in a forum with which our names were regularly associated. Orval declined to exclude their influence in programming decisions and we thereupon formally dissociated ourselves."
The community has spoken out strongly against the spate of anti-Jewish and racist speakers. The Anti-Hate Task Force — a broad-based community organization sponsored by the nonprofit Community Alliance of Lane County — organized protests before the speeches by Weber, Irving and Sunic. The week after Weber's lecture, about 80 people attended a symposium where four University of Oregon professors spoke about the Holocaust, said David Frank, dean of the university's Honors College.
For its part, the university has continued to allow Pacifica Forum to meet on campus. "The university is committed to free speech, and Pacifica Forum's use of the space does not reflect a university position on topics that they present," said university spokeswoman Julie Brown. Still, in a spring letter to his colleagues at the University of Oregon, university president Dave Frohnmayer condemned Anelauskas' anti-Semitic rant against the student newspaper columnist and called the presentation on Martin Luther King "unabashedly racist."
All of this has Etter convinced that his group is being unfairly smeared — and he knows who's to blame. "The way Jews in this town have treated the forum, I must confess that I'm being impelled quite against my wishes to see in the Jewish community a lot of unsavory behavior," he lamented.
"So I've undergone a transformation somewhat in the direction of becoming an anti-Semite."