Temple University has become the latest focal point for groups concerned about the spreading wave of campus antisemitism and academic-based Holocaust minimizing.
Temple student Daniel Vessal, a fellow with CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), was drawn into a verbal exchange with anti-Israel activists at the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) table during an official college event on August 20, 2014. Vessal, in his junior year at the Temple University Fox School of Business, studying Management Information Systems and Entrepreneurship, was allegedly called a “kike,” “Zionist pig,” and “baby killer.” He was slapped so hard at the SJP table that he was sent to the hospital. A police investigation and legal action are underway. The assaultive SJP supporter has purportedly apologized, according to a published SJP statement, which states: “I’m sorry for what I did. I admit I lost my temper.”
With lightning speed, fourteen Jewish organizations reacted to the assault, releasing a joint public letter of protest to Temple University. The letter complained: “A university campus should be the setting for thoughtful discussion and intellectual debate. Such an atmosphere should be encouraged by all responsible student groups. Unfortunately, Students for Justice in Palestine is not such a group. It has a proven track record of intimidation, harassment, and incitement merging into anti-Semitism against Israel and its supporters on campus.”
The swift-response joint letter was spearheaded by StandWithUs, which has become the nation’s pre-eminent campus pro-Israel advocacy group. Additional signatories included Americans for Peace and Tolerance, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), David Horowitz Freedom Center, Hasbara Fellowships, Proclaiming Justice to The Nations, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Simon Wiesenthal Center Campus Outreach, The Lawfare Project, The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).
Students for Justice in Palestine has been accused of fomenting violence and hate at campuses elsewhere. In March of this year, the Northeastern University chapter in Boston was suspended for a year after distributing “mock eviction notices” throughout the dorms. After the mock evictions, every Northeastern student was sent an email from Robert Jose, Northeastern’s Associate Dean for Cultural and Residential Life, who asserted, “We do not condone any behavior that causes members of our community to feel targeted and/or intimidated.” After a tumult of police interrogations, online petitions, and organizational appeals by SJP, Northeastern reinstated the controversial group beginning this fall pursuant to strict oversight guidelines.
StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein explained her organization’s swift action. “All those who care about promoting a safe and peaceful environment on college campuses that encourages civilized debate should be concerned about Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and their track record of promoting hateful campaigns across the country that can lead to violence like this.” Scholars for Peace in the Middle East executive director Asaf Romirowsky added, “The latest at Temple is indicative of a larger trend growing on campuses — something we are seeing at both the faculty and student levels … giving rise to the BDS movement and to those seeking Israel’s destruction.”
Romirowsky referred to “the latest at Temple.” Indeed, the university has recently been in the spotlight for minimizing the Holocaust. On June 9 of this year, Temple University president Neil D. Theobald received a formal complaint from the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law about Holocaust minimizing. Brandeis protested that Temple University Adjunct Professor Alessio Lerro had argued that “Jews are exaggerating the extent of the Holocaust to obtain political advantages.” Lerro’s remarks were made during the fractious debate over a proposed Modern Language Association boycott of Israel. In an online post, Lerro reportedly quipped, “Six million? mh…. we all know (or should know) that the counting of Jews is a bit controversial.” After a furor, a university spokesman caused further angst when he explained, “the exercise of academic freedom necessarily results in a vigorous exchange of ideas.” After that rankling apologia, Brandeis issued its stern letter of rebuke.