I have taught for many years at the University of Southern California, so it is rare that I will go out of my way to offer kind words to our friendly crosstown rivals at UCLA. But I write this to salute a group of young heroes in Westwood. They are not basketball or football stars but an extraordinarily courageous group of young men and women who are bravely standing up for principles that they hold dear, not just their support for the safety and security of the state of Israel but their ongoing fight in defense of academic freedom, human rights, and religious tolerance.
Pro-Israel students have fought for months to protect their campus against the threat of the so-called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, whose goal of forcing the university to participate in a morally inexcusable economic boycott against Israel. BDS proponents assert that Israel discriminates against its Arab citizens, a peculiar charge against a nation that includes Arabs in its Cabinet, Supreme Court, Knesset, civil service and defense forces and whose robust free press, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and human rights protections are virtually unique in the Middle East. Meanwhile, BDS leaders ignore horrendous civil and human rights violations in neighboring countries such as Syria, Iran, and Egypt, leading to the unavoidable conclusion that in their eyes, Israel’s transgression is not one of conduct but rather crimes of religion, heritage and existence.
Earlier this spring, the UCLA student government defeated an anti-Israel divestment effort. But instead of retreating, the pro-boycott forces then opened a new front in the battle by working to prevent student leaders from traveling to Israel. In recent student elections, the majority of candidates signed pledges promising not to make such trips if sponsored by off-campus pro-Israel organizations. A student judicial board finally rejected charges against two UCLA undergraduates who have traveled to Israel as part of such a sponsored program.
UCLA is not the only place where these debates have flared. On college campuses across California and across the country, the fight for Israel’s future has opened on a new front, forcing Jewish students and their allies to defend thinly veiled attacks that are anti-Zionist at best and anti-Semitic at worst. BDS leaders understand that college campuses are an ideal environment in which to spread untruths about Israel and have adeptly used the debate over divestiture as a platform from which to mislead young Californians and attempt to turn them against a Jewish state.
The ongoing struggle to achieve peace in the Middle East no longer takes place only in Jerusalem and on the West Bank, in Washington and Geneva. Threats to Israel’s safety and security emerge now regularly in Berkeley and in Riverside, in Davis and in Irvine and in Westwood. And this is the arena in which our state political leaders can make a real difference.
Israel’s assailants know that the chances that our universities will divest their holdings are negligible. Their own materials (http://www.bdsmovement.net/files/2011/02/divestguide.pdf) make it clear that their objectives have less to do with policy than with propaganda. In a battle for public opinion such as this, it becomes critically important for California’s political leaders to commit themselves to speak out – forcefully and regularly. Our elected representatives of both parties must stand with the brave young men and women who defend Israel’s right to exist against an ongoing onslaught.
I will take that stand. I am currently running for the office of California Secretary of State, as an independent No Party Preference candidate who believes that California’s chief elections officer should not be a member of either political party. I believe that we can restore sanity to an out-of-control campaign fundraising arms race, expand voting opportunities and civics education and take necessary steps to help California’s jobs creators and small business owners. (www.4schnur.com)
But long before I was a candidate, I was a Jew. So I believe even more strongly in the safety and security of the state of Israel. I believe that the BDS movement represents a potentially catastrophic threat to peace in the Middle East. If elected, I will commit myself to protecting the rights and safety of Jewish and other pro-Israel students from the invective and hate speech that too often accompanies the divestiture argument. I will use the bully pulpit of a statewide office to bring public and media attention to the argument against BDS in order to ensure that their propaganda is met with accurate and truthful response.
I hope candidates of all partisan and ideological persuasions, for the office I seek and all others, will step up to meet this same standard. Our students – on every campus in California – deserve no less.
Dan Schnur, a candidate for California Secretary of State, is the former Chairman of the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission. He is on leave from his position as the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, where he serves as the faculty advisor to the SC Students for Israel organization.