No Easy Answers: Jewish college presidents, like David Leebron of Rice, say they are sometimes caught between their own strongly held beliefs and the requirement to nurture a culture of diversity.
As the debate about Israel rages on college campuses across America, there is one figure for whom the conversation takes on strikingly personal dimensions: the Jewish college president.
About 20 Jewish men and women hold the highest positions at universities across the country, including campuses that have become hotbeds of political activism on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For these individuals, the role of president entails a constant balancing act between encouraging free speech on campus and honoring their personal, often supportive, views of Israel.
Click here to see map
In a series of interviews with the Forward, 10 current and former Jewish college presidents held forth on what the University of California’s Mark Yudof described as the “schizophrenia” of the Jewish college president — the moments when one’s Jewish identity bumps up against the interests of the institution. For many college presidents, the movement to boycott, divest from and implement sanctions against Israel — commonly known as BDS — represented a red line: Presidents who were previously disinclined to speak out against anti-Israel activity on campus in the name of preserving open dialogue found themselves publicly opposing the movement.
But going public on Israel had its limits. Several presidents voiced exasperation with the Jewish community’s scrutiny of campus events, preferring to mediate the Israel-Palestine debate internally. Still others described their efforts to extinguish sparks before they flared into small fires, by coaching Jewish and Muslim students in civil dialogue.
Yudof, who has run the 10-college U.C. system since 2008, is one president for whom the topic of BDS merited not only public condemnation, but also action. A self-described “strong defender of Israel” who oversees some of the most combustive campuses in America, Yudof has been alternately portrayed as a First Amendment wonk out of step with Jewish interests and an unblinking Zionist beholden to them.
In 2010, when U.C. Berkeley and U.C. San Diego students introduced bills in their student governments calling for divestment from General Electric Co. and United Technologies — two companies that manufacture Israeli military gear — Yudof felt compelled to take a decisive step. That May, he issued a statement saying that the Board of Regents would not consider BDS, since it was the board’s policy to take up divestment only if America’s government said that the regime in question was committing genocide. But for Yudof, there was a secondary reason.
“I thought there was a double standard with Israel,” he said. “It was unimaginable. Other countries were given a pass, and they were going to enforce this boycott against a tiny country in the Middle East. In my judgment, but for it being the Jewish state, it would not be on their list for a boycott.”
In the end, neither school adopted the bills.
Judith Shapiro, who served as president of Barnard College from 1994 to 2008, cited similar reasons for publicly opposing the BDS movement at Columbia University and Barnard in 2002. Her term at Barnard saw a major flare-up on the topic of Israel when Jewish alumni and community members vociferously opposed the tenure of professor Nadia Abu El Haj, contending that her book, “Facts on the Ground,” called into question the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel. Shapiro took a hands-off approach in this instance, reassuring alumni that the tenure process would examine El Haj — who was eventually hired — fairly and vigorously.
But in the case of a faculty and student call for BDS, Shapiro went public. She issued a statement with Columbia President Lee Bollinger, saying that the two opposed BDS in part because it squelched public debate about the conflict on campus. The university’s Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing took up the question of divesting from companies that benefit from the Israeli occupation, but the proposal was ultimately rejected.
Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
"Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
"If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served."
What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
"One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'"
Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
"Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
"I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve."
Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys.
Who are you rooting for?
“People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us."
This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
For 22 years, Seeds of Peace has fostered dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian teens in an idyllic camp. But with Israel at war in Gaza, this summer was different.
J.J. Goldberg doesn't usually respond to his critics. But this time, he just had to make an exception.