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UC president in unusual public dispute with several American Jewish groups

July 6, 2010 |  3:24 pm

The president of the University of California and leaders of some prominent American Jewish organizations are in an unusual public dispute about the extent of anti-Semitism on UC campuses and the best ways to try to reduce it.

A dozen Jewish and pro-Israel groups, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the national headquarters of both Conservative and Orthodox Judaism, sent a letter to UC President Mark G. Yudof last week that contends the university’s response to anti-Semitic acts has been too weak. Citing recent incidents of swastikas on campus property and anti-Israel speakers who use anti-Semitic language, the letter alleged that many Jewish UC students feel “an environment of harassment and intimidation.”

The Jewish leaders, with support of 700 UC students who signed an online petition, said that a new UC committee formed to study issues of racial and religious bias will not adequately address the concerns of Jewish students. They called for “an explicit focus on anti-Semitism” and for UC administrators to publicly and more strongly condemn acts and speakers that they said demonize Jews and Israel.

In a response released Tuesday, Yudof said he is very concerned about any anti-Semitic acts at UC and promised to “do everything in my power to protect Jewish and all other students from threats or actions of intolerance.” But he also criticized the Jewish groups' letter as “a dishearteningly ill-informed rush to judgment against our ongoing responses to troubling incidents that have taken place on some of our campuses.”

Yudof, who is Jewish and is married to the former lay leader of Conservative Judaism’s North American headquarters, also wrote that the Jewish groups may have based their concerns on an unreliable sampling of student opinion and that most Jewish UC students’ “perspectives are more mixed than you suggest.”

The UC president said he was disappointed that the letter writers seem to have dismissed the university's Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion as destined to fail and he urged them to support its work. “This is premature and disheartening, given that their work, in what will be a long and complicated struggle, has barely begun,” he said.

That panel, which held its first meeting last week, was created in response to what UC officials said were several troubling incidents over the last school year, including an off-campus "Compton Cookout" party by UC San Diego students that mocked African Americans, as well as the spray-painting and carving of swastikas at several UC Davis locations, including on the dorm room door of a Jewish student there.

-- Larry Gordon