When eight departments at the University of California Santa Cruz sponsored a conference in 2007 on how to eliminate the Jewish State, it was the last straw for Tammi Rossman -Benjamin. a lecturer in Hebrew and Jewish studies there, she was outraged. “It put me over the edge,” she said in an interview with CIJNews.
With aggressive pro Palestinian propagandizing and anti Israel bashing from professors and students, over the last 15 years , the campus climate at UC was becoming more and more toxic for Jewish students.
She created a petition to be sent to the President of the University of California, which has ten campuses, to address campus anti Semitism. In order to get his attention, she approached the heads of major Jewish organizations to sign the letter.
“I was naive,” she said. “I thought this was so non- controversial and so important, everyone would gladly sign.” To her astonishment, ADL, Hillel and AJC refused. So she took it to the people. The parents, the alumni, the rabbis, congregants, donors… 5,000 signed.
It worked. Anti Semitism, ignored before, became an issue. The President of UC, Mark Yudoff, commissioned a Jewish student campus climate report. Most Jewish students reported a hostile climate because of anti- Semitism and anti- Israelism from peers and professors. BDS campaigns, Israel Apartheid Week, anti -Israel lectures and activities. All embody hatred of Israel and the Jewish people, she says.
“We looked at the relationship between anti Zionist activity and BDS and we found it highly correlated with acts that target Jewish students for harm. Jewish students are affected and cannot partake fully of campus life like other students. She added, “who is defending the Jewish students who are defending Israel? They can’t fight this alone.”
Tammi then talked to the state legislators. “We went to Sacramento and educated them.” The next month, a resolution in the State Assembly condemned campus anti-Semitism.
In 2011, she and Professor Leila Beckwith, who teaches child psychology at UCLA’s medical school, founded Amcha, an organization that investigates and carries out campaigns against campus anti-Semitism. It includes communicating with university, state and federal leaders about the issue and finding solutions.
Amcha now has the support of a coalition of 58 organizations, Jewish and Christian. It includes the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, StandWithUs and the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel. “We work with the community to defend and protect Jewish students,” she said. “We have their back.”
On March 22, 2016, the University of California Regents passed a landmark policy condemning anti Semitism and anti Semitic forms of anti-Zionism. “That’s huge,” the delighted Tammi wrote in a New York Times article. The UC system was the first to specifically recognize “that there are forms of anti Zionism that are anti- Semitic.”
To achieve this landmark decision, Amcha’s campaign involved uniting over 50 organizations in support. Additionally, more than 4,000 UC Stakeholders as a well as California rabbis and anti-Semitism scholars voiced support.
Tammi was nominated for Jewish Hero of the Year by the Jewish Federation of North America, named one of 2013’s Bright Pro Israel Lights on US campuses by the Jewish Press and honoured as one of the Jewish top 100 by The Algemeiner.
Under the auspices of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, CIJR, she comes to Toronto to give us the benefit of her success for our Canadian campuses. Chaired by the renowned Dr. Aurel Braun, professor of international relations and political science, U of T, her presentation is titled, A View From the Trenches: Campus Antisemitism and Ways to Combat It.