Israel Advocacy News: Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, Hebrew Language Instructor Waving the Zionist flag at Santa Cruz

ISRAEL ADVOCACY 101

ISRAEL & ZIONIST EDUCATION

Waving the Zionist flag at Santa Cruz

Source: Jewish Journal, 11-16-11

Tammi Rossman-BenjaminTammi Rossman-Benjamin

On the third floor of the Baskin Engineering building at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin is going over points of Hebrew grammar.

Her 25 students in first-level Hebrew — a panoply of African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and whites — call out the gender associations of Hebrew words as Rossman-Benjamin reads aloud. Some words, like “father” and “brother,” are easier to remember; they are grammatically masculine. Others, like “door” and “window,” just have to be memorized.

“It’s pretty random,” Rossman-Benjamin told her charges. “The way to know is its form, how it looks.”

For the past 10 years, Rossman-Benjamin, a Hebrew-language lecturer at the school, has been following that same directive with single-minded determination, spending much of her time outside the classroom on a very different task: tracking incidents of anti-Israel activity at this coastal campus.

Perhaps, seen in isolation, the incidents she has tracked might be considered legitimate, albeit harsh, criticisms of the Jewish state. But Rossman-Benjamin says that when looked at together, statements by faculty and others in an array of campus events often display anti-Zionism, demonization of Israel and Israeli leaders, comparisons to Nazi Germany and questioning of the Jewish state’s very legitimacy. Rossman-Benjamin says they take the form of something more insidious: a sustained, inaccurate and hateful assault on a core aspect of Jewish identity.

Such rhetoric has been prevalent on California campuses for years, raising concerns from Irvine to Berkeley, ranging from the well-being of Jewish students to the integrity of academic discourse on the Middle East. At Santa Cruz, as on these other campuses, a combination of activist student groups and left-leaning academic departments has subjected Israel to withering censure — harsher treatment, critics say, than is meted out to any other nation.

While so far no claims of anti-Jewish violence or harassment have arisen at Santa Cruz, as have been alleged at other schools, Rossman-Benjamin contends that the consequence of this rhetoric has seeped beyond the confines of debate, submerging Jewish students in an atmosphere of hostility and intimidation no other campus group is forced to endure.

“Here, the problem has to do with faculty and administration who misuse their classrooms and university-sponsored events in order to promote their personal political agendas,” Rossman-Benjamin said. “My complaint isn’t about anti-Semitism. My complaint is about a hostile environment for Jewish students.”

Since 2001, Rossman-Benjamin’s repeated appeals to the university have been met with silence or dismissal. So in 2009, she lodged a landmark complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that the atmosphere on campus is so hostile that Jewish students suffer discrimination as a result.

In 2010, the San Francisco office of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights informed her that it had opened an investigation of UC Santa Cruz.

And the result of all this is that Rossman-Benjamin, 55, has become a pariah on campus.

Not a single member of the UC Santa Cruz faculty has endorsed her read on the situation — save for her husband, Ilan Benjamin, who chairs the chemistry department. Several have accused her of intimidation and of infringing on their academic freedom.

Even in the Jewish world, she has proven divisive. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a national organization, is expected to vote at its upcoming meeting on a draft resolution that cautions against using legal means to censor anti-Israel events under the guise of protecting Jewish students. But Rossman-Benjamin is not only unbowed, she is as committed as ever….READ MORE

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