Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Anti-Semitism on USF campus


Recently, the Heritage received a phone call from the mother of a young woman attending the University of South Florida. She was alarmed at what her daughter was telling her about the bullying tactics of the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). The mother is a member of the Congregation of Reform Judaism and gave the Heritage her daughter’s email address to learn what exactly was happening on campus.

The daughter, who did not want her name to be mentioned, (and therefore the Heritage also did not want to give the mother’s name), had this to say in email:

“I would prefer if anything I say is left anonymous. I spoke to the rabbi at Hillel [Rabbi Ed Rosenthal] about saying something and he said that his statements were ripped apart by the group that is behind most of it. The group is Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and they have a reputation all over the country for being anti-Semitic. Last year they sent around a petition and SOMEHOW (with bribery, half-truths, and lying by omission) got 10,000 student signatures.

“They said the petition was for USF to divest from companies supporting human rights violations in Palestine, but it was a petition that has been going around many college campuses about Israeli divestment. They came into classrooms (including my own) to talk about the petition but didn’t even go into detail about it, and I saw a lot of my classmates blindly signing it without even reading it. The whole petition and organization created a really unsettling feeling for me and a lot of my Jewish friends because it really felt like they weren’t just attacking Israel, but also Jews in general.”

USF Hillel’s Rabbi Ed Rosenthal sent out a newsletter to bring attention to the goings on at the university.

“Are you aware that a brutal attack on Israel is underway at the University of South Florida in Tampa?” he asked.

He went on to explain how the campus chapter of SJP is spewing anti-Israel hatred throughout the campus and the surrounding area. They even had a billboard on Fowler Ave. that read “10,000 Students Silenced, End USF investments in Israeli apartheid, #USF4humanrights, SJPUSF.com”

Rabbi Rosenthal continued in the newsletter, “Venomous, verbal attacks from SJP have become so common and incendiary that when Hillel has a program on campus, we need to have campus police present.”

The most recent incident brought about by SJP was the launch of personal online attacks against USF President Judy Genshaft and the rabbi, as well as Jewish members of the USF Foundation Board because SJP’s resolution calling for USF to divest from Israel has been defeated three times. After these posts, a USF police officer called Rosenthal and asked if he felt safe. “It should be noted,” Rosenthal said, “that I never felt unsafe. SJP may be aggressive in their words and tactics, but they have never done anything violent on campus.”

“Our Bulls for Israel students are fighting anti-Israel attacks diligently, with respect and great pride in Israel,” said Rosenthal.

Because of their diligence, and because Hillel provides as many pro-Israel programs as they can financially sustain, the USF group has been recognized by AIPAC with the “Activist Campus of the Year” award for the past two years.

“Meetings are held weekly to strategize ways to deal with SJP challenges and to learn about Israel,” Rosenthal continued. “Our students are working hard to manage anti-Israel hatred now occurring regularly in their campus life, and to educate the general campus community about the positive reality which is the State of Israel.”

The local student whom Heritage contacted also stated that SJP members spread their propaganda on USF group pages. “I remember one incidence where a student asked the SJP members who were arguing in the comments about their cause whether or not they supported Hamas and agreed that it was a terrorist organization,” she stated. “The SJP members never replied and simply ignored the fact the he asked that, even when he asked it time and time again.”

USF Hillel has a group of 20 students who went to the national AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. earlier this month.

“Our students are on the front line in the USF War for Israel. They need as much support as you can provide, and any support is greatly appreciated,” Rosenthal said. “Making an investment in their pro-Israel education now makes a profound impact on their lifelong commitment to Israel, for they will be championing Israel well into the future.”

It is an expensive effort to train the next generation of pro-Israel activists who have the courage to fight the lies SJP promulgates at USF. Rabbi Rosenthal suggested that if anyone would like to contribute to this cause, an investment of $750 would sponsor one USF student who attended the AIPAC conference.


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