Three Bay Area universities are being monitored for anti-Israel sentiment by a group in Philadelphia that launched a Web site this week.
The site, Campus Watch, plans to keep tabs on campus reaction to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict throughout the United States but has singled out 14 universities for particular scrutiny -- including UC Berkeley, San Francisco State University and Stanford University.
It is part of a backlash against perceived anti-Semitism on university campuses that gained strength this week when Harvard University President Lawrence Summers denounced as anti-Semitic a campaign that calls on schools to divest from Israel. The campaign started at UC Berkeley before taking root at campuses around the country.
"It's important people know what's going on in the Bay Area, especially at the University of California at Berkeley," said Chris Silver, who co-chairs the student-sponsored Israel Action Committee at UC Berkeley. "There's a lot of anti-Semitism that goes on here separate from the massive amount of anti-Israel sentiment that can be found in every department and in every classroom."
The Web site and Summers' comments have angered pro-Palestinian students and faculty.
"I think it's intellectually dishonest to say that a campaign for Palestinian rights that has a humanitarian concern for Palestinians in terms of the dispossession and displacement that's been going on for 48 years -- to turn that around and say that's anti-Semitic, is extremely damaging and dangerous," said Maryam Gharavi, a UC Berkeley senior and member of Students for Justice in Palestine, which initiated the divestment campaign. "It does a disservice to things that are actually anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic propaganda or hate crimes."
The UC Berkeley administration declined to comment.
Campus Watch, at www.campus-watch.org, was created by the Philadelphia-based think tank Middle East Forum "in defense of U.S. interests on campus, which includes the continued support of Israel," according to the Web site.
In addition to institutions, it seeks to monitor individuals such as UC Berkeley graduate student Snehal Shingavi, who teaches a course called "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance." In the original course description last spring, Shingavi outraged some Jewish students when he advised those who disagreed to stay away. Just Thursday, UC President Richard Atkinson called for a thorough review of how the university creates course descriptions to avoid such controversy in the future.
"Any group that's attempting to monitor bias is doing important work, especially at Berkeley where there is a great deal of bias," said Oren Lazar, a member of the Israel Action Committee at UC Berkeley, who has provided Campus Watch with information.
Shingavi could not be reached for comment.
The divestment campaign, which has spread to more than 50 campuses around the nation, condemns Israel for human rights abuses and urges universities to sell their investments with companies that do business there.
More than 190 faculty members in the UC system have signed a petition in support of the campaign, including UC Berkeley education professor John Hurst. The campaign is not anti-Semitic, he said, adding that criticism of the state of Israel isn't criticism of Judaism. Summers' comments, he said, could have a chilling affect on people who support the divestment campaign but don't want to be perceived as anti-Semitic.
"It gives people who are wavering pause because the consequences in their careers could be significant. Some of us who are older remember the McCarthy era and what it did to academics. To me it's a freedom of speech issue and to compound it with anti-Semitism is unfortunate because it tries to make it something other than freedom of speech."