AMCHA Initiative

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AMCHA Initiative
AMCHA Initiative Updated Logo.png
FoundersTammi Rossman-Benjamin and Leila Beckwith
Area served
California and the United States

The AMCHA Initiative (founded 2011) is a nonprofit organization based in California which seeks to investigate, document, educate about, and combat antisemitism at institutions of higher education in the United States. The Initiative was founded by University of California Santa Cruz lecturer Tammi Rossman-Benjamin and University of California Los Angeles Professor Emeritus Leila Beckwith.

The term Amcha is Hebrew for "your people" or "your nation" and intends to connote grassroots, the masses, and ordinary people.

Areas of Focus & Data Organization[edit]

AMCHA Initiative's focus is specified as "investigating, documenting, educating about, and combating antisemitism at institutions of higher education in America." [2] The organization has a "research arm" that "carries out systematic, in-depth research and analysis of antisemitic activity and has developed a comprehensive method for defining, documenting, and analyzing manifestations of antisemitic behavior on campus, as well as the institutional structures that legitimize it and allow it to flourish."

The organization claims on its homepage that it, "is a non-partisan organization whose sole mission is to document, investigate, and combat antisemitism on U.S. college campuses. AMCHA is not an Israel advocacy organization, nor does it take a position on current or past Israeli government policies. AMCHA uses the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and U.S. State Department definitions to identify incidents of antisemitism. These definitions recognize certain extreme types of anti-Israel behavior as antisemitism, including blaming Jews for actions taken by Israel or targeting Israel as the Jewish collective, and incidents that meet that criteria are included in AMCHA’s documentation. Criticism of the Israeli government or its policies that does not meet these criteria is not considered antisemitic by our organization."[3]

AMCHA Initiative organizes its data concerning antisemitism on campus into three categories of "Targeting Jewish Students and Staff," "Antisemitic Expression," and "BDS Activity" that are defined by the organization as:[4]

1) Targeting Jewish Students and Staff - Incidents that directly target Jewish students on campus or other Jewish members of the campus community for harmful or hateful action based on their Jewishness or perceived support for Israel;

2) Antisemitic Expression - Language, imagery or behavior deemed antisemitic by the U.S. State Department definition of antisemitism, or wholly consistent with that definition; and

3) BDS Activity [5]

Activities and Campaigns[edit]

Investigating Anti-Semitic Activity[edit]

Research Reports[edit]

The organization produced a number of research reports,[6] including annual reports on antisemitic activity at over 100 schools with the largest population of Jewish students starting for data collected in 2015. The reports cited on the organization's website date back to 2013.

Reports in 2018: In August, the organization released its annual report of 2017 data. The Jewish Journal published that the report found that, “anti-Israel harassment on college campuses in 2017 were more likely to create an antagonistic environment against Jewish students on campus than ‘classic’ anti-Semitic incidents... [because] while ‘classic anti-Semitic incidents’ such as...swastikas...vastly outnumbered the anti-Israel incidents...only 23% showed ‘intent to harm’ while 94% of anti-Israel incidents showed such intent....Forty-four percent of the anti-Israel acts with intent to harm involved attempts to censor pro-Israel speech.”[7] According to the Washington Free Beacon, the report also found that, “76 percent of recorded incidents against Jewish and pro-Israel students ‘involved behavior that directly and personally targeted students or groups for denigration or discrimination in order to ostracize and exclude them from campus life.’" [8] The report revealed that “anti-Israel campus activities are no longer intent on harming Israel, but increasingly, and alarmingly, they are intent on harming pro-Israel members of the campus community.” The report concluded by pointing out differences in university treatment of the different types of anti-Semitism the report claimed occurred, and recommended "equitable" treatment: “Despite the fact that acts of Israel-related anti-Semitism appear to be the larger contributor to a hostile environment for Jewish students, university administrators have generally been far less likely to adequately address these Israel-related incidents than they have acts of classic anti-Semitism. In large part this is due to university administrators recognizing that classic anti-Semitism may violate state or federal anti-discrimination law and most schools’ peer-on-peer harassment policies which prohibit the harassment of students based on characteristics such as race, color and gender, as well as religion and ethnicity. However, university administrators rarely recognize anti-Zionist harassment as a form of unlawful discrimination, because they see it as motivated by political considerations rather than ethnic or religious ones. The reality, however, is that harassment is harassment. The effect of pervasive intolerant, exclusionary and harassing behavior on students is the same, regardless of the motivation of the perpetrator or the identity of the victim. And the abhorrent behavior that prevents students from an education free from harassment must be addressed, and addressed equitably.”[9]

Reports in 2017: There were two reports produced in 2017. In April, the organization released an annual report of 2016 data that found, according to a Washington Times op-ed, “a rapidly growing correlation between anti-Semitism and pro-BDS activism. Campuses with active anti-Israel groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine are overwhelmingly more likely to experience anti-Semitic activity compared to schools where BDS or other anti-Israel activism has no presence.” [10] The second report studied the impact of academic boycotters of Israel on U.S. campuses, although the authors of the report stressed that they “are not suggesting that anti-Israel events or BDS speakers should be prohibited – academic freedom makes them permissible.” [11] According to the Washington Free Beacon, the report found that “[o]f the nearly 1,000 pro-boycott professors included in the AMCHA Initiative study, 70 percent were associated with gender studies, ethnic studies, or Middle East studies…Those departments saturated with pro-BDS faculty were subsequently far more likely to bring BDS-supportive programming to campus than their counterparts with no boycotters…Gender studies units with one or more pro-boycott lecturers were 12 times more likely to sponsor such events than their counterparts with no pro-BDS professors…Middle East and ethnic studies with pro-BDS faculty were five and 10 times more likely, respectively. Overall, close to 90 percent of anti-Zionist or pro-BDS programming is brought to campuses by departments, centers, or institutes associated with gender, ethnic, or Mid-East disciplines.” [12]

Reports in 2015 & 2016: AMCHA produced two research reports [13] on antisemitic activity at over 100 schools with the largest population of Jewish students, one for data collected in 2015 and one for data collected in the first half of 2016. According to the Washington Post, “The study, which examined anti-Semitic activity from January – June 2016 on more than 100 public and private colleges and universities with the largest Jewish undergraduate populations, found that 287 anti-Semitic incidents occurred at 64 schools during that time period, reflecting a 45% increase from the 198 incidents reported in the first six months of 2015. Moreover, the study finds, as it did in 2015: [A]nti-Semitism was twice as likely to occur on campuses where BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign) was present, eight times more likely to occur on campuses with at least one active anti-Zionist student group such as SJP [Students for Justice in Palestine], and six times more likely to occur on campuses with one or more faculty boycotters. In fact, schools with more faculty boycotters and more BDS activity tended to have more incidents of anti-Semitic activity.” [14] According to the Washington Free Beacon, “More than half of the schools included in the study experienced an anti-Semitic incident or activity targeted against pro-Israel Jews.” [15]

Documenting and Publishing Anti-Semitic Activity[edit]

Database of Anti-Semitic Activity on Campuses[edit]

The organization published the first publicly available database of campus anti-Semitic activity, starting with activity in 2015.[16] As of July 30, 2019, the organization appears to have upwards of 2,800 incidents logged in its database [17] The database and other trackers by the organization have been used by media to cite anti-Semitic activity and swastika sightings on various campuses including at Stanford University,[18] Bowdoin College as well as across the nation.[19][20] In September 2018, the organization announced that it changed its database to enable users "to tailor a search by city, state, zip code, geographical region, year, date range, university, and category. Some of the incident categories include physical assault, discrimination, destruction of Jewish property, genocidal expression, suppression of speech/movement/assembly, verbal assault, intimidation, harassment, condoning terrorism, comparing Jews to Nazis, and accusing Jews of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust. Users can also search and run customized reports by keyword, such as 'swastika.'" The organization claimed in the announcement, "AMCHA is the only organization that makes its database of all reported incidents of campus anti-Semitism accessible to the public."[21]

Student Voices Webpage[edit]

The organization published a webpage that documents published quotes detailing the experiences of Jewish students on America's campuses who have been "targeted, intimidated or frightened because they are Jewish." [22] The quotes were collected starting in 2014. The webpage had more than 100 students, located at 47 different schools, in 20 states as of June 24, 2015. The organization gathered the testimonies from publications nationwide including school papers.[23]


Opposing Implementation of Academic BDS[edit]

AMCHA Initiative launched a campaign involving more than 100 organizations which, according to JNS, “called on the same 250 higher-education leaders who denounced the American Studies Association’s anti-Israel boycott to sign a letter to affirm their opposition to the anti-Israel movement” and stated that, “in light of recent reprehensible attempts by faculty at University of Michigan, Pitzer College and elsewhere to implement an academic boycott that thwarts their own students’ academic freedom and their own colleagues’ scholarly activities, it is imperative that university leaders speak out once again, this time even more forcefully.” [24] Some of the signers onto the letter included B’nai B’rith International, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Association of Reform Zionists of America, American Council of Trustees and Alumni, Mercaz USA, Academic Engagement Network, Rabbinical Alliance of America, Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, Stand With Us and campus student groups. [25] In response to the 100+ group letter, on December 13, 2019, [26] all 10 University of California Chancellors [27] signed onto a statement [28] that expressed: “As chancellors of the University of California campuses, we write to reaffirm our long-standing opposition to an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions and/or individual scholars. Our commitment to continued engagement and partnership with Israeli, as well as Palestinian colleagues, colleges and universities is unwavering. We believe a boycott of this sort poses a direct and serious threat to the academic freedom of our students and faculty, as well as the unfettered exchange of ideas and perspectives on our campuses, including debate and discourse regarding conflicts in the Middle East.” The 10 campuses include University of California, Berkeley, University of California, Davis, University of California, Irvine, University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, Merced, University of California, Riverside, University of California, San Diego, University of California, San Francisco, University of California, Santa Barbara, and University of California, Santa Cruz.

University of California Adoption of, “Anti-Semitic Forms of Anti-Zionism” as Form of Discrimination[edit]

The organization led [29] a year-long campaign to get the University of California Board of Regents to formally recognize current manifestations of campus antisemitism which, according to AMCHA Initiative, include anti-Zionism's participation in anti-Jewish hostilities.[30] On March 22, 2016, the University of California Regents passed a Statement of Principles Against Intolerance which included the statement, “Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.” When this statement passed, AMCHA co-founder Tammi Rossman Benjamin was vocal in her enthusiasm stating in a New York Times article that the UC system was the first to specifically recognize “that there are forms of anti-Zionism that are anti-Semitic. That’s huge.” [31] The campaign involved, according to the organization, uniting over 50 organizations in support of the final statement including Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity, American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, CUFI on Campus, Israeli-American Council (IAC), Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Stand With Us and the Zionist Organization of America. According to AMCHA Initiative's list of support for the Statement, mainstream Jewish organizations such as Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Council and Hillel International likewise expressed support.[32] Additionally, more than 4,000 UC Stakeholders as well as California rabbis and anti-Semitism scholars voiced support.[33]

Opposing Pledge Against Trips to Israel[edit]

In 2014 Students for Justice in Palestine and allied groups at UCLA asked candidates for student government positions to sign a statement pledging that they will not go on any trip to Israel sponsored by three Jewish organizations. In response, AMCHA Initiative represented seven organizations - including Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel, the Lawfare Project, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Stand With Us and the Zionist Organization of America – in a joint statement before the Board of Regents, asking the Regents, President Janet Napolitano and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block to "condemn bigotry and review university rules regarding faculty and departmental sponsorship of events of a partisan political nature."[34]

AMCHA also coordinated a joint letter to the Regents, Napolitano and Block from the same seven organizations.[35] Soon thereafter, UCLA Chancellor Block [36] and UC President Napolitano [37] condemned the pledge and asked the VP of Student Affairs to intervene.

Student Threat Against SFSU Jewish Students[edit]

In 2013 AMCHA said that Mohammad G. Hammad, President of General Union of Palestine Students, a university-sanctioned student group at San Francisco State University (SFSU) was making public threats against SFSU Jewish students, Israelis, and any person who supports Israel. The Jewish Press published what it said was a Tumbler page with a photo of Hammad holding a knife, with the caption, “I love this blade... it makes me want to stab an Israeli soldier”[38][39] News sources said that Hammad identified an Israeli soldier and said, “the only “peace” I'm interested in is the head of this f**cking scum on a plate, as well as the heads of all others like her, and all others who support the IDF” [40] and “The Liberation of Palestine can only come through the destruction and decimation of this Israeli plague and it can’t possibly come soon enough.” He said that he hopes members of the student group Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life “trip down the stairs and break their necks.” [41]

AMCHA gave that material to university officials, the FBI, the San Francisco Police Department and the San Francisco District Attorney. The University said that Hammad was no longer enrolled at SFSU, without specifying a reason.[42]

Faculty Use of Resources to Endorse BDS, PFLP or Hamas[edit]

AMCHA has drawn attention to incidents that it states are inappropriate uses of public/university resources to participate in politics that AMCHA identifies as anti-semitic, including the promotion of the BDS ("boycott, divest and sanction") movement.[43] In 2013 the Initiative drew attention to California State University Northridge mathematics professor David Klein's pro-BDS website on his CSUN space. Over the course of 2012-2013, the organization submitted memos and legal complaints to California authorities regarding Klein's page, but the university authorities and the California Attorney General declined to take action, citing lack of evidence of misuse and free speech protections.[44]

In 2014, AMCHA filed a California Public Records Act inquiry, regarding that San Francisco State University (SFSU) Professor Rabab Abdulhadi had received more than $7,000 [45] to fly to Jordan, the West Bank and Israel to meet with individuals who are members of Hamas and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, both considered terrorist organizations by the United States.[46] In response, AMCHA Initiative coordinated a letter from 8 organizations to CSU Chancellor White, SFSU President Wong and other University administrators declaring this an abuse of university and taxpayer funds and urging an investigation. The letter was sent from AMCHA Initiative, Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel, Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Stand With Us and the Zionist Organization of America. An SFSU spokesman issued in reply a statement that "we conclude that the allegations made against Professor Abdulhadi have no merit...Faculty can and do communicate with others relevant to their research, communicating by various methods that can involve travel."[47][48]

Institutional Endorsement of Speakers Using Antisemitic Rhetoric[edit]

Events Funded by University Departments that Contained Anti-Semitic Content[edit]

The organization believes some events that were funded by university departments or administrative offices contained anti-Semitic content. In 2014, three UC schools – UCLA, UC Riverside and UC Davis - sponsored official events featuring Omar Barghouti, the founder and vocal advocate of the academic boycott of Israel. AMCHA alleged that Barghouti's presentations violated UC policies on partisan use of campus resources, and contributed to a hostile environment for Jewish students by using "blood libel" in his speech. UC leadership responded by stating that they were not in support of a boycott of Israel, but considered Barghouti's presentations to be free speech.[49]

In response, AMCHA delivered a petition to members of the California Senate and Assembly education committees, demanding that the legislators stop UC faculty from using taxpayer dollars to promote anti-Semitism.[50] In addition, AMCHA co-founders went before the UC Board of Regents, the governing body of all UC schools, to ask the Regents to intervene.[51]

Posters About Killing Colonizers[edit]

In 2013, a San Francisco State University student group, the General Union of Palestine Students (GUPS), hosted an event honoring an Edward Said memorial where participants could make posters that said, “My heroes have always killed colonizers”[52] as well as images of a convicted hijacker Leila Khaled holding a gun. AMCHA said that the posters of “My heroes have always killed colonizers” meant that the colonizers were Jews. The GUPS event received several thousands of dollars of funding from the university and was co-sponsored by the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities Initiative (AMED) in the College of Ethnic Studies.[53]

When AMCHA Initiative uncovered the posters its response was to alert President Wong about the event.[54] Thereafter, President Wong issued a statement condemning the posters and stating, “celebrating violence or promoting intolerance, bigotry, antisemitism or any other form of hate mongering” would not be tolerated at SFSU. He also ensured “a safe and civil campus environment” for Jewish students.[55]


Following AMCHA publishing a list of Middle East Studies Professors who had endorsed an academic boycott of Israel, a group of professors signed a statement opposing AMCHA's actions as they felt it would lead to some students boycotting professors who endorsed a boycott of Israel.[56]


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  56. ^ Jewish Professors Hit Back Against Pro-Israel Campus 'Blacklist' 40 'Heavyweight' Academics Attack AMCHA Initiative, By Paul Berger, Forward, October 01, 2014

External links[edit]