In New Hampshire, the “pledge” used to be a promise not to raise taxes if you were elected president, the “read my lips” formula that helped get George H.W. Bush elected (and perhaps defeated). In Westwood, the “pledge” these days is the promise not to go to Israel on a trip sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League or Hasbara Fellowships.
The winning candidate to head the UCLA student council took the pledge, beating the second-finisher, who refused to do so, by 30 votes. The winner isn’t talking to the media. The runner-up is talking intolerance big-time.
The various pooh-bahs in the UC System, namely Chancellor Gene Block and President Janet Napolitano, which is to say two of the biggest pooh-bahs there are in this jewel of the public Ivies, are talking about how what the students did, as Block put it, by “delegitimizing educational trips offered by some organizations but not others ... can reasonably be seen as trying to eliminate selected viewpoints from the discussion.” Napolitano agreed, saying that “principles of civility, respect and inclusion” were violated by these students.
Gabriel Levine, the pledge’s Jewish author, doesn’t buy that any more than the Manchester Union Leader used to buy a weasel’s way out on taxes. He says he wasn’t trying to intimidate anyone. “An election is a chance to pin people down and find out what they believe,” he says.
It is. It’s why candidates sometimes run, with reason and support, knowing they will lose. It’s why every group on the planet sends out questionnaires and tries to sponsor a debate in the hopes of cementing their issue on the short list with the “family farm” and no taxes.
Ask me to explain agricultural politics in one word, and it will be Iowa, as in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus. Do all kinds of groups use elections as leverage, as an opportunity to pressure would-be leaders to take a stand? Absolutely.
My issue isn’t with Levine. It’s with the other kids on the UCLA campus, who either agreed with him or didn’t care enough to vote on the issue or vote at all. And it’s with the administration, which apparently didn’t even notice when all of this was happening, after a contentious debate about divesting from Israel (what organizing principle would put Israel No. 1 on a list of one) led to questions about students feeling conflicted about having traveled on trips subsidized by “Islamophobic” groups, and only started commenting last week, which sounds suspiciously like the time when you’d have parents flooding the campus.
This is not a place where Israel should have found itself on the losing side of a foolish electoral mandate. This is Westwood. This is the Westside of Los Angeles. It doesn’t get any more liberal, any more Democratic, any better educated, any richer or more Jewish than right here on the Westside of Los Angeles. There are more prominent Jews who attended UCLA or taught at UCLA or helped build UCLA ... Well, I needn’t go on. Asking about buildings at UCLA named after Jews is a joke line. And that makes it far worse.
It takes a kind of apathy you hate to acknowledge and a level of underlying antipathy no one wants to acknowledge for a blatantly anti-Israel pledge to carry the day in an open election with no one paying attention in the middle of one of the richest, most educated, most liberal and most Jewish congressional districts in the country. The Museum of Tolerance is down the block.
And all of this could happen in Westwood. Actually, it just did.
— Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.