History: How the ADL Intimidated the University of Florida
AS LONG AS WE have had institutions of higher learning, college fraternities have been warring with each other to win pledges to their particular Greek letter societies. This friendly rivalry got out of hand at the beginning of the 1978 fall semester when two prestigious fraternities at the University of Florida in Gainesville had their welcoming signs stolen in the dark of night.
Kappa Alpha and Sigma Phi Epsilon blamed the neighboring Jewish fraternity, Tau Epsilon Phi, which had been openly antagonistic because its two rivals had pledged a number of Jewish students.
In retaliation to the theft charge, which could not be proven, the two “Christian” fraternities staged a demonstration on TEP’s front lawn, pelting the building with baggies of water, fire-crackers, eggs and empty cola cans. There was no damage to the property and no one was hurt.
When some TEP members attempted to make a mountain of prejudice out of a molehill of rivalry, TEP president Kevin Emas depreciated the incident, saying almost apologetically, “Nothing really happened because the crowd broke up in less than fifteen minutes, a few minutes before campus police arrived in response to a phone call from one of our fraternity brothers.”
On the following day, however, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and its satellite, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, injected themselves into the fray with wild and ugly charges of “anti-Semitism” and “pro-Nazism,” touching off a bitter smear campaign that grew like Topsy.
The ADL was issuing press releases almost every hour on the hour, while the Conference of Christians and Jews sent mailgrams to the university president, the chancellor, the commissioner of education, the Board of Regents, and other officials and important people throughout the state.
There were bombastic charges, vile denunciations, dire threats and ominous ultimatums, among the latter a demand that the charters of the two “Christian” fraternities be revoked and that their members be expelled from the university.
College campuses and Jewish communities throughout the state were kept in an uproar, while the ADL saw to it that its charges of “anti-Semitic bigotry” made the headlines, not only in Florida, but in newspapers throughout the country. Even Walter Cronkite felt called upon to raise his national TV voice in protest.
Then came the official verdict. The Judicial Commitee of the Interfraternity Council, after a careful investigation, a seven hour hearing and two hours of deliberation, rejected the charges of “anti-Semitism” as “unfounded.”
The ADL’s response was typical. It was a “whitewash.” There must be another, “wider investigation.” It was then announced that the ADL’s Southern Civil Rights director was being sent from Atlanta to conduct “an independent investigation” under the auspices of the ADL itself.
When Charles Wittenstein, an arrogant Atlanta attorney, arrived at the university to begin his probe, he first held a press conference at which he bitterly denounced the Judicial Committee’s verdict. “We have a very different perception of what transpired here last week,” he said. “There was an anti-Semitic episode!” His remarks were clearly intended to intimidate Dr. Marston, the university president.
And Dr. Marston was intimidated. Later at a joint press conference with Wittenstein he admitted that anti-Semitism was involved in the fraternity dispute.
Wittenstein responded warmly and praised Dr. Marston, saying that the ADL national directors, Southern ADL director Teitelbaum and himself were gratified at Marston’s attitude, and that they were confident that he and other university officials would “proceed in good faith.”
Wittenstein then declared he was “now convinced that there isn’t widespread anti-Semitism on campus. It’s a limited problem and doesn’t affect more than a handful of students.”
That was quite a switch. Here was a top-ranking ADL inquisitor, who was angry and outraged just a few hours before, now purring like a kitty cat and practically admitting that the ADL’s charges of “rampant anti-Semitism” was just so much faddle. What had happened was that the ADL had achieved its goal. Dr. Marston had surrendered without a fight.
Wittenstein told Dr. Marston that the time to go after religious bigotry was before it got started. After Dr. Marston had weakly agreed, Wittenstein pressed his advantage and suggested the ADL would be glad to help by making its facilities and “expertise” available to provide the kind of educational program that was needed, an offer that Dr. Marston quickly accepted.
An editorial in the influential Jewish Floridian proposed the program that Dr. Marston bought from Mr. Wittenstein. It said in part:
Now that the simian hooligans involved have gotten off scot-free it strikes us that what they lack is a knowledge of history — the history of the Holocaust which reeks with the odor of blood and murder.
What the University of Florida might better have done was to rub the noses of these simians in that history that blood and that murder — by requiring them as a precondition of their continued existence on the campus that they take courses in the Holocaust and be held academically accountable for a demonstration of what they have learned.
This was the blueprint of a campus-wide educational program on prejudicial behavior, including discussions on prejudice by student leaders, armed with ADL literature, the beefing-up of university curricula to engage the “problem of anti-Semitism,” a teach-in on the Holocaust, and a question and answer period on prejudice over the university’s radio station. All of this took place under ADL supervision.
No sooner had the ADL discovered an anti-Semitic issue in the fraternity dispute than it dispatched its long-time Christian “associate,” Methodist theologian Dr. Franklin Littell, to Miami to conduct a three-day seminar on “Christian anti-Semitism” and its latest symbol of Christian guilt, the Holocaust.
Two days before the meeting between President Marston and Wittenstein, the ADL released a widely published pronunciamento attributed to Littell, the chairman of the Religious Department of Temple University:
Cultural and theological anti-Semitism which has permeated Christianity for centuries is exemplified by the Holocaust and perhaps even by the recent fraternity fracas at the University of Florida.
The incident at the University of Florida, involving name calling and egg throwing by members of Kappa Alpha and Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternities against Tau Epsilon Phi, a Jewish fraternity, seems to point up the problem.
When you have over the centuries caricatures and word forms and expressions which are anti-Semitic, then when you get an issue you get knee-jerk anti-Semitism.
When anti-Semitism is not deliberately planned and then comes to the surface and breaks through in any kind of situation, it is an indication of a very deep and abiding problem in society as a whole.
Just before coming to Miami, Dr. Littell, at the instigation of the ADL, had chaired the First International Conference on Teaching the Lessons of the Holocaust. In the publicity preceding the conference, Littell was described as “the leading Christian theologian seeking to convince Christians that Christendom bears a major responsibility for the Nazi slaughter of European Jews.”
Strangely, all the sound and fury about what had happened at the University of Florida crescendoed just before the opening of the ADL’s fund-raising drive to collect $10 million for its annual budget. Before the campaign ended, it received a timely and obviously prearranged push from then-president Jimmy Carter, who announced the appointment of a 34-member President’s Commission on the Holocaust with headquarters in the White House.
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Source: Instauration magazine, July 1980