AMCHA Initiative co-founders’ response to UC President Yudof’s letter

From: Tammi Benjamin tbenjami@ucsc.edu Subject: our response to your letter to the Jewish community Date:  October 31, 2011 8:32:33 AM PDT To: President@ucop.edu CC: lbeckwit@ucla.edu, chancellor@berkeley.edu, chancellor@uci.edu, chancellor@conet.ucla.edu, chancellor@ucmerced.edu, chancellor@ucr.edu, chancellor@ucsd.edu, henry.yang@chancellor.ucsb.edu, chancellor@ucsc.edu, chancellor@ucdavis.edu, sue.hellmann@ucsf.edu, regentsoffice@ucop.edu, jesse.bernal@ucop.edu, governor@govmail.ca.gov, lt.governor@ltgov.ca.gov, Speaker.Perez@assembly.ca.gov, ttorlakson@cde.ca.gov

 

Mr. Mark G. Yudof

President, University of California

1111 Franklin Street

Oakland, CA 94607-5200

 

Dear President Yudof,

Thank you for responding to the letter from members and supporters of the California Jewish community, expressing concern over the harassment and intimidation of Jewish students on several UC campuses. As requested, we will share your letter and appendices with these individuals, as well as the following response from the two of us.

Although we appreciate that you have outlined in your letter some “deliberate steps the University has taken over the last year to make our campus communities safer and more inclusive,” we believe that these steps are wholly inadequate to addressing the serious problem of anti-Jewish bigotry on UC campuses. In addition, we are deeply disappointed that you did not address the key concerns of the more than 5,000 signatories to our letter, which included thousands of UC alumni, parents, donors, staff, and faculty such as ourselves.

 

We have 4 major points of concern with your letter:

1) Contrary to what you have written, it is clear that the problem of anti-Jewish bigotry has not received, and likely will not receive, the attention it deserves from the UC Advisory Council for Campus Climate, Culture, and Inclusion.

In your letter, you highlight the UC Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture, and Inclusion, which you established in June 2010 in response to acts of intolerance and bigotry that had taken place on UC campuses earlier that year. In theory, these acts included numerous incidents of anti-Jewish bigotry that had created a hostile environment for many Jewish students, such as: the appearance of numerous swastikas; the malicious disruption of Jewish students’ events; the virulently anti-Israel divestment campaigns which sought to harm the Jewish state; and the “Israel Apartheid Week” events, which included rhetoric and imagery considered antisemitic by the U.S. State Department. In practice, however, there was virtually no discussion of acts of anti-Jewish bigotry during the first three meetings of the UC Advisory Council.

In addition, the Advisory Council Working Groups, which you established in December 2010, are primarily focused on the concerns of African American, Latino, and gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered students; Jewish students and antisemitic harassment are not a specific focus of any Working Group, despite the fact that anti-Jewish bigotry has been a long-standing, pervasive, and serious problem on many UC campuses.

We are aware that after our letter and its growing number of signatures came to your attention in June, you responded by commissioning two members of the UC Advisory Council “to speak with Jewish students in an effort to better understand both their challenges and positive experiences on our campuses.” These representatives visited three campuses — UC Irvine, UC Davis, and UC Santa Cruz — and spoke to selected groups of students for little more than an hour on each campus. Although perhaps well-intentioned, these visits were purely token gestures, meant to give the impression that Jewish students’ concerns are being seriously considered, when in fact they are not. For example, Jewish students at UCSC who attended the meeting with the Advisory Council representatives reported feeling frustrated that they were not given sufficient opportunity to express their concerns. Equally worrisome, some students complained that one of the two representatives was surprisingly ill-informed about Jews and the history of anti-Jewish harassment on UC campuses, and made inappropriate remarks about Jewish “privilege.”

By any objective measure, Jewish students have experienced at least as much harassment and intimidation on UC campuses as any other ethnic group. Yet the Advisory Council has focused almost none of its time or effort on dealing with this serious and worsening problem.

 

2) Contrary to what you have written, UC administrators not only ignore intolerant and abusive behavior directed against Jewish students, they also condone, award, and at times even engage in it.

You wrote: “Our ten Chancellors continue to do their utmost to ensure that our students, regardless of their faith, encounter an atmosphere at the University of California that is conducive to their intellectual and personal growth.” However, not only have several UC chancellors turned a blind eye to the abusive and intolerant behavior directed against Jewish students on their campuses, but under their watch, some UC administrators have even been implicated in it. Consider the following:

 

  • In October 2010, we sent UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau a letter expressing our concern that an authorized unit of UCB’s College of Letters and Sciences was an official co-sponsor of an event whose primary focus was promoting a boycott of Israeli academics and businesses, and whose speakers and non-academic co-sponsors had all promoted campaigns to harm the Jewish state. We pointed out that anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaigns are not only a violation of the core principals of academic freedom and antisemitic according to the working definition adopted by the U.S. State Department, but these campaigns had already contributed significantly to a hostile environment for Jewish students at UCB. We respectfully asked Chancellor Birgeneau to sever the university’s involvement with this event and publicly condemn the BDS campaign on his campus. Chancellor Birgeneau refused our requests. Nor did Chancellor Birgeneau publicly condemn or censure four UCB academic departments for sponsoring a talk on “Israel Palestine” by well-known anti-Israel activist Jeff Halper two weeks ago. In April 2010, Halper, a vocal advocate of BDS, had written a letter to members of the UCB student government, which demonized and delegitimized the Jewish state and encouraged UCB student leaders to embark on a campaign to economically strangle the “apartheid regime” in Israel. In contrast to his silence about rhetoric that is offensive to Jewish students, Chancellor Birgeneau recently vigorously condemned speech and behavior that he perceived to give offense to other identity groups, including African Americans, Latinos, and women. In a strongly-worded letter that he sent to the entire UCB community, including alumni and supporters, Chancellor Birgeneau used his own free speech to condemn the Berkeley College Republicans for holding a Bake Sale that priced the goods according to a person’s ethnicity, race, or gender. Yet, he has been unwilling to publicly condemn numerous incidents of speech and behavior highly offensive to Jewish students.

 

  • In May 2010, the Israel Apartheid Week event presented by the Muslim Students Association (MSA) at UC San Diego, which was replete with speakers, exhibits and imagery that demonized and delegitimized Israel and her supporters, was sponsored by 18 academic departments and administrative units on that campus. (A UCSD professor of literature gave a glowing testimonial of the event, writing on the MSA’s website that he had rarely seen “a more sophisticated and tempered demonstration of activism.” Interestingly, soon after writing this, the professor was appointed to the President’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion). This year, the UCSD-MSA’s “Israel Apartheid Week,” which included a 60-foot long “Apartheid Wall” and speakers well-known for their antisemitic rhetoric, was sponsored by UCSD’s Cross Cultural Center and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs.

 

  • In June 2011, a few weeks after the UC Irvine Muslim Student Union presented their week of events demonizing Israel and featuring speakers who advocate boycotting and eliminating the Jewish state, that organization was given an award for “demonstrating a commitment to transforming structures of inequality and injustices through reflection and action” by the UCI Office of the Dean of Students.

 

  • In June 2011, an event entitled “Teach-in on Islamophobia” took place at UC Santa Cruz, organized and co-sponsored by two academic units and several student groups, including the UCSC Muslim Student Association and the Olive Tree Initiative. The speakers at the event, who were well-known for their anti-Israel animus and activism, blamed the Jews for Islamophobia and used language that demonized the Jewish state and Jews. A large table set up at the event contained materials advertising and promoting the U.S. Boat to Gaza, one of the boats participating in the “Freedom Flotilla II,” whose organizers had ties to terrorist organizations including Hamas. Sitting at the table and handing out a personal letter encouraging students to endorse the U.S. Boat to Gaza was a UCSC college administrator, who was to be among the passengers on the boat. In response to a letter sent to UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal by the Zionist Organization of America, which raised serious and legitimate concerns about the event, a representative of the Chancellor’s Office defended the faculty and administrators who organized the event, and showed no concern at all for its anti-Jewish content or the effect it would have on Jewish students.

 

  • In September 2011, UCLA Today, the official news outlet of the UCLA Chancellor’s Office, published an unscholarly and politically-motivated article about the Palestinian bid for statehood, which contained numerous falsehoods, omissions and distortions, and effectively called for the elimination of the Jewish state, a position considered antisemitic by the working definition employed by the U.S. State Department. In a private correspondence with Leila Beckwith, the Assistant Vice Chancellor of University Communications at UCLA stated that she saw nothing problematic about the publication of this piece.

We believe these many examples belie your claims of a strong and consistent commitment of the UC administration to combatting anti-Jewish bigotry.

 

3) Members of the California Jewish community are appalled and deeply offended that UC administrators, including yourself, continue to fund, promote, and honor the Olive Tree Initiative, a program which brings students into contact with individuals and organizations that call for the murder of Jews and the elimination of the Jewish state.

In your letter, you defend the Olive Tree Initiative, calling it “the best tradition of activism, public service and open discussion,” and saying that you remain “a strong supporter” of the program. Your defense and on-going support of the OTI is extremely troubling for a number of reasons.

First, your glowing characterization of the OTI flies in the face of what has recently been documented, publicly exposed and made known to you about the program by several individuals, including ourselves:

As you know, the OTI sends students for a two-week trip to Israel and the disputed territories. During that time students meet with over 50 individuals and groups, an approximately equal number of Israelis and Palestinians, with some international and Jordanian speakers. Overall, there is a clear anti-Israel pro-Palestinian tilt to the OTI.

Of the Palestinian speakers and groups who addressed the students on the OTI trips, the overwhelming majority have expressed an overt animus towards the Jewish state, including by advocating for its elimination or for measures to harm her, or by allying with terrorist groups that perpetrate violence against Jews. Over one-third of the Palestinian speakers have advocated boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Moreover, at least two of the Israeli speakers represent organizations which engage in relentless Israel bashing, and several other speakers on the Israeli side have been harshly critical of Israeli government policy. In addition, two of the four supposedly neutral international organizations, whose representatives have made presentations to the OTI students, are well-known for their virulently anti-Israel bias.

 

Here are just a few examples of prominent individuals with whom students have met on multiple OTI trips:

  • Mazim Qumsiyeh is a professor at Bethlehem University and co-founder of Al-Awda, an organization which opposes Israel’s right to exist, has links to Hamas and Hezbollah, and is a leader in the BDS movement. He co-founded the Boycott Israeli Goods campaign. According to the ADL, he “often equates Israel interchangeably with apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany and his arguments frequently focus on “Zionist” control of American foreign policy. Qumsiyeh fundamentally rejects a two-state solution…”
  • George N. Rishmawi, co-founder of The International Solidarity Movement (ISM), is the current director of Palestinian Center for Rapprochement (PCR). In a 2008 document which he authored in the name of the PCR, Rishmawi called on activists to “initiate boycotts, divestments and sanctions at all levels and including asking leaders to expel the Israeli ambassadors (an ambassador of an apartheid and rogue state).” The PCR is under the aegis of the ISM, an organization that, according to a Jewish Federations of North America webpage, has links to terrorist organizations, openly advocates the destruction of Israel, and sends activists and unsuspecting volunteers (often university students like Rachel Corrie) into life-threatening situations in order to protect known terrorists. In addition, the ISM is a leader in the global BDS movement and has been a signatory or supporter of many BDS campaigns, including on UC campuses.
  • George S. Rishmawi, co-founder of the ISM and co-ordinator/co-founder of the Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies, is a tour guide and primary contact of the OTI in the West Bank. He is on staff at the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement (PCR), an organization run by his cousin George N. Rishmawi, which is under the aegis of the ISM (see above). In a 2004 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he said that the ISM’s main purpose is to increase awareness of Palestinian suffering through the involvement of foreign activists who pay their own way to the West Bank, adding that “if some of these foreign volunteers get shot or even killed, then the international media will sit up and take notice.” In 2005 he wrote, “I believe the right of return is the most important issue because it helps finishing [sic] Zionist Israel.”

 

As you know, even before members of the Jewish community discovered that OTI students had met with a Hamas leader on one of their trips, it was clear to many of us that given the anti-Jewish animus of a significant number of its speakers, not only is OTI incapable of stemming the tide of antisemitic bigotry on UC campuses — especially at UCI, where the program had originated — OTI may even be contributing to the problem.

Our outrage grew considerably when a Freedom of Information Act request filed last March turned up a letter from three leaders of the Orange County Jewish Community Federation to UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake. In that letter, dated October 8, 2009, Federation leaders expressed their surprise and distress to learn that students on the 2009 OTI trip, which the Federation had helped to fund and promote, met with Aziz Duwaik, a leader of the terrorist organization Hamas, whose stated goal is to destroy Israel and murder Jews. Furthermore, the Federation leaders were extremely upset that OTI students were allegedly told by the UCI faculty who organized the meeting with Duwaik to keep it secret from Israeli officials and from “anyone who would have disagreed with this meeting.” Not only did the meeting and collusion to silence the students possibly violate both Israeli and American law, but meeting with a known terrorist leader, who had been imprisoned 3 times by Israeli authorities for engaging in terrorist activities, exposed UC students to considerable danger.

The Federation leaders correctly predicted that if the OTI-Hamas meeting were to come to light, “many in our Jewish community — in OC, nationally, and around the world — will be astonished and furious that a Jewish organization would sponsor any program that directly exposed students to a leader of a recognized terrorist organization.” Indeed, many in the Jewish community are no less “astonished and furious” that UC administrators who knew about the meeting would continue to fund, promote, and honor the OTI: Although the meeting with Duwaik was made known to UCI Chancellor Drake in October 2009, he nevertheless did not shut the OTI down. Rather, he continued to fund the program, and even gave it the 2009 Living Our Values award a few weeks later. And surprisingly, despite your own knowledge of the OTI-Hamas meeting, you, too, directed a non-profit organization on whose board you sit to donate thousands of dollars to the OTI, and you bestowed on it the distinguished President’s Award in 2010.

Even more disturbing, however, is the fact that despite knowing about the OTI-Hamas meeting, neither you nor Chancellor Drake disclosed this important information to UC stakeholders such as parents, alumni, donors, or California taxpayers, who had every right to know about this egregious breach of ethical, legal, and fiduciary responsibility. We also believe that you did not inform the U.S. State Department of the fact that UC students had met with the leader of an organization on our government’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, prior to the State Department’s honoring of the OTI in November 2010. Instead of making a full and public disclosure about the OTI-Hamas meeting, you and Chancellor Drake continued to give money and awards to the program, in what could be perceived as an attempt to cover up serious wrong-doing.

Finally, we are very troubled by your unwillingness to even acknowledge that the OTI is profoundly problematic, and your insensitivity to the concerns of thousands of members of the California Jewish community about a program that is rife with anti-Jewish bigotry.

 

4) In order to address a problem, you first need to understand it. Yet nowhere in your letter — or anywhere else — have you acknowledged the nature and scope of anti-Jewish bigotry at the University of California.

Here is a brief overview of the problem:

There are two primary sources of antisemitism on UC campuses. The first are members of Muslim and pro-Palestinian student groups, such as the Muslim Student Association (MSA/MSU), which has chapters on 9 UC campuses, and the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which has chapters on 7 UC campuses. As you may know, the MSA/MSU was founded by the Muslim Brotherhood, a virulently antisemitic Egyptian-based organization dedicated to instituting Sharia law and a Muslim empire throughout the world, in part by means of violent jihad (holy war). The tenets of the Muslim Brotherhood are the ideological source for all Sunni-based Islamic terrorist groups, such as Hamas. (In a video at the 2011 MSA convention at UCLA, you can hear Amir Abdul Malik Ali, a frequent speaker on UC campuses well-known for his antisemitic rhetoric, leading students in the MSA pledge, which is an obvious restatement of the Muslim Brotherhood Credo calling for Jihad and pledging its adherents to die in order to establish Islam). In addition, the MSA and SJP groups on UC campuses are closely affiliated with Al-Awda: The Palestine Right to Return, an organization that opposes Israel’s right to exist and supports groups on the U.S. State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations, including Hamas and Hezbollah, organizes numerous rallies, demonstrations, and events to demonize Israel and her supporters, and actively encourages boycott, divestment, and sanctions in order to isolate and economically strangle the Jewish state. (As noted above, one of Al-Awda’s co-founders, Mazin Qumsiyeh, is a regular speaker for the OTI trip to Israel and the disputed territories).

Since at least 2001, MSA/MSU and SJP groups on multiple UC campuses have sponsored speakers, films, exhibits, and agitprop that engage in discourse or use imagery and language considered antisemitic by the U.S. State department. MSA and SJP students have also been responsible for aggressively confronting Jewish students at pro-Israel events and for disrupting pro-Israel speakers, as well as for promoting boycott, divestment, and sanction campaigns (BDS) as a means of harming the Jewish state.

At UC Irvine, for example, the MSU hosts annual weeklong events which target Israel and the Jewish people, such as “Holocaust in the Holyland,” “Israel: The Politics of Genocide,” and “Israeli Apartheid Week: A Call to Boycott, Divest and Sanction.” These events feature virulently anti-Israel and antisemitic speakers such as Imam Abdul Malik Ali, who, at an MSU-sponsored event in 2010, likened Jews to Nazis, expressed his support for Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad, and called for the destruction of the “apartheid state of Israel.” The MSU’s events have been accompanied by antisemitic posters and flyers, the display of bloodied Israeli flags, and the construction of an “Israeli Apartheid Wall” in the campus square. In addition, MSU students have harassed and intimidated Jewish and pro-Israel students and disrupted the talks of pro-Israel speakers such as Daniel Pipes and Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren.

Although the behavior of the MSU and SJP students has on occasion violated federal and state law, and often violates university policies and Principles of Community, UC administrators have, in almost all cases, turned a blind eye to these violations and refused to exercise their own freedom of speech to condemn the hateful anti-Jewish bigotry that is perpetrated by these groups.

The second major source of antisemitism on UC campuses is anti-Israel faculty. In classrooms and at departmentally-sponsored events on a number of UC campuses, faculty members have advanced falsehoods and distortions about Zionism, Israel, and Jews, as well as statements advocating the elimination of the Jewish State, with some even encouraging their students to help in that campaign. Although their rhetoric is unscholarly, politically motivated, and antisemitic according to the definition adopted by the U.S. State Department, these professors hide under the mantle of academic freedom. In many cases, the faculty responsible for these anti-Zionist and antisemitic expressions openly identify themselves as Jews or Israelis and use their religious or national identification to legitimate their behavior or to protect themselves from critique.

For example, an academic conference entitled “Alternative Histories Within and Beyond Zionism,” which took place at UC Santa Cruz, was sponsored by eight university departments. Four professors and one graduate student, none of them scholars of Israel or Zionism though all of them self-proclaimed Jewish anti-Zionists who had previously engaged in political activism against Israel, delivered papers demonizing the Jewish state, denigrating its founding ideology and encouraging anti-Israel political activism among members of the largely student audience. The five talks were replete with gross misrepresentations of the facts, selected half-truths, and numerous unsubstantiated claims, such as the following: Zionism is racism; Israel is an apartheid state; Israel commits heinous crimes against humanity, including genocide and ethnic cleansing; Israel’s behavior is comparable to Nazi Germany; Jews exaggerate the Holocaust as a tool of Zionist propaganda; and Israel should be dismantled as a Jewish state. (These claims are all antisemitic according to the working definition adopted by the U.S. State Department).

The University of California has several policies and rules to insure that faculty do not use the classroom or conference hall as a platform for advancing their own political or partisan agendas, and yet UC faculty on multiple campuses routinely and egregiously violate these policies and rules with total impunity.

As you might imagine, students and professors who use hateful anti-Jewish rhetoric and imagery, who actively promote the dismantling of the Jewish State, and who support terrorism against Jews, have created a hostile and threatening environment for many Jewish students on UC campuses, who report feeling physically unsafe, emotionally and intellectually harassed and intimidated by peers and professors, isolated from their fellow students, and unfairly treated by faculty and administrators. As a result of their experience of campus antisemitism, some Jewish UC students have even reported leaving the university, dropping classes, changing fields of study, avoiding certain parts of campus, and hiding symbols of their Jewishness.

In short, there has been a long-standing and pervasive pattern of emotional, intellectual, and physical harassment and intimidation of Jewish students on several UC campuses, which UC leaders, including yourself, have been unwilling to acknowledge, let alone address. This is unconscionable.

 

**************

 

In closing, we would like to remind you that more than one year ago the heads of 12 national and international Jewish organizations, including the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism and the Orthodox Union, signed a letter to you expressing deep concern over anti-Jewish bigotry on UC campuses and urging you to address the problem immediately. In your response to these Jewish leaders, you dismissed their concerns as “a dishearteningly ill-informed rush to judgement against our ongoing responses to troubling incidents,” and you ignored their recommendations. Yet in the ensuing year, you have done little of substance to address the problem, which, in many ways, has grown considerably worse.

We are losing confidence and patience in the ability of your administration to deal effectively with the problem of anti-Jewish bigotry on UC campuses.

 

Before the situation deteriorates further, we urge you to do the following:

  • Establish an official Working Group of the Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion to focus specifically on investigating the problem of anti-Jewish bigotry on UC campuses. For Jewish students, the council’s success will depend specifically on the commitment and ability of the Working Group’s members to identify discourse, imagery and actions that are unacceptable expressions of antisemitic bigotry, to have a firm grasp of the literature on contemporary campus antisemitism, and to understand the problem on UC campuses. We would both be happy to serve on such a Working Group. As participants in a two-week scholarly workshop on campus antisemitism in higher education at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in July 2010, which Tammi Rossman-Benjamin also co-organized, we are well aware of the problem of anti-Jewish bigotry on colleges and universities around the country. And as UC faculty who have been investigating, documenting, and exposing anti-Jewish harassment and intimidation on UC campuses for the last several years, we already have a very good grasp of how the problem manifests itself at the University of California.
  • Adopt a definition of antisemitism that provides concrete examples, in accordance with extant definitions, such as EUMC and the U.S. State Department’s Working Definition, as a crucial tool in implementing the university’s commitment to respond vigorously to any manifestation of antisemitism on campus.
  • Set a policy in which the administration systematically identifies and condemns antisemitic incidents on campus as vigorously as they do other kinds of bigotry, such as racism.
  • Institute educational programs on antisemitism for faculty, staff, and students that identify manifestations and provide guidelines for behavior, consistent with best practices for addressing other forms of discrimination, e.g. sexual harassment.

In the meantime, you can be assured that we will continue our efforts to investigate, document, and expose the problem of anti-Jewish bigotry on UC campuses, and we will use every means available to us to address it. Members of the California Jewish community, too, will express their dissatisfaction with the University’s unwillingness to provide adequate protection for Jewish students: undoubtedly some will choose not to attend or send their students to UC campuses, while others will choose to lessen or terminate their financial support.

 

Please understand that the Jewish community will not remain silent while Jewish students are being intimidated and harassed at the University of California.

Sincerely,

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, Lecturer, University of California at Santa Cruz

tbenjami@ucsc.edu

Leila Beckwith, Professor Emeritus, University of California at Los Angeles

lbeckwit@ucla.edu

CC:

University of California Chancellors

University of California Regents

University of California Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture, and Inclusion (c/o Jesse Bernal)

California Governor Jerry Brown

California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom

California Speaker of the Assembly John A. Perez

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson

BCC:

Members and Supporters of the Jewish Community