Letter to UCSC Chancellor Blumenthal Following Egregious Intolerance Against Jewish Students & Administrative Silence

 

May 18, 2017

Dear Chancellor Blumenthal,

We are Santa Cruz Jewish community leaders and UCSC stakeholders – students, alumni, faculty, staff, parents and donors – who write to you today because we are gravely concerned about recent acts of egregious intolerance towards Jewish students at a UCSC Hillel event, and the university’s wholly inadequate response to them.

Two weeks ago a Hillel-sponsored, university-approved event in Quarry Plaza — a celebration of Israeli Independence Day that scores of Jewish and pro-Israel students had devoted hours of planning for many months and that was to be Hillel’s largest event of the year – was intentionally disrupted and ruined by student protesters led by the African/Black Student Alliance (A/BSA). Last year, hundreds of students attended the Israeli Independence Day celebration and were intending to do so again this year.

However, shortly after the Hillel students had set up their event, protesters streamed into Quarry Plaza and, for more than an hour, purposefully blocked Hillel’s tables from being accessed and used a public address system at full blast, making it impossible for attendees to hear and enjoy the program planned for the Hillel event.  In addition, after A/BSA leaders called for standing in solidarity with their Palestinian brothers and sisters, some protesters yelled “Free Palestine,” “F*** Jewish Slugs,” “F*** Zionist Slugs,” and tore down an Israeli flag at the Hillel event.

Despite the fact that the previous week Hillel Director Sarah Cohen Domont had informed UCSC administrators of the impending A/BSA protest and asked for assistance in ensuring that the Hillel event would not be disrupted, only one member of the university staff, Associate Vice Chancellor Jean Marie Scott, was present during the protest. No security was there to prevent the disruption or was called once it began.

Even worse, it has been more than two weeks since these events took place, and your office has yet to say a single word even acknowledging, let alone condemning, this blatant suppression of Jewish and pro-Israel students’ freedom of expression and assembly.  Nor have the students who perpetrated these acts been subject to disciplinary actions or held accountable for their reprehensible behavior.  This is an outrage.

Worst of all, however, is that this latest incident is part of a longstanding and pervasive pattern of intolerant behavior targeting Jewish and pro-Israel students that has gone unaddressed by your administration for many years.  For example, within the last two years:

  • A pro-LGBTQ Hillel event entitled “Being Queer in Israel” was disrupted by a group of anti-Israel protesters, who entered the event bearing anti-Zionist placards and disrupted the talk by reading a prepared statement falsely accusing Israel of genocide and shouting “Long live the intifada!” Jewish students who had organized the event reported feeling “violated” and “attacked” by the protestors.
  • Jewish students complained about being targeted and harassed after members of Students for Justice in Palestine set up mock checkpoints on campus, insisting that students show ID cards before entering the library during finals week.
  • A talk by two Israeli soldiers promoted by Slugs for Israel was disrupted by anti-Israel protesters, who shouted down the speakers and prevented them from speaking.
  • A  Jewish member of the student government was warned to “abstain” from voting on an anti-Israel divestment resolution because he was the president of the school’s Jewish Student Union and was “elected with a Jewish agenda.”

As you know, last year the UC Regents unanimously approved a Statement of Principles Against Intolerance, in which they called on all UC chancellors “to respond promptly, and at the highest levels of the University…when intolerant and/or discriminatory acts occur.” In fulfillment of the responsibilities articulated by the UC Regents, as well as your legal obligation to protect the civil rights of all UCSC students, we urge you to immediately issue a public statement committing to fully implementing the Regents Statement Against Intolerance and developing a long-term plan of action.

We strongly recommend that you incorporate the following into your plan of action:

  1. Review, update and diligently enforce campus policies and procedures to guarantee that all members of the campus community, irrespective of their opinions, beliefs or identity, are equitably and adequately protected from intolerant behavior that infringes on their freedom of expression and denies them equal rights.
  2. Ensure that prompt and appropriate disciplinary measures are taken when any individual or group engages in behavior that suppresses the freedom of expression or civil rights of others.  To be a credible deterrent against campus abuses, “appropriate disciplinary measures” must include rigorous penalties such as suspension and expulsion for individuals, and the loss of university approval for groups.
  3. Develop educational and training programs that can:
    • Help members of the campus community to recognize and avoid intolerant behavior that suppresses others’ freedom of expression or denies them equal rights, and to be aware of all campus policies and procedures regarding such behavior;
    • Teach and encourage the expression of a wide range of views in a productive and respectful manner;
    • Inculcate an understanding of and appreciation for the First Amendment and its critical role in supporting the academic mission of the university.

We look forward to hearing what steps you will be taking to ensure that Jewish and pro-Israel students, and all UCSC students, are free to express their opinions, beliefs and identities and to fully participate in campus life, now and in the future.

Sincerely,

133 UCSC Students, Faculty, Alumni, Parents and Donors
Rabbi Eli Cohen, Chadeish Yameinu
Sanford Diller, Helen Diller Family Foundation
Angela Eisenpress, President Congregation Kol Tefillah
Rabbi Debbie Israel, Congregation Emeth
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, AMCHA Initiative
Anastasia Torres-Gil, Board Member and Immediate Past President Santa Cruz Hadassah