AMCHA Responds to Chancellor Katehi’s Letter in Support of Boycott Event

 

January 21, 2014

Dear Chancellor Katehi,

While we appreciate that you responded to our letter of concern regarding the departmental sponsorship of a highly partisan event featuring Omar Barghouti, which took place on your campus last Thursday, we are dismayed that you deemed the departmental sponsorship of this event to be a legitimate exercise of academic freedom. After watching a videotape of the event, we believe that you are very much mistaken, and that the four sponsoring academic units — ME/SA, Asian American Studies, Native American Studies, and Asian American Cultural Politics Research Cluster — are in clear violation of both University policy and California law.

Far more than simply “taking positions on controversial issues,” Barghouti and the three other speakers at the event, who were all introduced as “activists” rather than as scholars, used the University podium to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state and encourage students to engage in activism against it, particularly boycott.

Omar Barghouti, Palestinian activist and founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, was the featured speaker at the event. As we feared, Barghouti’s talk was pure propaganda and political screed laced with antisemitic tropes, whose unambiguous purpose was to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state and actively promote the academic boycott of Israel. For example:

– Barghouti claimed that Israel’s government is “overtly racist,” that Palestinians are “brutalized by [Israel’s] escalating colonial and apartheid policies,” and that the majority of Israelis view Palestinians “as less than human.”

– He accused Israeli soldiers of “hunting children,” saying that sharpshooter Israeli soldiers target Palestinian children and shoot to kill, and that the soldiers “entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport,” leaving the children with their “stomachs ripped out, the gaping holes in their torsos.”

– He accused “Israel and its well-oiled lobby groups” of “buying and paying for allegiance in Congress” and controlling the media.

– He compared those who criticize the BDS movement to “those white Americans who pushed back against the Montgomery bus boycott,” implying that anyone who criticizes the boycott of Israel is a racist.

– He praised those student senates that had passed anti-Israel divestment resolutions, and he said to the students in the room, “We hope you are next!”

Another speaker, Sydney Levy, denied the legitimacy of the Jewish state, claimed that Israel exploits the Holocaust to perpetrate injustice against Palestinians, and encouraged UC Davis students to push for an anti-Israel divestment resolution in their student senate.

Speaker Tony Gonzales accused the “Israel Lobby” of “red-washing,” suggesting that Zionist Jews had made overtures to, and even bribed, prominent Native American leaders in order to strengthen ties with them, so that Israelis could claim that they, too, are indigenous people.

During the subsequent Q & A session, when a student asked when it was time to move from non-violent means to armed struggle, two of the speakers answered in a way that not only condoned but endorsed armed violence in the struggle to “liberate Palestine”:

According to Sydney Levy: “Nonviolence is a tactic, for example the BDS movement uses non-violence as a tactic…but I know of very few countries that have been liberated only with non-violent struggle. The truth of the matter is that every people that is oppressed has the right to armed struggle…so there is a place for that.”

According to speaker Rhonda Ramiro: “The efforts to demonize…the Palestinian struggle and those who have decided to take up arms — to demonize it as terrorism…it’s our responsibility to break through those myths and to uphold that right to self-determination, whether its through armed struggle or non-violent means.”

Furthermore, after the event the faculty moderator called on an SJP leader to make the following announcement:

“I was moved by everything that was said today. If you were moved as well, divestment is coming back to campus [loud applause and cheers], it’s coming back in the spring, and we need everybody’s help! This is my email address, and please contact me if you want to join.”

It is clear that this event was not meant to educate UCD students but to indoctrinate them, and to encourage their engagement in anti-Israel political activism, especially boycott. While it may be appropriate for a student organization with a political mission to bring activist speakers to campus and to promote political activism at their events, it is certainly NOT appropriate for official University units to organize, sponsor and fund such events. And yet, according to the event moderator, ME/SA Professor Noha Radwan, “all these departments came together to make this great event happen.”

Moreover, the fact that several faculty members in these departments are clearly themselves anti-Israel political activists who support the academic boycott of Israel suggests that these faculty are misusing their departments’ names and University resources to promote their own hatred of the Jewish state and activism to harm it. In particular, Asian Studies and ME/SA Professor Sunaina Maira, who was specially thanked by the event moderator for putting the event together and being “instrumental in making this happen,” is a founding member of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott or Israel and an organizer of the recent Academic Studies Association Boycott of Israeli universities and scholars.

Please understand that political and ideological indoctrination is NOT protected by academic freedom. According to the “nonindoctrination principle” of the American Association of University Professor’s committee on academic freedom (Committee A): “faculty will not use their courses or their position for the purpose of political, ideological, religious, or antireligious indoctrination.”

The UC Regents have also prohibited the use of the University for political indoctrination, writing in the Regents Policy on Course Content (also known as the Regents Policy on Academic Freedom) the following:

“[The Regents] are responsible to see that the University remain aloof from politics and never function as an instrument for the advance of partisan interest. Misuse of the classroom by, for example, allowing it to be used for political indoctrination… constitutes misuse of the University as an institution.”

Furthermore, as we have pointed out previously, this event is in clear violation of at least two state laws — California Government Code 8314, which prohibits the use of state university resources for personal purposes, and California Education Code 92000, prohibits the use of the University of California’s name and reputation for the purpose of advancing a boycott.

In light of these violations of university policy and state law, please tell us what steps you intend to take to ensure members of the Jewish community, taxpayers, and legislators that UCD’s name and resources will not be used to promote hateful propaganda and an antisemitic boycott of Israel?

Sincerely,

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin
Co-founder, AMCHA Initiative

Leila Beckwith
Co-founder, AMCHA Initiative