Two Letters from 3 UC Faculty Members to UC Berkeley Chancellor Regarding University-Sponsored Talk Promoting the Academic Boycott of Israel

From: Tammi Benjamin <tbenjami@ucsc.edu>
Date:
October 21, 2010 4:15:51 PM PDT
To:
chancellor@berkeley.edu
Cc:
Leila Beckwith <lbeckwit@ucla.edu>, rseid@uci.edu, President@ucop.edu, regentsoffice@ucop.edu, “Barton, Richard D.” <rick.barton@procopio.com>, ajcascardi@berkeley.edu, pbacchetta@berkeley.edu
Subject:
Serious concerns about UCB event Tuesday Oct. 26

October 21, 2010
Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau
Office of the Chancellor
University of California at Berkeley
200 California Hall #1500
Berkeley, CA  94720-1500

Dear Chancellor Birgeneau:

As faculty of the University of California, we are very concerned that an authorized unit of the College of Letters and Sciences at the University of California at Berkeley is an official co-sponsor of an event whose focus we believe will be to promote a boycott of Israeli academics and institutions as well as American corporations.  This event will not be an academic inquiry; it will not advance scholarship.

The Muslim Identities and Cultures Working Group of The Townsend Center for the Humanities, situated administratively at the University of California at Berkeley within the College of Letters and Sciences, is co-sponsoring an event on October 26 entitled, “What Can American Academia Do to Realize Justice for Palestinians”   (http://www.mecaforpeace.org/events/berkeley-ca-what-can-american-academia-do-realize-justice-palestinians). This event is organized by the Students for Justice in Palestine, whose stated mission is to promote boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel  (BDS) (http://calsjp.org/2010/04/12/announcements/direct-action/).

The event will have two speakers:  Lisa Taraki, Associate Professor at Bir Zeit University and co-founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (http://right2edu.birzeit.edu/news/article178), and Hatem Bazian, a Lecturer at UC Berkeley, endorser of the Israel Divestment Campaign (www.israeldivestmentcampaign.org), and signatory of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (www.usacbi.wordpress.com).  The latter organization is also a co-sponsor of the event, as is the Middle East Children’s Alliance, an organization that actively promotes the BDS campaign against Israel (https://www.mecaforpeace.org/project/education-and-action/allies/boycott-divestment-and-sanctions-against-israel).

The co-sponsorship of this event by a Working Group of the Townsend Center for the Humanities establishes an official association of the University of California at Berkeley with the promotion of a boycott against Israel.  We believe this is morally reprehensible, a violation of the mission of the university, and a discredit to your administration, for the following reasons:

  • The BDS  movement is antisemitic according to the Working Definition of Antisemitism of the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia  as adopted by the U.S. State Department.  Some of the movement’s leaders have openly stated that the purpose of their campaign is nothing less than the elimination of the Jewish State, and BDS events  routinely exhibit disturbing forms of  antisemitic  imagery and discourse. (http://www.jewishresearch.org/v2/cashe.htm)
  • The BDS campaign contributes to a hostile environment for Jewish students on your campus.
  • Promoting an extension of the Arab boycott against Israel is a violation of U.S. law.

We therefore urge you to:

      • sever  the university’s involvement with this event by ensuring that the Townsend Center withdraws its co-sponsorship;
  • publicly inform the UCB community of your action and the reasons for it;
  • issue a public condemnation of the BDS campaign on your campus.

 

We respectfully request a response.

 

Sincerely,

 

Leila Beckwith
Professor Emeritus, UCLA
lbeckwit@ucla.edu

 

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin
Lecturer, UCSC
tbenjami@ucsc.edu

 

Roberta Seid
Lecturer, UCI
rseid@uci.edu

 

CC:
Mark Yudof, President University of California
University of California Regents
Richard D. Barton, UC Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture, and Inclusion
Anthony J. Cascardi, Director of the Townsend Center for the Humanities, UC Berkeley
Paola Bacchetta, Coordinator Muslim Identities and Cultures Working Group of the Townsend Center for the Humanities

 

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

 

From: Tammi Benjamin <tbenjami@ucsc.edu>
Date: 
October 26, 2010 3:43:55 PM PDT
To: 
chancellor@berkeley.edu
Cc: 
Leila Beckwith <lbeckwit@ucla.edu>, rseid@uci.edu, pbacchetta@berkeley.edu, “Richard D. Barton” <rick.barton@procopio.com>, ajcascardi@berkeley.edu, “Mark G. Yudoff” <mark.yudof@ucop.edu>
Subject: 
RE: Followup to Serious concerns about UCB event Tues, Oct 26

Dear Chancellor Birgeneau:

We appreciate that you responded to our letter and forwarded the statement from Professor Cascardi.  However, Prof. Cascardi’s comments and your endorsement of them dismay and deeply concern us for the following reasons:

  • Despite Prof. Cascardi’s efforts to minimize UC Berkeley’s connection to tonight’s event, “What Can American Academia Do to Realize Justice for Palestinians?”, he nevertheless confirms that connection by acknowledging the fact that the Muslim Identities and Cultures working group is indeed a co-sponsor of the event.  He states that “the co-sponsorship is for the purposes of publicity,” which means UCB gave its imprimatur to the event, and even more, that the organizers actually exploited their university connection to promote a boycott of Israeli academics and academic institutions.  The fact that the Muslim Identities and Cultures working group is only one of 50 working groups and gets little money is irrelevant.  The university is still associated with this event and therefore responsible for helping to promote the boycott effort.
  • Moreover, Prof. Cascardi tries to further distance UCB from the event by claiming it is a “MECA event”.  But this is not the case. The UCB Students for Justice in Palestine is the the event’s primary sponsor, and by virtue of the fact that the SJP is an official student group, your university is once again officially associated with efforts to promote an academic boycott of Israel.
  • Prof. Cascardi claims that the Townsend Center “does not endorse political agendas but rather provides space for open conversation,” adding that the center “would not fund any group that might act other than in a spirit of intellectual openness.”   However, it is self-evident that this event is not promoting intellectual openness or debate.  Instead, there is every reason to conclude that it will advocate the academic boycott of Israel.   Indeed Professor Bacchetta, faculty representative of the Muslim Identities and Cultures working group, is herself an endorser of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, as are the invited speakers and co-sponsoring groups.  Prof. Bacchetta appears to be using her university position to promote an egregiously one-sided, virulently anti-Israel political agenda.
  • Despite Prof. Cascardi’s assurance that the Muslim Identities and Cultures working group claims that it is “not endorsing any position that could be construed as hateful of any religious or ethnic group,” the academic boycott promoted by this event would discriminate against students and faculty at the University of California on the basis of national origin, religious, and/or ethnic identity, thereby violating our state and federal anti-discrimination and civil rights laws.

We reiterate our previous concerns about this event and your university’s implicit endorsement of it:

  • The boycott of Israeli scholars is an infringement of academic freedom.
  • The anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is antisemitic according to the Working Definition of Antisemitism of the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia  as adopted by the U.S. State Department.
  • The BDS campaign contributes to a hostile environment for Jewish students on your campus.
  • The BDS campaign defies the UC Regents’ stated policy that boycott, divestment, and sanctions will  be used only against countries that the U.S. government deems genocidal.
  • Promoting an extension of the Arab boycott against Israel is a violation of U.S. law.

 

We once again urge you to:

  • sever  the university’s involvement with this event by ensuring that the Townsend Center withdraws its co-sponsorship;
  • publicly inform the UCB community of your action and the reasons for it;
  • issue a public condemnation of the BDS campaign on your campus.

 

We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Leila Beckwith, Professor Emeritus, UCLA
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, Lecturer, UCSC
Roberta Seid, Lecturer, UCSD