An open letter to UC President Mark Yudof, authored by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin and Leila Beckwith of the AMCHA Initiative
Dear President Yudof:
Last week, two shameful events occurred on University of California campuses that made Jewish students feel targeted, intimidated, harassed, and unsafe. We charge the UC administration with failing in their basic responsibilities: to protect Jewish students from a hostile environment and to ensure their rights to freedom of speech.
On February 27 at UC Davis, Jewish student groups sponsored the presentation of talks by two Israelis, one Jewish the other Druze. The speakers were repeatedly interrupted by hecklers, whose intent was clearly to disrupt the proceedings. Not only did a heckler hurl outrageous accusations against one of the speakers, calling him a "rapist" and "child molester," but the heckler brazenly stated: “I will stand here and heckle you until you leave…My only purpose is that this event is shut down.” The heckler also told audience members that he was paid $50 by "Muslim students" to disrupt the event.
Twenty-four hours before the Jewish students' event, members of the UCD Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) sent a communication to SJP supporters outlining a two-pronged strategy for shutting down the event: they would pack the room with pro-Palestinian students who would leave en masse in the middle of the event, and some students would remain to continuously heckle the Israeli speakers. Both parts of the strategy were carried out at the event, as you can see HERE, and the event ultimately had to be curtailed because of the disruption.
Besides illegally conspiring to disrupt a lawful meeting and thereby suppress the freedom of speech of the Jewish students and their speakers, members of the SJP and their supporters created a physically and emotionally hostile environment for the Jewish students. According to one eyewitness:
"As fear of physical altercations mounted, several "911" calls were made. The campus police appeared but refused to remove, reprimand or otherwise take any action against the disrupters. The police stated they were given "orders" not to take action against the disrupters, but instead, to close down the program if it got out of hand."
Shockingly, and in stark contrast to your repeated assertions that the University is committed to protecting the rights of free speech and ensuring the safety of all students, the campus police did nothing, and even refused to take the names of disrupters. In addition, at least two high-level UC Davis administrators were present at the event, and they, too, refused to respond to these egregious violations of University policy and state law, which left Jewish students feeling unsafe and violated.
A few days later, on February 29, SJP students at UC San Diego brought to the Associated Students Council for the third consecutive year a resolution asking the University of California to engage in a secondary boycott of Israel by divesting from American firms that do business with the Israeli Defense Forces. The resolution was defeated after seven hours, but the Jewish students and faculty who supported Israel were harassed and bullied by pro-Palestinian supporters and falsely accused of racism.
Several Jewish attendees felt targeted and threatened at the meeting: A UCSD faculty member reported that it was “emotionally difficult to bear the hatred and lies.” The president of the student group, Tritons for Israel, stated that “Jewish students feel targeted, and Jewish students don’t feel as safe or comfortable on campus.” Another Jewish student said, “ I am unsafe on this campus when there is talk of divestment…and by voting ‘yes’ you are making the campus very hostile for students who go here.” The Hillel Director stated: “Many of our students clearly suffered a traumatic blow from that experience. I witnessed the verbal assault on Jewish students and the tears that followed.” At the conclusion of the meeting, one Jewish student, concerned that other Jewish students might be physically assaulted on their way home, cautioned them to avoid walking alone. (In this video, Jewish students at UCSD describe the hostility they experienced as a result of the anti-Israel divestment campaign on their campus).
In light of your May, 2010 statement that the University of California would not divest from Israel, the SJP resolution was a wholly symbolic gesture intended to further the well-coordinated international campaign to economically strangle the Jewish state and bring about its destruction, a campaign which the US State Department has deemed anti-Semitic. Sadly, the resolution effort revealed the utter ineffectiveness of what you had previously touted to the Jewish community as one of your “assertive” moves to address anti-Jewish bigotry.
Please understand that the student groups behind these incidents are not like other University-funded student organizations. The SJP has as its primary mission the promotion of anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns and others efforts to harm the Jewish state. SJP chapters on UC campuses are closely allied with Al-Awda: the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, an organization which advocates the elimination of the Jewish state and has ties to terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah that call for the murder of Jews world-wide. Many students in the SJP are also members of the Muslim Students Association (MSA), an organization founded by the Muslim Brotherhood, a virulently anti-Semitic Egyptian-based organization dedicated to instituting Sharia law and a Muslim empire throughout the world, in part by means of violent jihad. According to an NYPD police spokesman, "some of the most dangerous Western Al Qaeda-linked/inspired terrorists since 9/11 were radicalized and/or recruited at universities in MSAs," and more than a dozen former MSA leaders and members have been convicted of terrorist activities and plots. In addition, some pro-Palestinian UC students have expressed support for the Iranian regime, whose supreme religious leader recently called for the destruction of Israel and the annihilation of all Jews. In fact, one student who participated in the disruption of the Jewish students' event at UC Davis can be seen holding an Iranian flag in the left-hand side of a video clip of the event.
These two incidents cannot be written off as political disputes between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel students. The culpability for the harassment and intimidation lies squarely with the students from pro-Palestinian organizations and their supporters, who have directed their unmitigated, anti-Semitic hatred of the Jewish state against Jewish students who openly identify with it.
The two incidents that took place last week are by no means isolated events. They are merely the most recent examples of the longstanding and pervasive pattern of emotional and physical harassment that has been directed specifically at Jewish students, primarily by members of Muslim and pro-Palestinian student organizations with virulently anti-Semitic agendas. To make matters worse, the SJP and MSA students and their anti-Israel campaigns have found considerable support from numerous other student organizations, as well as from UC faculty and administrators. (For example, an Israel Apartheid Week event presented by the UCSD-MSA in 2010, which was replete with speakers, exhibits and imagery that demonized and delegitimized Israel and her supporters, was endorsed by the SJP and 8 other student organizations, and sponsored by 18 academic departments and administrative units on that campus, including the Literature and Ethnic Studies Departments and the Office of Graduate Studies and Thurgood Marshall College).
We must state the obvious: Jewish students face a concerted campaign of hatred, harassment and intimidation that has been promulgated by fellow students, professors, and administrators. No other minority on campus has been subjected to such a campaign, nor would the University administration tolerate such bigoted behavior were it to be directed against any other minority. In this regard, we believe that the University of California has a clear and discriminatory double standard towards Jewish students, one which is anti-Semitic in effect if not in intent.
On several occasions we have called for transparent, well-articulated policies to guarantee the safety of Jewish students and to ensure them an environment that is neither hostile nor threatening, and on each occasion you have ignored our request. We still believe these are essential and urge you to implement such policies as soon as possible.
Now, however, we call on you and the UC Chancellors to issue a public statement that: 1) condemns the campaign of intimidation and harassment of Jewish students that violates their rights to freedom of expression; and 2) denounces the economic and academic boycott of Israel and acknowledges its hostile impact on Jewish students.
We also encourage other members and supporters of the California Jewish community -- many of them UC alumni, parents, and donors -- to add their voices to ours in urging you to issue such a statement.
The Jewish community will not remain silent while Jewish students continue to be harassed and intimidated on UC campuses, and University administrators turn a blind eye.
Professor Emeritus, University of California at Los Angeles
Co-founder the AMCHA Initiative
Lecturer, University of California at Santa Cruz
Co-founder the AMCHA Initiative
Cc: University of California Chancellors
University of California Regents
UC Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture, and Inclusion (c/o Jesse Bernal)
California Speaker of the Assembly John A. Perez
California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson
California State Senator Lois Wolk (Davis)
California State Assembly Member Mariko Yamada (Davis)
California State Assembly Member Jim Nielsen (Davis)
California State Senator Christine Kehoe (San Diego)
California State Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher (San Diego)