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Progressive Scholars Condemn Anti-Semitism at UCLA and Protest Demonizing of Pro-Palestinian Students

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By Alliance for Academic Freedom

Call for Greater Respect, Empathy, and Understanding on the Complex Israeli-Palestinian Issues

New York, NY – March 6, 2015

CONTACT:
Professor Cary Nelson, 217-356-0649, 217-390-7901 or crnelson@illinois.edu
Professor Chad Goldberg, cgoldber@gmail.com  or
Gideon Aronoff, 212 366-1194 (After hours 347-583-7277), gideon@ameinu.net

In early February, four members of an undergraduate student government council at the University of California Los Angeles questioned whether a prospective student appointee to their body’s judicial board could govern fairly because she is active in Jewish campus organizations. Eventually, the student, Rachel Beyda, was confirmed, and those who had objected to her appointment apologized. But the very notion that a student’s religion or ethnicity—or any commitments related to her religion or ethnicity—should even be considered to disqualify her from holding student office is shocking and deplorable. The Alliance for Academic Freedom, which is dedicated to promoting academic freedom and mutual understanding among all those involved with Israeli-Palestinian issues on campuses, condemns this treatment of Ms. Beyda. The incident reminds us that the contentious politics of the Middle East can easily descend into anti-Semitic discrimination.

We were heartened that the UCLA chancellor, Gene D. Block, forthrightly denounced the incident. “No student should feel threatened that they would be unable to participate in a university activity because of their religion,” he said. He would have done well to identify the actions as anti-Semitic.

Chancellor Block also, quite properly, criticized another incident on campus, in which activists associated with the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a right-wing organization, put up graphic posters likening the student group Students for Justice in Palestine to terrorists, depicting violent actions by Palestinian terrorists and labeling them “#JewHaters.” We do not consider the two incidents to be equivalent: One was an act of outright discrimination, perpetrated by UCLA students; the other was an act of inflammatory but protected speech, arranged by an outside group. Nonetheless, we too deplore the provocative posters for implying that SJP is tantamount to a terrorist group. Although we believe that some SJP chapters have themselves engaged in demonizing and discriminatory actions, we cannot abide a response that seeks to demonize them in turn. We are troubled, moreover, by the tendency among some irresponsible elements on the political right to engage in crude and offensive stereotyping of all Palestinians and their supporters and to try to delegitimize even reasonable criticisms of Israeli policies.

UCLA, where last year students urged candidates for another student government organization to pledge not to travel to Israel on programs paid for by pro-Israel groups, has been a site of a number of troubling incidents of late. But more dismaying than the climate at any one campus is the apparent rise of incidents like these on campuses more broadly. We wish to stress that just as racist acts can occur without deliberate racist intent, so anti-Semitic actions can occur even without conscious hostility toward Jews. When extreme anti-Israel attitudes lead students to consider discriminating against a peer on the basis of her Jewish activities, or to call for the deregistration of Jewish students, as happened at the Durban University of Technology in South Africa, then anti-Israel politics have crossed over into anti-Semitism.

If our campuses are to remain places of learning, Jews and Palestinians, and supporters of both Israel and Palestine must be treated fairly and respectfully at all times. Rather than excluding individuals based on their politics or identity, universities must create opportunities for open dialogue and exchange across groups holding a range of views and backgrounds – and teach students why, especially when debating the most divisive political issues, empathy and understanding are fundamental and necessary principles to uphold.

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