Should the UC define anti-Semitism? No, protect free speech

Should a major university system have a particular definition of anti-Semitism?

That’s what is being asked of the University of California’s Board of Regents. Two dozen groups, led by the AMCHA Initiative, want the regents to adopt the definition used by the U.S Department of State. UC’s president, Janet Napolitano, has endorsed the idea.

Clearly there have been incidents of anti-Semitism on some California campuses. Some of these have been jarring, such as a Jewish candidate for student government being questioned about whether, as a Jew, she could be unbiased (imagine this question being asked about a candidate who is gay or a woman or of color).

But official adoption of the State Department’s definition would do more harm than good. I say this sadly, as the lead author of the somewhat more detailed European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia’s (EUMC) “working definition on anti-Semitism,” upon which the State Department definition is based, and as a strong advocate of State’s use of the definition in its global work. 

The EUMC definition was crafted as a tool for data collectors in European countries to identify what to include and exclude from their reports about anti-Semitism, and to have a common frame of reference so that data might be compared across borders. It was used by Special Envoy Gregg Rickman in the department’s 2008 Contemporary Global Anti-Semitism report, and then Special Envoy Hannah Rosenthal instituted a training program on the definition, so U.S. diplomats could better raise the issue with their counterparts. Although the EUMC’s successor organization has not been using the definition for a variety of political and other reasons, members of parliaments around the world concerned with anti-Semitism have urged its adoption, beginning with a 2009 declaration in London. 

No definition of something as complex as anti-Semitism can be perfect, but this one, 10 years after its creation, remains a very good one. It is certainly a useful tool for college campuses, if used appropriately. It can, for example, be a starting point for needed discussions about
anti-Semitism and how we define it (and how we might define other forms of hatred and bigotry, too). Reference to it would certainly help students understand events, across the world and locally.

But to enshrine such a definition on a college campus is an ill-advised idea that will make matters worse, and not only for Jewish students; it would also damage the university as a whole.

Those who want the university system to adopt the definition say it isn’t a speech code (presumably because they recognize that speech codes are likely unconstitutional and anathema to the ideals of academic freedom). But that is precisely what they are seeking. You don’t need a university endorsement of a particular definition in order to increase careful thought about difficult issues, such as when anti-Semitism is present in debates about Israel and Palestine. AMCHA’s leader, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, rather wants a rule of what is hateful to say and what is not. She has said that advocacy in favor of Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel would be classified as anti-Semitic, as would the erection of fake walls imitating Israel’s separation barrier. So, if the definition is adopted, administrators presumably would be expected to label such political speech as anti-Semitic, or face challenges (political and perhaps legal) from AMCHA and its colleagues that they were not doing their jobs.

Some legislative history is important here. BDS was already appearing when the EUMC definition was written. In 2002, there had been proposals on some U.S. campuses (all of which failed) to get universities to divest from Israel. In 2004, Palestinian groups issued a call for a cultural and academic boycott of Israel. I asked my fellow experts whether the definition we were drafting should mention such activities (and, more broadly, the unfair attempt to paint Israel as the successor to apartheid-era South Africa), and to the best of my recollection, no one thought that appropriate, in part because of the complexities and nuances involved with such political speech. (Holding all Jews responsible for the actions of Israel is clearly anti-Semitism — advocating a boycott of Golan wines is clearly of a different character.)

There is no doubt that many of the proponents of BDS have an anti-Semitic agenda: They want to deny Jews the right of self-determination in a land of their own, the same right they champion for Palestinians. In essence, they want to undo events of 1948, not just those of 1967.  

But that does not translate into a blanket assertion that all support for BDS is anti-Semitic. Many committed Zionists, deeply troubled by the implications of nearly 50 years of occupation on Palestinians and Israelis alike and sickened by the racist rhetoric of some leading Israeli politicians, support aspects of BDS, such as labeling West Bank-linked goods or divesting from companies whose products are used in the occupation. Whether one agrees with their view, why cheapen the word “anti-Semitism,” let alone distort it, by applying it to such advocates, particularly on a college campus?

If a diplomat says that Israel — a member state of the United Nations — should not exist as the nation state of the Jewish people, it is appropriate for the State Department to label that anti-Semitism. But on a college campus, do we really want a student (imagine yourself as a Palestinian student) to fear that anti-Zionism on their part (even if they are quoting Martin Buber and Hannah Arendt to make their case) will violate an administratively imposed definition of what is OK to say?

Of course, it is important that members of the campus community, including its leadership, speak up when there are hate crimes (such as the rare but occasional swastika daubing). They should speak out if they sense a threat to academic freedom, such as if intimidation and harassment occur. And more schools should conduct surveys of their students to see if intergroup tensions and bigotry are experienced, and if they are, then institute educational, training and other programs as appropriate. But administrators should not act as quality-control officers on campus debate. Further, if a university adopts an official definition of anti-Semitism, how long would it be until other groups demand an official definition of Islamophobia, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian animus, homophobia and so forth, with the built-in expectation that speech transgressing such definitions requires an administrative response, too? Consider what speech might run afoul of an official definition of “anti-Palestinian.” Perhaps when a student says that he does not believe Palestinians have a right to a country of their own, and that the West Bank instead should be part of a Greater Israel? 

The rhetoric that troubles Rossman-Benjamin is not the problem, but rather a symptom of the problem. The problem is that debate has become binary, black and white — what Rossman-Benjamin would define as anti-Semitism some pro-Palestinian advocates say is simply seeking justice and opposing racism.

Would the labeling of one side of this debate as hateful do anything other than increase this paradigm? And then what happens? Jews are increasingly portrayed as not able to defend Israel, thus they have to try to suppress speech they don’t like — here speech supposedly advocating for stateless Palestinians. Historically, anti-Semitism thrives in environments in which Jews are painted as dangers to sacred values. One can argue that anti-Semites will describe Jews this way regardless, and twist history like a pretzel in the process, but that does not change the fact that the adoption of such a definition would be a self-inflicted wound. On a campus, proposals that are seen as diminishing academic freedom become rallying points, even for people who are not invested in the issue at hand. Solutions that incorporate and extol academic freedom are more likely to succeed.

Part of the challenge is also that some Jewish parents don’t want their children to see BDS proponents or mock walls, because this will make their children uncomfortable. I get it. I am made uncomfortable by such political speech, too. But why are these parents paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition if not to shake up their children’s thinking? Don’t they want their kids to work past their discomfort, to understand better why some of their classmates see Israel as inherently wrong? Don’t they want their children to be able to say and hear controversial things? Isn’t facing this challenge head on, using critical thinking skills, a precondition to engaging and countering such difficult and unsettling assertions on campus and in their adult lives?

This next academic year likely will see additional student-driven BDS resolutions (the catalysts are last summer’s war in Gaza, the troubling statements made during the Israeli election and the success of a small number of student votes in favor of divestment — although not a single university has divested). Will it really help Jewish students if what comes out of a classmate’s mouth is labeled anti-Semitic by administrators, or isn’t so labeled, and AMCHA and its colleagues from outside the campus make demands and threaten lawsuits? In either case, other students and faculty will come to that student’s or administrator’s aid, make him or her a celebrity, and have a battle royal that not only cements previously held perceptions on both sides, but also labels Jews as bullies. For what? Circulating a petition to boycott a West Bank product?

Wouldn’t it be better for Jewish students worried about BDS and the campus as a whole if universities instead focused on what they might do to increase serious thinking and debate, rather than chill speech through adoption of official definitions? Shouldn’t they be creating more courses and programs helping students understand what this debate is about? Why are there so few (really only a handful) full-semester, interdisciplinary courses on anti-Semitism? And why are there so few courses helping students understand what happens (on a neurobiological, social-psychological level, etc.) when senses of identity get wrapped around an issue of justice (whether Israel/Palestine, Ferguson, abortion, immigration, etc.), and why too often empathy, nuance and the ability to acknowledge one’s opinions might be wrong seem in short supply? 

The UC Regents would be better advised to think of ways to increase the teaching and scholarship about anti-Semitism and hatred in general rather than adopt a definition that was never intended to regulate speech on a college campus. It takes only a small number of students on a campus to start a BDS petition. It should only take a small number of students who have a deeper understanding of the difficult issues in play to help guide more intelligent and meaningful campus discussion and debate.

Kenneth S. Stern is the executive director of the Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation (

In California and Washington, a push to define and redefine anti-Semitism

In recent months new reports and allegations of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity on University of California campuses appear to have died down — at least by comparison to the flurry of coverage from early 2014 to early this year.

But that doesn’t mean American activists on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been lying dormant. 

Senate Concurrent Resolution 35 (SCR-35)—a nonbinding bill urging each UC campus to adopt resolutions condemning anti-Semitism — is moving quickly through the California State Senate, even as the left-wing group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) has succeeded in softening some of its language, pushing legislators to remove a reference to anti-Semitism “augmenting education programs” and to add a clause clarifying that the bill doesn’t restrict any legally protected free speech.

And on May 18, the group, along with 250 academics, sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking the U.S. State Department to remove from its definition of anti-Semitism any reference to Israel. The current State Department codification says that demonizing Israel, delegitimizing it and holding it to double standards are forms of anti-Semitism. The State Department includes comparing Israeli policies to those of the Nazis and denying it the right to exist as forms of anti-Semitism. There is no indication that the State Department will comply and change its definition.

Meanwhile, the AMCHA Initiative, a pro-Israel campus watchdog based in Santa Cruz, Calif., is pushing the University of California’s Board of Regents and UC President Janet Napolitano to adopt the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism and to condemn, but not overtly restrict, what it considers egregious and anti-Semitic activities against Israel and against pro-Israel students on campus. 

This week, AMCHA sent two letters to Napolitano that had been signed by nearly 700 UC alumni, UC faculty and rabbis, and which urge the University of California to both adopt the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism and to make campuses implement training programs to help faculty and staff identify and address anti-Semitism on campus, in the letter’s words, “with the same promptness and vigor as they do other forms of racial, ethnic, and gender bigotry and discrimination.”

Dianne Klein, a spokeswoman for Napolitano, wrote to the Journal on May 19 that the topic of anti-Semitism isn’t on the regents’ agenda for their meeting in San Francisco this week. “That doesn’t mean, however, that the issue will not be discussed,” Klein wrote. 

AMCHA Initiative co-founder Tammi Rossman-Benjamin said on May 19 she hasn’t received a response from Napolitano or the regents since sending the letters. But on May 21, Napolitano said in a

Programmers at CNES saw no reason to counter Israel criticism

After the holidays, when Congress prepares to reauthorize Title VI of the Higher Education Act, legislators should take a cold, hard look at the case of UCLA’s Center for Near East Studies (CNES), a recipient of millions of dollars of federal funding under Title VI, and ask if such programs truly serve our national security interests.  Or, are they rather serving the selfish interests of politically motivated faculty and enabling them to promote their anti-Israel activism at the taxpayer’s expense?

UCLA’s Center for Near East Studies has a long history of presenting biased, unambiguously anti-Israel positions that go far beyond criticism of specific government policies into characterizations of Israel as inherently evil and unjustified in its existence.  Such programming is in flagrant violation of Congress’s intent.

In 2008, Congress amended the language of Title VI in direct response to the notorious political bias, suppression of dissenting viewpoints and blatant antisemitism of many Title VI-funded Middle East studies programs like CNES. Congress understood that rampant anti-Israel and anti-America bias in these programs was thwarting the whole purpose of Title VI funding, namely, to provide a solid knowledge base and well-trained scholars to serve our national security interests.  Therefore, since 2008 all Title VI-funded programs have been required to demonstrate that their funded activities provide “diverse perspectives and a wide range of views.”

Yet, in January 2009, CNES sponsored a symposium entitled “Gaza and Human Rights,” which featured three University of California professors – Gabriel Piterberg (UCLA, History), Lisa Hajjar (UC Santa Barbara, Sociology) and Saree Makdisi (UCLA, English) – and former UC visiting professor Richard Falk (UCSB, Global and International Studies).  Well-known for their outspoken anti-Israel activism, all four academics delivered presentations at the symposium that some audience members characterized as “an academic lynching” and “one-sided witch hunt” of Israel. Piterberg accused Israel of “wanton violence and carnage”; Hajjar argued that nations which act like Israel are “enemies of all mankind”; Falk said Israel’s incursion into Gaza was of a “savagely criminal nature”; and Makdisi argued that the only just solution to the conflict would be the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state. 

Despite the unambiguously anti-Israel positions taken by all four of the panelists at the event, then CNES director Susan Slyomovics, who had introduced the symposium by claiming that its purpose was to present the “truth” about human rights abuses in Gaza, responded to queries from audience members who were outraged by the one-sidedness of the panel, saying that she had no intention of presenting future CNES events with perspectives less biased against Israel. 

Slyomovics’s statement was an arrogant admission that she knowingly planned to violate the “diverse perspectives” requirement of the federal statute which provided the majority of the Center’s funding. Nevertheless, hardly a month after the egregiously anti-Israel event, Slyomovics put forward a grant proposal to the U.S. Department of Education Title VI funding for approximately $2 million for 2010 – 2014.  In accordance with the requirement that applicants demonstrate that the activities funded by the grant “reflect diverse perspectives and a wide range of views,” the CNES proposal hypocritically contained the following language:

“CNES recognizes that many points of view exist on any given topic when bringing together varied audiences to analyze and discuss the past, present, and future of the Middle East and North Africa. A high value is placed in hearing and understanding multiple points of view and examining questions fundamental to diverse perspectives on controversial issues…Diverse perspectives facilitate thinking and professional competency on behalf of future education professionals and global citizens.”

While this statement rings hollow in light of Slyomovic’s earlier admission that she had no intention of presenting unbiased programming about Israel, it approaches fraudulence in light of the egregious lack of “diverse perspectives” in  CNES’s Israel-related programming in the subsequent years for which funding was requested.  Indeed, in a comprehensive study tracking anti-Israel bias and antisemitic discourse in Israel-related public events sponsored by CNES 2010 – 2013, which was undertaken by our organization, AMCHA Initiative, we found that 93% of the Israel-related events recorded by the Center had a clear anti-Israel bias, and 75% were so biased as to be considered antisemitic according to the U.S. State Department’s definition of antisemitism.

The extreme anti-Israel bias of CNES’s programming is not surprising considering who was directing the program.  Despite the Center’s federally mandated mission to maintain linkages with institutes of higher education in the Middle East, including Israel, Slyomovics,and her successors, Gabriel Piterberg and Sondra Hale all signed petitions endorsing the boycott of Israeli universities and scholars, and Hale is even a founder of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.  And despite directing a program intended to encourage study abroad to countries in the Middle East, including Israel, all three directors publicly opposed University of California's Israel Abroad Program by signing a petition which Hale herself had written and circulated.

What is startling is the brazen and public refusal by the CNES directors to abide by the requirement of the Title VI statute.  In response to critics, including AMCHA Initiative, an official CNES statement recently released said that “those responsible for programming at CNES saw no reason to ‘balance’ the criticism (of Israel)…no reason to bring in speakers who would defend it.”  In other words, Slyomovics, Hale and Piterberg did not just fail to live up to the “diverse perspectives” requirement of the federal grant which CNES asked for and received, but they never intended to honor it.

While it is not unexpected that a program directed by three professors well-known for their anti-Israel animus would host events that lack “diverse perspectives” and are biased against the Jewish state, it is astonishing that UCLA administrators would choose them as directors of CNES, and then turn a blind eye to their flagrant and potentially fraudulent abuse of federal funds.

Rossman-Benjamin is a lecturer at University of California Santa Cruz and the co-founder of AMCHA Initiative, a non-profit organization that combats anti-Semitism on college campuses across the United States.

Beckwith is an emeritus professor at the University of California Los Angeles and the co-founder of AMCHA Initiative.

Routing out anti-Israel bias on campus

If you are not redirected automatically, follow the

Should campus racism be discussed?

In early October, a number of prominent Jewish studies professors signed a letter stating their opposition to the AMCHA Initiative, a group with the mission of monitoring anti-Semitism at institutions of higher education in America. A study just released by AMCHA indicates, among other findings, that the Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES) at the University of California, Los Angeles, may have violated the law by promoting anti-Semitic discourse and anti-Israel bias.
As a longtime professor at UCLA and a first hand eye-witness to the politicization of CNES, I was keenly interested in the Jewish professors’ reaction to the AMCHA report, which presents a serious challenge to Jewish leadership on campus.
I was disappointed that they chose to postpone a substantive discussion of AMCHA’s findings and focused instead on attacking the motivation for conducting the study in the first place and the character of AMCHA’s organizers. They were also perturbed by AMCHA’s decision to circulate a list of Middle East studies professors that the organization considers anti-Israel.
It was disappointing, because the letter could have been more credible had it been supported by a counter study showing AMCHA’s findings to be invalid or, at least, less alarming than reported. No such study was cited.
Alternatively, the 40 professors could have reported to us, and to their students, about their own efforts to curb anti-Israel propaganda on their campuses, the methods they applied, and how effective those efforts were.  I wish they had.
The professors’ letter focuses instead on AMCHA’s technique of monitoring public lectures, symposia and conferences, saying that this “strains the basic principle of academic freedom.” I take issue with this stifling interpretation of academic freedom. Studies based on videos and eye-witness reports  are extremely valuable, and are often used by universities to gauge the impact of their programs.
Last year, when I presented the UCLA chancellor with my personal observations of how Israel was being demonized in CNES programs, he asked whether I have “supporting documentation” of such activity over a more extended period of time.
I wish I could have handed him the results of a study like the one AMCHA organized, which, theoretically, should have been conducted by the university itself. It wasn’t. Nor was it conducted by the Center for Jewish Studies, though the issues involved and the facts reported threaten to change Jewish life on campus for generations. AMCHA went to the trouble of producing such documentation, and sure enough, 40 professors rose up to scold the organization for documenting open public symposia, instead of paying attention to the racist content of those symposia and asking whether the silence of conscientious professors is still justified.
Another interesting thing I learned from the UCLA chancellor was that, with the exception of a few professors like me, leaders of the Jewish community on campus have not complained about the CNES program.
Indeed, I do not recall the Center for Jewish Studies at UCLA discussing whether it is appropriate for an academic unit that calls itself “Center for Near East Studies” to take an entire country, a home to about 50% of the Jewish people, strip it from its historic roots in the region and proclaim it an evil and temporary colonial power, ineligible for membership in the Middle East community of nations, redeemable only by extinction, dubbed “one state solution.” Is this genocidal ideology protected by academic freedom? Of course it is! But is it befitting an academic unit chartered with providing balanced perspectives of all Near East societies?
And is it ethical for us, professors, to hide such pathology from parents, students, donors and the community at large? I have seen UCLA students who have taken classes in modern Middle East history and say they have not heard about the 1948 Arab attack on Israel. I believe that we, as faculty, have an obligation to assess and minimize the damage that indoctrinated students (and their professors) are causing to the reputation of our university.
I do not recall the Center for Jewish Studies writing protest letters when two notorious Israel demonizers, Gabriel Piterberg and Sondra Hale, were chosen to co-direct the CNES, replacing Susan Slyomovics, who started CNES on its relentless anti-Israel campaign. These two co-directors of CNES are active promoters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and have signed petitions to boycott Israeli academics (including this writer) who are collaborating with Israeli universities. The CNES has consistently provided BDS speakers and activists with publicity, academic cover and legitimacy.
This silence by Jewish studies professors may well have been responsible for the wait-and-see attitude of the UCLA administration towards the continuing deterioration of campus climate, where Jewish students as well as Jewish professors are afraid to reveal their sentiments and identity.
The professors’ letter expresses grave concern over “stifling of debate” and over “the importance to provide opportunities to students to consider the world around them from a wide range of perspectives.” This concern is real and should be guarded vigilantly. However, I have seen how CNES stifles debate in its programs. And when pointing this out I have been told that the Israel Studies Center would be a better home for “alternative views”. But let us recall, the Higher Education Act, Title VI, obligates each academic center to present diverse perspectives; it is not enough that the university as a whole offers such opportunities.
Once we agree on the importance of open debate, we should also agree that the anti-Israel, anti-coexistence character of programs like CNES should be a subject of discussion. Moreover, I believe there is now substantial evidence for characterizing the BDS movement as racist, one that uses genetic lineage and other ethnic characteristics to deny Jews that which is granted to other collectives. So the appropriateness of BDS activists to serve as directors of academic centers at UCLA and other colleges and universities should be broached. I fail to see why my esteemed colleagues consider these topics taboo, bordering, heaven forbid, on “witch hunting” or “black listing”
And once we are discussing taboos, should we not be free to discuss the appropriateness of letting the History Department at UCLA entrust the teaching of modern Middle East history to two Zionophobic professors? Imagine the academic outcry were the Law School to entrust the teaching of Islamic law to two Islamophobic professors. This finally brings us to discussing the greatest taboo of all, whether Islam, by virtue of being a religious narrative, deserves a greater protection on campus than Zionism — a historical narrative that most Jews cherish as a centerpiece of their identity as a people. Whence did religion acquire a monopoly on human sensitivity?
There remains still a practical question that the professors’ letter has not addressed: If the BDS movement is indeed racist, what do we call its leaders and how should we guide students who are confronted with them on campus?

Judea Pearl is a Chancellor Professor of Computer Science at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation.  An earlier version of this piece was submitted to Forward Magazine.

BDS debate: A tale of two universities

David Klein is a mathematics professor at California State University, Northridge. David Lloyd is a literature professor at the University of California, Riverside. Besides both being tenured professors at the two largest public university systems in the country, what do these two men have in common?

Klein and Lloyd are both vocal leaders in the campaign to boycott Israeli universities and scholars who have used their state university’s name and taxpayer-funded resources to promote a boycott of Israeli universities and scholars — a boycott that has not only been denounced by more than 200 university leaders, including CSU Chancellor Timothy White and UC President Janet Napolitano, but has also been deemed anti-Semitic by state and federal lawmakers and Jewish leaders throughout the world. 

Professors Klein and Lloyd have something else in common: At both of their universities, top administrators have defended these two professors, claiming that their use of the university’s name and state resources to promote an anti-Semitic boycott of the Jewish state is protected by “academic freedom.” 

Since 2009, Klein has hosted his “Boycott Israel Resource Page” on the CSU Northridge Web site, and linked it to his mathematics department homepage. Klein’s university-hosted Web page, whose sole purpose is to promote the academic, cultural and economic boycott of Israel, contains a litany of inflammatory and false statements, many of which meet the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, including the statement that “Israel is the most racist country in the world.” In addition, Klein’s university Web site includes graphic photographs of bloodied and mutilated babies, with the clear implication that Israeli soldiers deliberately maim and murder Palestinian children.

For more than two years, AMCHA Initiative, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and thousands of members and supporters of the Jewish community have urged CSU Northridge and CSU administrators to remove Klein’s page, on the grounds that a state university should not allow one of its employees to misuse the university’s name and taxpayer-funded resources for the purpose of advancing a personal vendetta against the Jewish state and its supporters. Shockingly, three successive Northridge presidents, including the current president, Diane Harrison, have defended this math professor’s right to post a “Boycott Israel” Web page on the university server, on the grounds that such behavior is protected by “academic freedom.” 

[Related: BDS and Oxfam — major Super Bowl fail]

Although Lloyd was only recently hired as a faculty member in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHASS) at UC Riverside, he has lost no time in using his new faculty position to organize a lecture promoting the academic boycott of Israel for this quarter’s CHASS Annual Theme Event. Two weeks ago, students in eight different Riverside classes fulfilled a course requirement and received course credit for listening to the inflammatory propaganda and political screed of activist Omar Barghouti, founder of the Palestinian campaign for the academic boycott of Israel. Barghouti’s talk was also laced with classic anti-Semitic tropes, including accusations that Israeli soldiers hunt Palestinian children and murder them for sport, and that Zionist Jews control the U.S. Congress and the media. 

Lloyd moderated Barghouti’s talk and announced during the Q-and-A period that he was proud he had invited Barghouti to speak, that he himself was a founding member of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and that many other professors at Riverside had also endorsed the academic boycott of Israel. (Indeed, the department chair and one-third of the faculty in the Ethnic Studies department, which co-sponsored the Barghouti event, have publicly endorsed the academic boycott of Israel).

When UC Riverside Chancellor Kim Wilcox was urged by two local rabbis and AMCHA Initiative to address the clearly inappropriate use of the university’s name and resources to promote an academic boycott of Israel, he refused, citing “academic freedom” as the reason.

While Northridge’s Klein and Riverside’s Lloyd may be the most egregious cases of faculty who use their state university positions and resources to promote an anti-Semitic boycott of Israel, they are far from the only faculty on California’s public university campuses to do so. Our organizations have also documented numerous instances of faculty who promote the boycott of Israel in their classrooms, and academic departments that sponsor and fund events promoting the boycott of Israel at San Francisco State University, CSU Fresno, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis. When CSU and UC administrators were notified of these incidents, in every case they approved the politically motivated and directed behavior of their faculty, claiming that it was protected by “academic freedom.”

But these administrators are simply mistaken. Academic freedom, the cornerstone of higher education in America, was always intended to uphold the university’s scholarly mission of pursuing knowledge free from the interference of government and other special interest groups. It was never intended to shield university professors who want to exploit their academic positions in order to advance their personal or political agendas.

Promoting an academic boycott of Israel is not a scholarly pursuit; it is pure political indoctrination. According to the American Association of University Professors, as well as policies on college and university campuses across the country, faculty who engage in the political or ideological indoctrination of their students are not only unprotected by academic freedom, they are in violation of its core principles. They may also be in violation of at least three California laws prohibiting the use of the name and resources of a state university for partisan purposes or for promoting a boycott. In addition, faculty who use their classrooms and conference halls as bully pulpits for promulgating their hatred of the Jewish state and its supporters cannot help but create a hostile and discriminatory environment for Jewish students on their campuses. 

California taxpayers — including students, alumni, parents and donors of UC and CSU schools — are outraged that top administrators at California’s taxpayer-funded public universities refuse to exercise their due diligence in enforcing university policy and state law and ensuring the safety and well-being of all students on their campuses, including Jewish students.

We call on the California Attorney General and state legislators to investigate this matter.

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin is a lecturer in Hebrew at UC Santa Cruz and co-founder of AMCHA Initiative, an organization dedicated to monitoring and combatting campus anti-Semitism. Rabbi Aron Hier is director of campus outreach at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.