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Anti-Israel Protesters Demand the Censorship of Knowledge They Don’t Like

Last week, anti-Israel protesters descended onto UCLA’s campus, set up "encampments" and posted their demands to the University’s leadership.
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May 1, 2024
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators occupy an encampment on the campus of UCLA on April 25, 2024 (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)

Last week, as we have witnessed at so many universities like Columbia, Harvard, Yale and USC, anti-Israel protesters descended onto UCLA’s campus, set up “encampments” and posted their demands to the University’s leadership. Among them, they demanded UCLA “sever all UC-wide connections to Israeli universities, including study abroad programs, fellowships, seminars and research collaborations, and UCLA’s Nazarian Center.” This was a reference to the UCLA Nazarian Center for Israel Studies which our Family Foundation named and endowed in 2010 and where I serve as Chair of its Community Advisory Board. 

These protesters were demanding, essentially, the censorship of knowledge they don’t like.

Our Foundation’s primary mission is “the promotion of education as the most important catalyst for societal change.” To us, this means for students to achieve life success, there is a fundamental need to develop critical thinking skills, to learn with depth, to grapple with complexity and to put facts at the center of their learning.

Our support for UCLA, a most revered public institution, and the endowment of the Nazarian Center for Israel studies, is one of our greatest expressions of that commitment. We understood then, and are today more convinced than ever, that only through a serious scholarly and holistic study of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state can we fully understand and appreciate the nation and its people. Academically rigorous study of the complexities the state faces with regards to its domestic, regional, and international challenges equips UCLA students with the knowledge and understanding of what the contemporary state of Israel truly represents.

We are a proud Jewish Iranian-American family, who have been warmly welcomed and embraced by two great nations in our lifetime. My father was forced to uproot our family from Iran in 1979 in order to flee the fanaticism, extremism, and antisemitism of the Iranian Revolution. The kind of hatred and extremism we are now witnessing on US campuses. We fled first to Israel and eventually to the United States, seeking refuge in a democratic country that welcomed and protected Jews.

My parents were able to rebuild our lives and instilled in us a love of our new homeland and an understanding that America, its democratic institutions, and its generosity toward us and all immigrants seeking refuge was something that we should cherish. Our family has tried to find impactful ways to give back to the country that has given us so much through the work of our Foundation.

Because we as a family so highly valued the two countries which have embraced us, and two countries that share fundamental democratic values, we knew that the Center for Israel Studies had to be built on a foundation committed to rigorous independent scholarship about America’s strongest and only democratic ally in the Middle East. Through in-depth, holistic, and multidisciplinary curricula about Israel in the classroom, diverse and rich public programming, by inviting Israeli visiting scholars in the fields of law, sociology, history, the arts and economics, the Center offers UCLA students from diverse backgrounds a lens onto the only Jewish and democratic state in the world. And by being housed within the International Institute, Israel is taught just as Mexico and Japan and Germany are taught, as a country with its own complexities, its own rich history, and its own socio-political dynamics. The Center’s students — Jewish and Christian, Muslim and Buddhist and atheist, Latino, Black, Asian, and White, Israeli, Chinese and French and all others — are welcomed into the Center’s classrooms and invited to engage, question and learn from a diverse array of perspectives.

Our family and our Nazarian Center Advisory Board unequivocally and stridently reject any calls for boycotting academic centers of learning and research of any country, and specifically of Israel.

So today, our family and our Nazarian Center Advisory Board unequivocally and stridently reject any calls for boycotting academic centers of learning and research of any country, and specifically of Israel. Impeding access to knowledge is a medieval and anti-democratic tactic that has never led to any positive societal change. Those targeting such scholarship—in many cases animated by antisemitism and anti-Israel hatred—aim only to vilify Israel and those who study and teach about it. Boycotting academic institutions is blatant censorship, just as book burning is.

We proudly stand with Jewish and Israeli students at UCLA and across the country who are facing intimidation and threats during this deeply frightening and unprecedented time.

We condemn these groups’ attempts to denigrate the Center’s core mission of free academic inquiry, just as we most stridently condemn violent words and actions that we are unfortunately witnessing from some of the anti-Israel protesters toward their fellow Jewish and Israeli students. We proudly stand with Jewish and Israeli students at UCLA and across the country who are facing intimidation and threats during this deeply frightening and unprecedented time.

That is simply not what democracy is about nor what academia is about and certainly not what my parents brought us to America for.


Dr. Sharon S. Nazarian is President, Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation and Chair of Community Advisory Board, UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies.

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