Jewish UCLA Faculty Speak Out Against Antisemitism During UC Regents Health Committee Meeting

Around 25-30 faculty members, organized by the school’s Jewish Faculty Resilience Group, attended the meeting.
April 12, 2024
Photo courtesy of the Jewish Faculty Resilience Group (JFrg) at UCLA

Several Jewish UCLA faculty members spoke against antisemitism at the university’s medical school during the public comment portion of UC Regents Health Committee meeting on the morning of April 10.

The faculty members, organized by the Jewish Faculty Resilience Group (JFrg) at UCLA, all wore navy blue jackets with yellow ribbons to show solidarity with those still being held hostage by Hamas. They had marched to the meeting at UCLA’s Carnesale Commons from the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

The first of the faculty members to speak was Dr. Richard Finn, professor at the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in the Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology. “It is clear to me that there is now a cancer that has taken hold in the School of Medicine and is metastasizing into the health system. That cancer has a long history of destruction, and it is antisemitism,” Finn declared. “Its presence predates Oct. 7 and, ironically, has emanated from the required Systemic Racism and Health Equity course.”

Finn told the Regents that the course featured a guest speaker, who has referred to the Oct. 7 massacre as “justice,” and led the class in a chant of “Free Palestine.” “This was not challenged by the staff that were present,” he said. “Events such as these need to stop.” Finn concluded by reading a quote from Dr. Jeffrey Flier, former dean of Harvard Medical School, saying that if the reports about the guest speaker are true, “UCLA Medical School requires a formal investigation by its governing board and its accreditation by the Association [of] American Medical Colleges should be questioned for profoundly inadequate oversight of its curriculum and pedagogy.”

Alyssa Ziman, professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at UCLA, criticized the systemic racism course for oversimplifying “identity into a divisive and racist oppressor vs. oppressed narrative. It stereotypes Jews as white and privileged. The course content includes content of antisemitic images resembling those from Nazi Germany. This fosters potential bias against Jewish patients and a hostile environment for Jewish students.” She added that “Jews are a diverse, multiethnic multiracial people” and called for the UC Regents to “pause this course for an external review into its antisemitic stereotypes.”

UCLA Professor of Medicine Zev Wainberg explained that the speaker, who was supposed to give a lecture on housing and justice, was “dressed in terrorist clothing” and “led them in prayers, and instructed them on Marxist, anti-capitalist political rhetoric, accused UCLA Medical School of teaching ‘white science’ and yelled ‘Free, Free Palestine.’ The UCLA staff member then singled out a nonparticipating medical student, possibly for discipline.” He called for the course to be suspended and investigated, arguing that what took place during the lecture violated university policy against indoctrination.

Faculty members shared other antisemitic incidents at the UCLA medical school:  Dr. Vivien Burt, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at UCLA, recalled attending a “Depathologizing Resistance” Zoom earlier in the month for psychiatry residents in which “the presenters argued that burning one’s self to death for a cause was not necessarily mental illness”; the presenters pointed to Aaron Bushnell burning himself to death while shouting “I will no longer be complicit in genocide” and “Free Palestine” in February as an example. The presenters also denounced a statement from the American Psychiatric Association for not mentioning that the Oct. 7 massacre “was due to 75 years of colonization.” “This is but the latest and most grotesque example of how antisemitism has been allowed to metastasize at UCLA,” Burt continued. “I implore the regents to act for the safety of our students, faculty and staff.”

Dr. Ann Raldow, associate professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at UCLA, claimed that the medical school’s Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) program held a mandatory panel called “Compassion, Empathy and Our Hippocratic Oath” in February. “One Jewish panelist and ethicist was told his perspective was not relevant due to his perceived group identity,” Raldow said. “Another co-panelist used the platform and espoused anti-Israel rhetoric, denying the school of medicine’s antisemitism issues and claiming that faculty with power and privilege — often antisemitic code-speak for ‘Jewish’ — suppress criticism of Israel. Another panelist downplayed the toxicity of phrases like ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will free,’ which is the Hamas charter’s proclamation for the erasure of Israel and its Jewish population. “Such language intimidates, isolates, and fosters a negative environment for Jewish students and faculty,” Raldow added, reiterating the JFrg’s call for the School of Medicine to be independently investigated over antisemitism.

A Jewish student also spoke, saying that “blatant antisemitism has become normalized” as have “disruptive demonstrations” on campus. “I’ve tried to avoid coming to campus as much as possible … because I do not feel safe here,” she said. The student added that it’s “incredibly hard to focus on my studies,” telling the Regents how she had to walk by “a large pig with a bag of money and a Jewish star on it” on her way to a final a few weeks ago. “My classrooms have been vandalized and so have the outside of buildings with messages that are antisemitic,” she alleged. “UCLA must take actions against students and faculty that violate the time, place and manner restrictions which affect the ability of Jews to study and work on campus. The only way for these violations to stop is for UCLA to punish violators, as is recently done at Pomona and Columbia.”

Rabbi Noah Farkas, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, lamented the “injustice to the Jewish students and the Jewish faculty who are under assault physically and psychologically by the systemic antisemitism that has metastasized at this school.” “I have had professors, I have had students in my office crying and screaming, feeling like they need to leave,” claimed Farkas. “I want to say on behalf of the Jewish community that you, UCLA, are embedded in a larger city, the largest Jewish community on the West Coast … and we are watching you. We will organize against you. We will do all the work that is necessary to protect our people on campus and bring them back in safety.”

“I want to say on behalf of the Jewish community that you, UCLA, are embedded in a larger city, the largest Jewish community on the West Coast … and we are watching you. We will organize against you. We will do all the work that is necessary to protect our people on campus and bring them back in safety.” – Rabbi Noah Farkas

A couple of keffiyeh-wearing pro-Palestinian students spoke as well. A student claiming to speak on behalf of Students for Justice in Palestine and the UC Divest Coalition said she is “ashamed to study at an institution complicit in the genocide of thousands” and that “my tuition dollars are being funneled through BlackRock into the hands of weapons manufacturers that are actively massacring tens of thousands of Palestinians.” “Put your people over your profit for once, divest your billions from BlackRock, and reinvest into your community of students and workers whose needs are not being met in the slightest,” she added.

The other, a second-year resident, explained that her mother “traveled to Palestine during the First Intifada” and had told her about “tanks rolling through the town square at curfew every night, shots being fired 24/7 … she was forever changed by this experience of seeing a land being decimated by her own tax and student dollars. That was almost 40 years ago, and still today the genocide continues and today we’re willingly paying for it.”

At the end of public comment, UC Regent John Pèrez said: “The points that are made are heard by the board… we will act on issues raised despite the fact that we’re prevented from engaging.”

Assistant Clinical Professor Kira Stein, who chairs the JFrg at UCLA, told the Journal after public comment ended, “We had a huge turnout, we were the largest group of speakers … and we are mobilizing. We are serious about making a stand against antisemitism, the UC Regents saw this and it was very powerful.” She urged “the Jewish community at large to support us and to be involved and engaged and to help put pressure on the UC Regents to take antisemitism much more seriously and to enforce their own law and code of conduct when it comes to helping Jews be safe on campus.”

JFrg at UCLA Co-Chair Dr. Elina Veytsman, who is also the director of clinical services at the UCLA PEERS Clinic, called the Jewish faculty member’s remarks at public comment “a very strong show of unity and solidarity and strength among the Jewish community and it’s something that we haven’t had before Oct. 7 and we’ve all come together to stand up for the truth and also to combat the misinformation and the indoctrination that’s happening here on campus. It was really powerful to have somebody outside of UCLA, Rabbi Noah Farkas …  standing up for what’s going on here and it felt good to know that we have support from the Jewish community.”

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