Parent of Sonoma State Jewish Student Blasts University’s Deal With Pro-Palestinian Encampment

University agreed to establish an “Advisory Council of Students for Justice in Palestine” and to “determine a course of action leading to divestment strategies.”
May 15, 2024
President Mike Lee with the Sonoma State mascot (Photo from Facebook)

Grant Gochin, whose son is a student at Sonoma State University (SSU), blasted the university’s recently announced deal with the pro-Palestinian encampment on campus in an interview with the Journal.

University President Ming-Tung “Mike” Lee announced in a May 14 community email that he had met with the members of the encampment earlier that day as well as on May 10 after senior administrators had listened to their demands. “None of us should be on the sidelines when human beings are subject to mass killing and destruction,” Lee said. “I have said this before and it merits repeating: There is no political, religious, or cultural principle that merits the murder of the innocent, and the one battle we should all be engaged in is the fight for inclusion, respect, and freedom for all people, regardless of their background or identity. I appreciated the civility and respect that centered our conversations, which opened the door to new ideas and opportunities.”

Lee proceeded to highlight the five aspects of the agreement. The first is the establishment of the Advisory Council of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which Lee described as “a collaboration between SJP and Sonoma State and will be composed of members from the encampment, faculty, staff, administrators, Palestinian alumni, and other interested students, as determined by Students for Justice in Palestine” that will be meeting regularly at the beginning of the following semester. Their meetings will be open to the public. The council will hold the university accountable to “all agreements,” according to Lee.

The university will also be investigating their investments and will “determine a course of action leading to divestment strategies that include seeking ethical alternatives” in a meeting with the SJP Advisory Council and university administrators. “SSU will post and disseminate a Disclosure Statement related to funding amounts, the use of funding, and conditions attached to funds,” Lee stated.

As part of the agreement, “SSU will not pursue or engage in any study abroad programs, faculty exchanges, or other formal collaborations that are sponsored by, or represent, the Israeli state academic and research institutions,” added Lee. “SSU also commits to immediately updating any SSU pamphlets and SSU-hosted websites that may still be circulating or searchable and to remove hosting or linking to any pamphlets, flyers, or brochures advertising the study abroad program where students are encouraged to study abroad in Israel. SSU will make it clear to any students that any such programs are terminated until further notice and not simply suspended. SSU remains committed to upholding principles of academic freedom and open scholarly exchange. As such, SSU welcomes opportunities to engage Palestinian scholars and students, as well as individual Israeli scholars acting in a personal capacity.”

Further, Lee announced that the university will be developing “curriculum and programming for Palestine Studies” and that he is calling for a ceasefire in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. “Both SSU Students for Justice in Palestine and I, President Mike Lee, oppose and condemn all acts of genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism, antisemitism, and other activities that violate fundamental human rights,” he stated. “And thus, I call for a ceasefire so that a process for permanent, peaceful resolution can be established.”

“They’ve clearly given into all the Hamas demands, putting the Hamas crowd in charge of the university program,” Gochin, who is based in Los Angeles, told the Journal. “It’s race-based, giving Palestinian students control. They’re going to teach Palestinian history and what exactly is that Palestinian history, who’s going to determine what is accurate and what is inaccurate? Are these universities now in the business of teaching propaganda or teaching facts?”

“They’ve clearly given into all the Hamas demands, putting the Hamas crowd in charge of the university program … It’s race-based, giving Palestinian students control.”- Grant Gochin

Gochin lambasted Lee’s statement as being “completely one-sided” and “a completely ideological response that isn’t based on fact … There was no insight to the Israeli side,” he contended. “Academic boycotts are illegal. It’s holding Israel to a completely different standard than any other country. The whole thing is completely outrageous.” He also argued that Lee’s statement violates Title VI and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and that Lee’s intellect “should be called into question.”

“If somebody is so easily duped by student groups when it’s already known that these are Hamas groups putting out this propaganda, this faculty’s intellect itself should be called into question,” Gochin added.

Gochin has spoken to lawyers on the matter, and while his son would not have standing to sue because he’s on the verge of graduating (May 15 is his final day on campus), “we will be looking for other litigants and I hope there is litigation.”

His son “puts his head down and doesn’t get involved in all this other stuff,” Gochin added.

State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) posted on X, “Yesterday the President of Sonoma State University aligned the campus with BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions], a movement whose goal is the destruction of Israel, home to 7M Jews. Several other UC & CSU campuses are doing this more subtly. Sonoma State simply said the quiet part out loud. The mask is off.”

The university is expected to release a statement on the matter later today.

UPDATE: Lee said in a statement to the campus community on the afternoon of May 15 that the May 14 statement was not approved by the usual CSU channels and that he is going on leave. He also apologized for the May 14 statement.

“My goal when meeting with students at the encampment was to explore opportunities to make meaningful change, identify common ground. and create a safe and inclusive campus for all,” Lee said. “I now realize that many of the statements I made in my campuswide message did just the opposite. In my attempt to find agreement with one group of students, I marginalized other members of our student population and community. I realize the harm that this has caused, and I take full ownership of it. I deeply regret the unintended consequences of my actions.

“I want to be clear: The message was drafted and sent without the approval of, or consultation with, the Chancellor or other system leaders,” he continued. “The points outlined in the message were mine alone, and do not represent the views of my colleagues or the CSU.”

Lee added: “As I step away on a leave, I will reflect on the harm this has caused and will be working with the Chancellor’s Office to determine next steps.”

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