USC Faculty Call on University to Condemn Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies for Endorsing Anti-Israel Statement

Around 50 USC faculty members urged the university in an August 8 letter to denounce an anti-Israel statement endorsed by the Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies.
August 10, 2021
A statue of the school mascot, the Trojan, stands on the campus of the University of Southern California (USC) on March 6, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Around 50 USC faculty members urged the university in an August 8 letter to denounce an anti-Israel statement endorsed by the Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies.

The statement, titled “Gender Studies Departments In Solidarity With Palestinian Feminist Collective,” read: “We condemn the forced removal of Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, the raiding of the al-Aqsa mosque, the indiscriminate bombing of Gaza, one of the world’s most densely populated areas, and the de facto annexation of East Jerusalem, which by international law is illegally occupied territory.” It continued, “Israeli settlers, with the support of Israeli police and military forces, are taking over streets, invading homes, and brutalizing Palestinians. This right wing, ethnonationalist violence is often accompanied with the vile chant ‘Death to Arabs.’”

The statement went on to claim that the conflict is one-sided against the Palestinians, arguing that “Israel is using violent force, punitive bureaucracy, and the legal system to expel Palestinians from their rightful homes and to remove Palestinian people from their land. Israeli law systematically discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel. Illegal Israeli settlements choke and police Palestinian communities, and Palestinians are cut off from each other by a network of checkpoints, laws, settler-only highways, and a separation wall that swallows illegally occupied Palestinian land. Both Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem have concluded that Israeli policies and practices towards Palestinians amount to apartheid.”

Additionally, the statement argued that “Palestine Is a Feminist Issue” and called for an “end of Israel’s military occupation of Palestine and for the Palestinian right to return to their homes.”

The letter to USC’s leadership, which included Nobel Laureates and members of national and international academies of science and engineering, stated that the “Palestinian Feminist Collective” statement was “inflammatory and misleading” and is “cruelly alienating to many students, staff, and faculty, who are members of the USC community.” “The Statement … contains extreme, indeed fabricated, claims that criminalize the very creation of the State of Israel and, by implication, indict all its citizens and supporters, including us. Not doing so, would make USC complicit in comments within the Statement that describe the State of Israel as ‘settler colonialism,’ ‘ethnonationalist violence,’ ‘ongoing ethnic cleansing,’ and ‘apartheid.’ If USC’s implicit support stands, many Jewish students and others who believe in Israel’s right to exist will be reluctant to attend our university.”

The faculty members added that Jewish and pro-Israel students who sign up for classes in the Gender Studies Department “might now expect … that they are not welcome as peers and that their academic careers will be harmed because of their beliefs or identity.”

“In the wake of the Rose Ritch affair, we have been promised that a series of activities will be implemented to improve our campus climate,” they wrote, referencing how in August 2020 Ritch resigned from USC’s student government after facing harassment on social media for being a Zionist. “We were hoping to see educational activities that aim to combat zionophobia and antisemitism, as well as other forms of hate and discrimination, to reaffirm our commitment to tolerance and inclusion, and to enable discussion of controversial issues in a respectful environment. We are still waiting for concrete actions from the administration.”

The letter concluded with a call to condemn the statement signed by the department and to “take immediate concrete steps to prevent identity-based discrimination and harassment before students arrive on campus.”

Judea Pearl, Chancellor Professor of Computer Science at UCLA, National Academy of Sciences member and Daniel Pearl Foundation President, said in a statement to the Journal, “This new phenomenon—departments endorsing political pledges that have nothing to do with their educational or research mission—is spreading across the country like brush fire, and is threatening higher education at its core. The fire has intensified to the point where it is no longer raging among students; it is now among key professors who take it personally as unaccepted climate of harassments.

“We are witnessing the collapse of higher education, while university administrators let it happen, hoping for the fire to subside on its own, once they reaffirm their century old ‘commitment to fight antisemitism’; namely a license for inaction embraced by some Jewish leadership on campus.”

USC Chemistry Professor Anna Krylov, one of the signatories of the letter, told the Journal that the letter was sparked in part by the lack of action from the university since Ritch’s resignation; Krylov pointed out that in October 2020, the university held a 75-minute panel on antisemitism but spent only seven minutes discussing what had happened to Ritch.

She added that it is “completely unacceptable” for university departments to make political statements on behalf of the department’s students and faculty members. “People that do not agree with the statement do not really have power to distance themselves or protest [it].” Krylov said that they haven’t heard back from the university since the letter.

Jerry Coyne, a biologist at the University of Chicago, echoed Krylov’s concern in an August 10 blog post. “Surely not everyone in these many departments throughout the US share the histrionics about Israel. But, if they dissent, what can they do? Their dissenting views are lumped together with the opposite views of their colleagues. What this does is chill the speech of the dissenters. What grad student, undergraduate student, or untenured professor in these departments would dare take a stand against their department as a whole?”

The university and the department did not respond to the Journal’s requests for comment by publication time.

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