December 12, 2018

UCLA grads team to fight on-campus anti-Semitism

A pair of UCLA alumnae have founded a local chapter of Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF), part of a national organization dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism on college campuses and promoting dialogue regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict.

It officially got its start in November, but it wasn’t until January that founders Joyce Craig and Michele Gendelman began a formal membership drive, highlighted by a letter that went out to a group made up mostly of alumni.

“We’ve joined a national effort that shares our goals: to address the continuing deterioration of civil discourse at UCLA and the pattern of intimidation leveled against students — whether pro-Israel or neutral — by pro-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) and anti-Semitic factions,” the letter stated.

“Our collective and generous support of UCLA attests to our commitment to protect and preserve its reputation,” it also said. “Your voice along with ours will have significance to the Administration, and help to preserve civil discourse to our campus. There is strength in numbers. And, there is strength in alumni dollars.”

Craig declined to disclose how many people have joined the group, but she said in addition to registered UCLA alumni, university faculty, staff and parents of students are being accepted. Its goal is to work in collaboration with the student-run pro-Israel groups that are already doing “wonderful work” on campus, she added.

For Craig, a 1984 UCLA Law School graduate, the need for such an organization became apparent after the UC Davis chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi was vandalized with
swastikas in early 2015. At the time, Craig had two sons living in the Jewish fraternity
house, and one of them was a prominent Jewish leader on campus who served as a UC Davis senator fighting BDS initiatives
on campus.

An attorney mediator specializing in complex family and legacy disputes, Craig began looking into anti-Semitic activities on the campus of her alma mater, where she said she became aware of a rise in hate speech and anti-Semitism. A turning point for her was the much-publicized incident involving former UCLA Graduate Students Association President Milan Chatterjee, who alleged he was bullied by pro-BDS forces in 2015 after offering funding for a Diversity Caucus event on the condition that it not take a position on BDS.

Gendelman, a film and television writing professor at Los Angeles City College who lives in Sherman Oaks and graduated from UCLA in 1979, agreed that the climate on campus is volatile. They knew other alumni had similar concerns.

“While we knew alumni and donors had access to the chancellor and had brought concerns individually or in small groups, we learned that alumni were not formally organized,” Craig said.

That brought them to ACF, a New York-based nonprofit with 17 chapters associated with colleges across the country, including UC Davis, UC Berkeley and UC Riverside. The group works in partnership with the pro-Israel organization StandWithUs.

In one of the UCLA chapter’s first actions, members met with UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Jerry Kang to express a desire to work with the administration and outline intended discussion topics for the future. Craig, who was not at the meeting, said these include how the university will draw the line distinguishing between adherence to the language of the Principles Against Intolerance adopted by the UC regents and protection of students’ free speech rights.

Craig and Gendelman said they hope to help prepare and host an open town-hall discussion forum with Block, Kang, their designees and students. Per their offices, Block and Kang were unavailable to offer comment for this story.

While still in its infancy, ACF-UCLA heads coordinated with student leaders on campus to plan actions leading up to a Nov. 30 campus visit by Pink Floyd musician Roger Waters, an outspoken backer of BDS. Rogers attended a UCLA screening of “The Occupation of American Minds,” a documentary that claims to expose “Israel’s public relations war with the world. That screening was hosted by the Students for Justice in Palestine movement.

“In our view, that was a very good outcome wholly managed by students,” Craig said. “ACF’s ultimate goal is to organize and mobilize, to educate alumni and support UCLA’s administration, while being careful not to eclipse the most valued role of students in managing their campus.”

Gendelman feels strongly that the mobilization of alumni networks is vital toward efforts to curb anti-Semitic sentiments and anti-Israel incidents on campus be-cause of its outside perspective on campus affairs.

“Unlike students, who often feel pressured by peers, and professors alike and who have fear regarding grade reprisal, or professors who fear job or reputation reprisals, and unlike administrators who must cultivate relationships with current and prospective donors, alumni can offer an independent voice,” she said.