August 25, 2019

ADL, UCLA Hillel Call on UCLA to Issue a ‘More Full-Throated Response’ to Anti-Israel, Anti-Semitic Incidents

Photo from Flickr.

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Los Angeles Regional Director Amanda Susskind and UCLA Hillel called on UCLA to better protect Jewish students on campus in light of recent incidents.

In a Monday letter to the UCLA administration, UCLA Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Aaron Lerner along with Susskind wrote that “the time has come to call for a more full-throated response” from the university due to “the sheer number of reported incidents” of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism on campus.

“On campus, the repetition of aggressive, ill-informed and often academically devoid anti-Israel bias has created a highly-volatile, and at times vulnerable, atmosphere for Zionist and Jewish students,” Lerner and Susskind wrote. “Off campus, it has also created a perception in the community, among alumni, and across the nation that UCLA has failed to provide an environment where it is safe to be Zionist or Jewish.”

Lerner and Susskind highlighted such incidents over the past five years, which included “a 2014 campaign to discredit two student council members who participated in Jewish organization-sponsored missions to Israel and subsequently voted against a BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] resolution” as well as pro-Palestinian protesters disrupting a May 2018 Students Supporting Israel event. Lerner and Susskind also cited San Francisco State University Professor Rabab Abdulhadi calling Israel-supporters white supremacists during a May 14 guest lecture at UCLA as an example.

“It is important to note that we cherish the value of academic freedom in universities—including when it comes to international politics and, more specifically, the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Lerner and Susskind wrote. “It is predicated on the idea that professors can teach, and students can learn, without other forces interfering in the process, limiting the pursuit of ideas. However, with academic freedom also comes academic responsibility.”

They added, “The 2016 UC Regents Principles Against Intolerance, in referencing ‘anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism,’ make clear an ugly reality: the demonization of Israel, and of Jews and others supportive of Israel, contributes greatly to the rise of anti-Semitic acts on campus and elsewhere.  Taken together, the May 14 guest lecture and the other reported and unreported incidents highlight the need for proactive measures at UCLA.”

Lerner and Susskind then called on the university to clearly delineate “academic freedom from bigotry and political activism” and to provide training to all UCLA faculty and students regarding “the history of anti-Semitism, the overlap between anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism, and the impact of each on the Zionist and Jewish students.”

Lerner and Susskind’s letter comes after UCLA’s Academic Freedom Committee concluded on May 29 that Anthropology Professor Kyeyoung Park had every right to bring Abdulhadi for a guest lecture, even if students found it “objectionable.” Judea Pearl, chancellor professor of computer science at UCLA, National Academy of Sciences member and Daniel Pearl Foundation president, told the Journal in a statement, “I welcome the statement of my colleagues on the UCLA Academic Freedom Committee, in which they support professors’ freedom to invite speakers as they deem academically appropriate. This is indeed a cherished freedom that I have enjoyed in my fifty years as a professor at UCLA. I therefore hope that the committee will join me in protecting another principle that academic freedom entails: setting the norms for an academic climate conducive to learning and to civil discourse.”

He pointed out that UCLA’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion’s website states that “the university is best served when its leaders challenge speech and action reflecting bias, stereotypes, and/or intolerance.” 

“In this spirit of responsible leadership I therefore call upon Jerry Kang, Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, to challenge the biased and intolerant speech of the guest lecturer, Rabab Abdulhadi, and the anti-diversity words she uttered on May 14, 2019,” Pearl said. “In particular, VC Kang should ask Abdulhadi to apologize to the thousands of students and faculty at UCLA who are devout Zionists, whom she labeled ‘white supremacists.’Many of these Bruins,’ VC Kang should emphasize, ‘are tireless champions of human rights, social justice and peaceful co-existence, who see the creation of Israel  as the culmination of Jewish history, hence as an important part of their collective identity… it is disrespectful of you to make such sweeping, reckless and incriminating accusations against hard-working members of your hosting university, in front of a class of students who assumed you had factual, if not authoritative knowledge of the subject matter.’”

Pearl added, “Post-lecture condemnations are not uncommon at UCLA nor at other universities. On February 14, 2018, for example, following the cancelation of [far-right pundit] Milos Yiannopoulos’ lecture, and based on the speaker’s reputation as anti-Mexican, UCLA Chancellor Eugene Block issued a condemnation stating: ‘This kind of tactic and his rhetoric are totally contrary to our values.’ UCLA students and faculty, I among them, are entitled to know whether Abdulhadi’s tactics and rhetoric are not contrary to our values.”

UCLA’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion has a whole section on their website dedicated to the May 14 guest lecture.

The university did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment.