November 13, 2019

UCLA: No place for Jews?

UCLA Chancellor Block’s assertion that BDS ‘isn’t going to be sustained' on this campus’ has never appeared to be anything but lip service as UCLA succumbs to a virulent form of anti-Semitism that has a Hindu in its cross-hairs.

UCLA Graduate Law Student Milan Chatterjee was betrayed by UCLA, and that betrayal is moving like the Zika virus through UCLA’s active Jewish student population. Unlike Zika, this virus is selective and based solely on religious and social affiliation.  Although UCLA holds the antidote, they seem hesitant to use it.

At this point you may be scratching your head, and trying to figure out if ‘Chatterjee’ is a Jewish name.  It’s not.  Milan is Indian.  Milan is a Hindu.  Milan is as Jewish as the Maharishi is Irish – yet he is suffering the same fate as Jewish students who find themselves up against Students for Justice in Palestine and a cause that SJP champions called ‘BDS’.  This ‘movement’ urges foundations, corporations, educational institutions and individuals to ‘Boycott, Divest and Sanction’ Israel in retribution for the Palestinian conflict in that country.

[RELATED: UCLA as a place of thriving Jewish life]

Milan’s betrayal is a lesson in the adage that ‘no good deed goes unpunished’, and ironically, his betrayal is the harbinger for what is happening to Jewish students on campus, and has ultimately resulted in his being driven from UCLA – pilloried for his accidental involvement with a scurrilous, anti-Semitic movement that not only criticizes policy, but attacks opponents viciously.

At the time of his betrayal, Milan was President of UCLA’s Graduate Student’s Association (GSA), an organization that although part of the Associated Students of UCLA, works independently when it comes to its own rules and procedures.  In October of 2015, Milan received a direct funding request for a Town Hall event by a member of the UCLA student organization, Diversity Caucus (DC) – what appears to be, among other things, a front for the BDS Movement.  

The request seemed to be more about sponsorship for what may seem a hidden agenda, as DC did not go through the proper channels for funding.  It went straight to Milan, and demanded a $2,000 bequest knowing full well that the limit on such grants was $800. The request was nonetheless granted, with the stipulation that the GSA would not be funding any event organized by or actively connected with “Divest from Israel or any related movement/organization.” Knowing that some of the more rabid BDS supporters are known to go for the jugular by confronting and challenging Jewish students, GSA did not want to sponsor ‘a position that will alienate a significant portion of students.”

Milan made it explicitly clear to the Diversity Caucus representative through a phone call, in-person meeting, and email that this stipulation equally applied to advocates both for and against the BDS movement.  What’s fair is fair, and there was a concerted effort to avoid a situation that pitted student against student, for whatever cause.

The Diversity Caucus representative accepted the stipulation—in writing—without any objection. The town hall event was successfully held on November 5, 2015, and throwing caution to the wind, both sides of the BDS issue attended.  That should have been the end of the story, with maybe a thank-you note the only punctuation needed to end the event.

This however is where Milan’s nightmare began.  Instead of a thank you note, Milan was reprimanded by UCLA.  Reprimanded?  Strike that.  He was sanctioned, and made a scapegoat for the failings of UCLA to take a stand against hate speak.  

The hypocrisy of UCLA’s position was elevated in a letter dated February 9, 2016, L. Amy Blum, Interim Vice Chancellor of Legal Affairs stated “University policy requires student governments to allocate mandatory student fee funds on a viewpoint neutral basis.”  If that was University policy, it should have ended there.

It didn’t.

Soon after the event, Milan began to be hassled, bullied and harassed by SJP and the BDS movement. They enlisted Palestine Legal and the ACLU to launch a vicious PR attack against Milan, where they falsely accused him of engaging in “viewpoint discrimination.” Erwin Chemerinsky, one of America’s leading constitutional law scholars, and the American Center for Law and Justice, thoroughly debunked this accusation.  

Logic and thoughtful jurisprudence had no effect.  The fuse was lit, and Milan was handed a device that UCLA alone could disarm.  The campus’ Jewish community waited.

In the ensuing days, both SJP and pro-BDS activists launched several attempts to get Milan removed as GSA President, though they were not successful. Moreover, they enlisted pro-BDS blogs and publications to publish defamatory articles about Milan. SJP and pro-BDS activists also circulated a petition around the UCLA campus, and visited all the graduate school councils, where they continued to make defamatory accusations about Milan.

There was no way that the GSA cabinet was going to get involved in this, and in taking a step back, Milan fell over the cowering form of UCLA Chancellor Block, who scurried away and hid while Milan was pilloried in what became a public shaming.  It looks like the DC and SJP got their BDS face-off after all, on the back of a person whose only crime was assisting in getting a so-called diversity event funded.

In what seems a huge misapplication of UCLA policy, that states that even ‘chancellors shall adopt campus implementing regulations consistent with these policies’ – there was nothing coming in way of support of Milan or the Jewish students being affected by SJP and pro-BDS activists.  Chancellor Block’s voice was conspicuously silent, and was taken as tacit approval of BDS and its goals.

Facing a vicious, nine-month long campaign of attacks, Milan rapidly became the poster boy for religious oppression.  The irony that he’s not even close to being Jewish only shows that the tentacles of hate tend to wrap around anyone that crosses BDS.  

UCLA has suffered a history of anti-Semitism that lately has reached a fever pitch of hate and hypocrisy.  Led by a movement that would rather see a child die than provide life saving treatments courtesy of Israeli technology, the BDS’ers have provided Chancellor Block with a poetic double standard.  Had this been a group that went after a visible minority, they would have been quickly and rightly dispatched. Not so with BDS who only seems to direct their ire almost exclusively at pro-Israel and most likely Jewish, mostly white students.   It is that double standard that threatens every Jewish student on campus.

It was just a year ago that UCLA’s Student Council challenged undergraduate Rachel Beyda a seat on its Judicial Board based solely on her religion.  Rachel was Jewish.  Citing concerns that Rachel’s religion might affect her decision making abilities, the active practice of anti-Semitism became transparent, and — though she was eventually seated– it was clear it was infecting the upper echelons of UCLA student government.

Chancellor Block claimed in an articlel in the Jewish Journal that BDS ‘isn’t going to be sustained on this campus’.  He was right.  BDS is not merely sustained.  BDS is nurtured and fertilized by the silence of Chancellor Block and the UCLA hierarchy that can sound the alarm.

UCLA isn’t the only campus in the UC system whose Jewish community is at Defcon 2.  During a screening of the Israeli Defense Forces documentary “Beneath the Helmet’ at UC Irvine, a Jewish student was corralled and 10 UCI students were threatened by Students for Justice in Palestine.  A statement issued by The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (LDB) recognized that what was happening at UC Irvine and at UCLA with Milan “suggests a pattern in which Jewish and non-Jewish students are under assault.”

Think back in history when Jews and those who spoke out in sympathy to their plight were publicly chastised.  This isn’t Weimar, Germany. This is Westwood, California.  

While Milan continued to be digitally drawn and quartered in leaked documents and furtive e-mails, UCLA again found themselves defending hate-speak to the detriment of Jewish students.

Lisa Marie Mendez is a UCLA Student who was employed at the UCLA Medical Center.  Lisa’s connection to Jews and cultural empathy was on full display in a Facebook rant.  In response to a pro-Israel post by Jewish actress Mayim Bialick, Lisa went off on a racial rant that focused on ‘fucking Zionist pigs’.  Not satisfied to leave it at that, Lisa left the following literary gem:  

Fucking Jews.  GTFOH with all your Zionist bullshit.  Crazy ass fucking troglodyte albino monsters of cultural destruction.  Fucking Jews.  GTFOH with your whiny bullshit.  Give the Palestinians back their land, go back to Poland or whatever freezer-state you’re from, and realize that faith does not constitute race.

In an effort to sound as lame as they could, UCLA issued a response as if this was a First Amendment issue.  It was more than that.

Mendez crossed a line that defined the level of care that a Jewish patient of UCLA Health could expect.  It doesn’t matter if Mendez was an anesthesiologist or if she sold fish sticks in the cafeteria – her white hot anti-Semitism was most certainly expressed at work, and probably to friends who shared her ignorance.  Regardless of her position, she created a hostile environment for Jewish patients and doctors.  

What was Chancellor Block’s response?  There was none.  

“He’s a wimp” complained a leading Jewish religious figure in Los Angeles.

The official response came from Josh Samuels, who was Mendez’s boss. In a mincing, apologetic attempt to support his employee, Samuels offered this:

“We must also keep in mind that the University cannot control the activities of individuals in their personal lives when not acting on behalf of the University, and that the First Amendment protects individual’s private speech, however reprehensible the University finds it.”

Dr. John Mazziotta, the Vice Chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences and CEO of UCLA Health System offered little more.

“The post absolutely does not represent the values of our health system or the believes of our campus community.  It displays insensitivity and ignorance of the history and racial diversity of the Jewish people and a lack of empathy.”

That’s it?  That’s his response to a racist rant that left no expletive unturned?  Would the response be the same had the author taken down African Americans, or Asians, or Muslims?

The double standard in practice at UCLA endangers every Jewish student.  

What do students think?  I asked a Jewish student if he ever felt ‘challenged’ by BDS:

“In one word, YES.”  The perception is that if you speak out against BDS, the backlash can threaten your education.  “They go after individuals to scare them from being vocal.”  Another student said ‘We feel attacked, constantly.”

And what of Milan Chatterjee?   Every day seems to bring more swipes at his personality and more attempts to destroy his reputation.

“I’m very disappointed that Chancellor Block and his administration did not provide me with any of the necessary support or guidance to overcome the harassment and bullying by BDS,” Milan said in a conversation that I had with him.

Milan has found support, and ironically it comes from one of the groups that he was neutral towards in the town hall event. The Jewish and Pro-Israel community has reached out to Milan.  As BDS attempts to destroy Milan, groups like the American Jewish Committee, Stand With Us, The American Center for Law and Justice, The Lawfare Project, the Zionist Organization of America, and the multi-cultural Israel Christian Nexus have embraced Milan and welcomed him with open arms into their communities.

As UCLA turns away from their responsibility to provide a safe environment for Jewish students, they continue to punish Milan.  Chancellor Block’s silence is deafening.  The potential for harm to Jewish students increases every day that this hate speech is not addressed.

Milan Chatterjee is a brave man who took a stand against taking a stand.  He will be paying for that decision for a long time.  If there is anything positive in this charade, it is the realization that anti-Semitism is a virulent form of hate that masquerades as social reform.  BDS is anti-Semitism.  Milan Chatterjee needn’t be Jewish to experience anti-Semitism.

Richard Stellar is the Co-Founder and COO of The Bestemming Project, Inc.


This opinion column was edited and updated September 3, 2016.