The AMCHA Initiative, a grassroots coalition dedicated to protecting Jewish students on university campuses, particularly throughout the University of California system, recently launched its new website to serve as a resource for anyone who cares for the well-being of Jewish students. However, the AMCHA Initiative has already come under fire from the very people who maintain the unacceptable status quo. Daniel M. Dooley, senior vice president of external relations for the Office of the President at the University of California, recently criticized the AMCHA Initiative for being “outdated and completely uninformed.” The following is a response to Mr. Dooley’s aspersions by the AMCHA Initiative’s co-founders, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, lecturer at UC Santa Cruz, and Leila Beckwith, professor emeritus at UC Los Angles.
Dear Mr. Dooley,
We are faculty at the University of California and co-founders of the AMCHA Initiative, a grassroots coalition of thousands of members of the California Jewish community, who are concerned with the serious and growing problem of anti-Jewish bigotry at the University of California. The AMCHA Initiative comprises UC alumni, parents, grandparents, rabbis, religious school principals, synagogue members, etc., who have joined together to speak in one voice, demanding that UC administrators ensure the safety of our Jewish students on UC campuses.
In your response to a member of the AMCHA Initiative (forwarded below), you impugn our coalition’s efforts, saying that they are based on “outdated information,” and that we are “completely uninformed.” Presumably as evidence of the UC administration’s efforts to address the intimidation and harassment of Jewish students, you mention President Mark Yudof’s “campus climate initiative,” the “Olive Tree Initiative,” and the “aggressive position in prosecuting abusive and intolerant behavior” taken by the UC Chancellors with the support of President Yudof.
I would like to respond to each of the points you have raised in turn:
1) The President’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion was established in June 2010 by President Yudof in response to acts of intolerance and bigotry that had taken place on UC campuses earlier that year. In theory, these included numerous incidents of anti-Jewish bigotry, which had created a hostile environment for many Jewish students: the appearance of several swastikas; the malicious disruption of Jewish students’ events; the virulently anti-Israel divestment campaigns which sought to harm the Jewish state; and the “Israel Apartheid Week” events, which included rhetoric and imagery considered antisemitic by the U.S. State Department.
By any objective measure, Jewish students have experienced at least as much harassment and intimidation on UC campuses as any other ethnic group. Yet both in terms of the Advisory Council’s stated mission and the composition of its membership, it was clear to many in the Jewish community that the problem of anti-Jewish bigotry would not receive the attention it deserved. In fact, President Yudof established working groups within the Advisory Council, which were primarily focused on the concerns of African American, Latino, and gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered students; Jewish students and antisemitic harassment were not a specific focus of any working group, despite the fact that anti-Jewish bigotry has been a long-standing, pervasive, and serious problem on many UC campuses. Indeed, a review of more than 600 pages of documents pursuant to a public records request of materials related to the deliberations of the Advisory Council during the 2010 – 2011 academic year revealed that there was virtually no discussion of acts of anti-Jewish bigotry.
2) You have described the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI) in very benign terms, as “a Jewish/Muslim student led dialogue on issues of mutual concerns…with a trip to the Middle East and a publication of essays of their experiences.” However, it has recently been revealed that this program exposes students to numerous individuals who participate in campaigns to harm the Jewish state and have called for its elimination, some of whom even have ties to terrorist organizations that have murdered Jews.
For example, on the 2009 OTI trip to the Middle East, the students met with Aziz Duwaik, a leader of the terrorist organization Hamas, whose stated goal is to destroy Israel and murder Jews. They were told by the UCI faculty who organized the meeting and accompanied the students to keep the meeting secret. Not only did the meeting and collusion to silence the students possibly violate both Israeli and American law, but meeting with a known terrorist leader, who was imprisoned 3 times by Israeli authorities for engaging in terrorist activities, exposed students to considerable danger. Although the meeting with a Hamas leader was made known to UCI Chancellor Drake by October 2009, the chancellor nevertheless did not shut the OTI down. Rather, he continued to fund the program, and even gave it the 2009 Living Our Values award a few weeks later. Indeed, even President Yudof directed a non-profit organization on whose board he sits to donate thousands of dollars to the OTI and bestowed on the program the President’s Award in 2010. (See HERE and HERE for two recent articles about the OTI at the University of California).
Members of the California Jewish community are appalled that UC administrators continue to fund, promote, and honor a program which brings students into contact with individuals and organizations that call for the murder of Jews and the elimination of the Jewish state.
3) You wrote that the Chancellors “have taken an aggressive position in prosecuting abusive and intolerant behavior,” but members of the Jewish community have seen no signs of that with respect to abusive and intolerant behavior directed against Jewish students. In fact, UC administrators have even been implicated in some of this behavior. Consider the following:
• In October 2010, we sent UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau a letter expressing our concern that an authorized unit of UCB’s College of Letters and Sciences was an official co-sponsor of an event whose primary focus was promoting a boycott of Israeli academics and businesses, and whose speakers and non-academic co-sponsors had all promoted campaigns to harm the Jewish state. We pointed out that anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaigns are not only a violation of the core principals of academic freedom and antisemitic according to the working definition adopted by the U.S. State Department, but these campaigns had already contributed significantly to a hostile environment for Jewish students at UCB. We respectfully asked Chancellor Birgeneau to sever the university’s involvement with this event and publicly condemn the BDS campaign on his campus. Chancellor Birgeneau refused our requests.
• In May 2010, the Israel Apartheid Week event presented by the Muslim Students Association (MSA) at UCSD, which was replete with speakers, exhibits and imagery that demonized and delegitimized Israel and her supporters, was sponsored by 18 academic departments and administrative units on that campus. (Dr. Jorge Mariscal, a UCSD professor of literature, gave a glowing testimonial of the event, writing on the MSA’s website that he had rarely seen “a more sophisticated and tempered demonstration of activism.” Interestingly, soon after writing this Professor Mariscal was appointed to the President’s Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion). This year, the UCSD-MSA’s “Israel Apartheid Week,” which included a 60-foot long “Apartheid Wall” and speakers well-known for their antisemitic rhetoric, was sponsored by UCSD’s Cross Cultural Center and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs.
• In June 2011, a few weeks after the UC Irvine Muslim Student Union presented their week of events demonizing Israel and featuring speakers who advocate boycotting and eliminating the Jewish state, that organization was given an award for ”demonstrating a commitment to transforming structures of inequality and injustices through reflection and action” by the UCI Office of the Dean of Students.
• In June 2011, an event entitled “Teach-in on Islamophobia” took place at UCSC, organized and co-sponsored by two academic units and several student groups, including the UCSC Muslim Student Association and the Olive Tree Initiative. The speakers at the event, who were well-known for their anti-Israel animus and activism, blamed the Jews for Islamophobia and used language that demonized the Jewish state and Jews. A large table set up at the event contained materials advertising and promoting the U.S. Boat to Gaza, one of the boats participating in the “Freedom Flotilla II,” whose organizers had ties to terrorist organizations including Hamas. Sitting at the table and handing out a personal letter encouraging students to endorse the U.S. Boat to Gaza was a UCSC college administrator, who was to be among the passengers on the boat. In response to a letter sent to UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal by the Zionist Organization of America, which raised serious and legitimate concerns about the event, UCSC Counsel Carole Rossi defended the faculty and administrators who organized the event, and showed no concern at all for its anti-Jewish content or the effect it would have on Jewish students.
These examples show that UC administrators not only ignore intolerant and abusive behavior directed against Jewish students, they also condone, award, and even engage in it.
4) Finally, we hope you can see that the information upon which the AMCHA Initiative has based its campaign is not at all “out-dated,” nor are we “completely uninformed.” Sadly, your false characterization of us, and your unwillingness to fairly consider our concerns or their importance to the California Jewish community, suggests a dismissiveness and lack of sensitivity that many of us find deeply disturbing.
Please understand that the Jewish community of California will not remain silent while Jewish students are being harassed and intimidated on UC campuses. We hope that you and all other UC administrators will commit yourselves to addressing the problem of anti-Jewish bigotry forthrightly, publicly, and immediately.
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, Lecturer, University of California at Santa Cruz [email protected]
Leila Beckwith, Professor Emeritus, University of California at Los Angeles [email protected]
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