California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Letter to the West Hollywood City Council in protest of their cancellation of a screening of the documentary “1948: Creation and Catastrophe”

  CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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December 6, 2018

Dear West Hollywood City Council Members,

We write as representatives of California Scholars for Academic Freedom*, a group of over two hundred academics and intellectuals with a commitment to defend academic freedom and first amendment rights of faculty and students who teach and do research in California’s institutions of higher education. This includes their free speech rights in venues beyond the academy.

We write to protest your cancellation of Professor Ahlam Muhtaseb’s documentary, “1948: Creation and Catastrophe,” which is a deeply researched film based on a great deal of scholarship. Professor Muhtaseb is a highly regarded expert in media and communication studies.   Professor Muhtaseb’s documentary has been shown at various national and international events, including the Arizona International Film Festival. It was nominated for an Al Ard XV Film Festival Award in Italy.

Your cancellation of her film is nothing less than censorship.  You have caved in to pressure from those members of the Jewish community who have actively suppressed any criticism of Israel and its egregious human rights violations with regard to Palestinians. 

The letter sent to you by Rabbi Denise Eger is libelous slander.  Rabbi Eger bases her slander on the Canary Mission website, an organization that is infamous for its suppression of free speech and academic freedom. 

Canary Mission’s website asserts that its goal is to “document people and groups that promote hatred of the USA, Israel and Jews on North American college campuses.”  This is grossly disingenuous in two ways—Canary Mission reports on individuals and groups that are critical of the policies of the State of Israel.  They expansively exploit the recent adoption of the US State Department’s definition of “anti-Semitism,” which includes speech critical of Israel. This definition has been robustly challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union and a number of Jewish groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace.  Even the author of this definition​ KennethStern has made it clear that it was invented for entirely different purposes, and has urged that it not be applied on university campuses, saying that it will cause more harm than good. 

As the Jewish periodical The Forward reports:

Canary Mission has been controversial since it appeared in mid-2015, drawing comparisons to a McCarthyite blacklist. While some of those listed on the site are prominent activists, others are students who attended a single event, or even student government representatives suspected of voting for resolutions that are critical of Israel.

Besides employing a dangerously broad sense of “hatred of the USA, Israel, and Jews,” Canary Mission’s “documentation” has proven to be seriously faulty and distortive.  It selectively picks out bits of information and repackages them to create a purposefully misleading portrait of the individual or organization it is targeting.  It has done so under the cover of anonymity, unable or unwilling to support and debate its accusations in public.

Rabbi Eger sent you false information on Professor Muhtaseb by copying from the Canary Mission website. Rabbi Eger thus furthers these McCarthyite tactics.  Her letter is based on the idea that no criticism of Israel should be allowed. Her letter conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.  Your actions thus also further these McCarthyite tactics. 

You should be aware, if you are not already, that there is a wide coalition of Americans of all ethnicities, sexual orientations and gender identities who support Palestinian rights, including a large majority of Jews.  Rabbi Eger’s and your tactics of suppression remind us all too painfully of how difficult it was for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people to have their voices heard, and who continue to this day to struggle against homophobia and transphobia. 

Academic freedom in our world today needs to be defended well beyond the boundaries of higher education campuses.  The City of West Hollywood should be leading on these grounds rather than caving in to slander.

We demand that you reinstate the showing of Professor Muhtaseb’s film without any conditions like false “balance” that amount to censorship.

On behalf of California Scholars for Academic Freedom,

Professor Emeritus Lisa Rofel,

Department of Anthropology

University of California, Santa Cruz

Co-coordinator, California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Professor Vida Samiian,

Professor of Linguistics and Dean Emerita

California State University, Fresno

Co-coordinator, California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Professor Susan Slyomovics

Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Near Eastern Languages & Cultures

University of California, Los Angeles

Professor Emerita Nancy Gallagher

Department of History

University of California, Santa Barbara

*CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM (cs4af) is a group of over 200 scholars who defend academic freedom, the right of shared governance, and the First Amendment rights of faculty and students in the academy and beyond. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere. California Scholars for Academic Freedom investigates legislative and administrative infringements on freedom of speech and assembly, and it raises the consciousness of politicians, university regents and administrators, faculty, students and the public at large through open letters, press releases, petitions, statements, and articles.

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December 7, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Letter to UC President Napolitano and CSU Chancellor White re Diller Foundation support for Canary Mission, Infamous for its Suppression of Free Speech and Academic Freedom, While the President of the Board of the Foundation Sits on the Board of Visitors of the University of California

  

image.jpgimage-2.jpgCALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

                      

October 11, 2018

President Janet Napolitano: President@UCOP.edu

Chancellor Timothy White: twhite@calstate.edu

Dear President Napolitano and Chancellor White:

We write as representatives of California Scholars for Academic Freedom*, a group of over two hundred academics and intellectuals with a commitment to defend academic freedom and first amendment rights of faculty and students in California’s institutions of higher education.

We are deeply concerned that the University of California has been linked to a group, the Diller Foundation, that has provided financial support for an organization that is infamous for its suppression of free speech and academic freedom on American campuses—Canary Mission.

Canary Mission’s website asserts that its goal is to “document people and groups that promote hatred of the USA, Israel and Jews on North American college campuses.”  This is grossly disingenuous in two ways—Canary Mission reports on individuals and groups that are critical of the policies of the State of Israel.  They expansively exploit the recent adoption of the US State Department’s definition of “anti-Semitism,” which includes speech critical of Israel. This definition has been robustly challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union and a number of Jewish groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace.  Even the author of this definition has made it clear that it was invented for entirely different purposes and has urged that it not be applied on university campuses, saying that it will cause more harm than good.

As the Jewish periodical The Forward reports:

Canary Mission has been controversial since it appeared in mid-2015, drawing comparisons to a McCarthyite blacklist. While some of those listed on the site are prominent activists, others are students who attended a single event, or even student government representatives suspected of voting for resolutions that are critical of Israel.

Besides employing a dangerously broad sense of “hatred of the USA, Israel, and Jews,” Canary Mission’s “documentation” has proven to be seriously faulty and distortive.  It selectively picks out bits of information and repackages them to create a purposefully misleading portrait of the individual or organization it is targeting.  It has done so under the cover of anonymity, unable or unwilling to support and debate its accusations in public.

Of even more concern is the fact that Canary Mission expressly seeks to damage the career prospects of its targets, which include a large number of students and professors at the UC and CSU campuses.  It has smeared its targets and actively sought to defame them to prospective employers. This is a very real threat that has a devastating effect on students’ and professors’ free speech and academic freedom. Already we are aware of students whose job searches have been hampered or whose plans for study or travel to Palestine and Israel have been denied because of the defamation they received on Canary Mission’s website.

It has recently been revealed that Canary Mission’s funding, heretofore kept secret, includes several prominent Jewish groups, one of which immediately has severed connections.  

As The Forward notes: “In late 2016 or early 2017, the Helen Diller Family Foundation earmarked $100,000 for Canary Mission. It made the donation to the Central Fund of Israel, a New York-based charity that serves as a conduit for U.S. taxpayers seeking to make tax-exempt donations to right-wing and extremist groups in Israel. In its tax filings, the Diller Foundation listed the purpose of the grant as “CANARY MISSION FOR MEGAMOT SHALOM.”

Given the Diller Foundation’s financial support for an organization whose purpose is to stifle free speech and academic freedom, it should not be associated in any way with the University of California. Yet the president of the board of this Foundation, real estate developer Jaclyn Safier, sits on the Board of Visitors of the University of California, Berkeley, and is a director of a foundation that supports the University of California, San Francisco. There appears to be a stark conflict of interest in Ms. Safier’s connections with both the Diller Foundation and the University of California. 

We would like to arrange a meeting with you to discuss possible remedies for this clearly unethical relationship and means to protect our students and colleagues from this kind of defamatory and tendentious smearing.

We look forward to your response,

Contact persons for cs4af:

David Palumbo-Liu

Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor

Comparative Literature and, by courtesy, English

Stanford University palboliu@stanford.edu

Lisa Rofel

Professor Emeritus of Anthropology

Co-Director, Center for Emerging Worlds

University of California, Santa Cruz

Co-coordinator, California Scholars for Academic Freedom

lrofel@ucsc.edu

Vida Samiian

Professor Emeritus of Linguistics

California State University, Fresno

Co-coordinator, California Scholars for Academic Freedom

vidas@mail.fresnostate.edu

The letter has the consent of our full membership. Below is a short list of signatories from UC and some CSU campuses, many of whom have been targeted by Canary Mission:

Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi

Director and Senior Scholar

Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies (AMED)

San Francisco State University

Hatem Bazian

Professor of Islamic Law, Zaytuna College

Lecturer Department of Ethnic Studies

University of California, Berkeley

Carole H. Browner

Distinguished Research Professor

Center for Culture and Health

Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior

Departments of Anthropology and Gender Studies

University of California, Los Angeles

Alessandro De Giorgi

Professor, Department of Justice Studies

San Jose State University

Hilal Elver

Research Professor

Orfalea Center for Global Studies

University of California, Santa Barbara

Richard Falk

Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law,

Princeton University;

Research Fellow, Orfalea Center for Global Studies

University of California Santa Barbara

Keith Feldman

Associate Professor

Department of Ethnic Studies

University of California, Berkeley

Gary Fields

Professor of Communication

University of California San Diego​​

Manzar Foroohar

Professor Emeritus of History and Middle East Studies

California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo

Claudio Fogu

Director of Italian Program

Department of French and Italian -Comparative Literature 

University of California, Santa Barbara

Jess Ghannam

Clinical Professor

Department of Psychiatry, and

Global Health Sciences, School of Medicine

University of California, San Francisco

Sondra Hale

Professor Emeritus and Research Professor

Department of Anthropology

University of California, Los Angeles

Suad Joseph

Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Women and Gender Studies

University of California, Davis

Former President of Middle East Studies Association of North America

Sang Hea Kil, 

Associate Professor  

Department of Justice Studies

San Jose State University

Dennis Kortheuer

Emeritus faculty in History

CSU Long Beach

Mark Andrew LeVine

Professor of History and Middle East Studies

University of California, Irvine

David Lloyd

Distinguished Professor of English

University of California, Riverside

Brooke Lober

Adjunct Faculty in Women’s Studies

Department of Women’s and Gender Studies

Sonoma State University

Shahla Razavi

Professor Emeritus of Mathematics

Mt. San Jacinto College

Kamala Visweswaran

Professor of Ethnic Studies

University of California, San Diego

*CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM (cs4af) is a group of over 200 scholars who defend academic freedom, the right of shared governance, and the First Amendment rights of faculty and students in the academy and beyond. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere. California Scholars for Academic Freedom investigates legislative and administrative infringements on freedom of speech and assembly, and it raises the consciousness of politicians, university regents and administrators, faculty, students and the public at large through open letters, press releases, petitions, statements, and articles.

October 13, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Letter to UC President Napolitano and CSU Chancellor White re future decisions about how to allocate $1.2 million included in their budgets for anti-bias training at UC and CSU

  CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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October 1, 2018

President Janet Napolitano

Office of the President

University of California

president@ucop.edu

Chancellor Tim White

Office of the Chancellor

California State University

twhite@calstate.edu

Dear UC President Napolitano and CSU Chancellor White,

The California Scholars for Academic Freedom, a group of over 200 members, ** write with grave concern about the future decisions about how to allocate the $1.2 million dollars that the California state legislature included in their budget for anti-bias training at UC and CSU.  This decision should be public and transparent. Given that UC and CSU are public universities, we, who are members of these institutions, should be given the opportunity to take part in this decision-making process by responding to a public Request for Proposals (RFP).  

We are especially concerned that any part of these funds might go to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). As demonstrated during the recent Starbucks controversy, ADL is unqualified for this role because it has placed its commitment to “Stand Up For Israel” above its original mission to fight anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry. It has thereby lost the trust of communities of color and social justice activists.

 

ADL is itself biased against advocates for Palestinian rights, and has a history of inflaming conflict by targeting Palestinians, Muslims and social justice activists.  The debate over Israel-Palestine, like other great moral issues of our time, has been a source of contention on campuses. It engages many different student populations, including Palestinians and other Arab people, Jewish people of various viewpoints, Muslims and communities of color who identify their struggles with that of the Palestinian people.

ADL is a staunch partisan in the fray, falsely casting those who are critical of Israel’s policies as anti-Semitic and supportive of terrorism. In this pursuit, ADL has over the years carried out mass surveillance of American Arabs and Muslims and many social justice groups including the ACLU, Asian Law Caucus, NAACP, New Jewish Agenda and the United Farm Workers.  It lent support to high-profile anti-Muslim initiatives following 9/11, including opposition to the construction of Islamic cultural centers and mosques, and the smear campaign against the principal of the country’s first English-Arabic public school.

An organization such as the ADL that champions exchanges between our local law enforcement and a country where soldiers and police are known for their grievous abuses against a population that is literally under occupation should not be in charge of training California universities on “how to best respond to hate and intergroup conflict on campus.”

The proposal that ADL should lead an anti-bias training on our campuses is another effort to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. The previous UC President, Mark Yudof, hired the ADL to write a report on anti-Semitism on UC campuses. The ADL conflated criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism in that report. It did not follow any of the accepted procedures for social science research, refusing to explain how it got its information and excluding the voices of Jewish, Arab, and Palestinian faculty and students who opposed this conflation and are critical of Israel. The one and only conclusion of that report was: censorship. The ADL frankly and explicitly recommended that the UC suppress criticism of Israel. This recommendation obviously goes against the very basis of a university, which is academic freedom. 

Given the severe problems we face in California at this moment concerning the status of our DACA students, the anti-immigration policies and Muslim Ban emanating from the White House, and the Islamophobia and racism against our African American, Muslim and Latino students, we have a responsibility as public educators to address these myriad problems and not allow the ADL to hijack the agenda with their spurious conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. 

We expect to hear when there will be time scheduled for you to accept public comments on this funding allocation and when you will put out a RFP. 

Sincerely,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact persons:

Professor Lisa Rofel,

Professor Emeritus and Research Professor

Department of Anthropology

University of California, Santa Cruz

LROFEL@ucsc.edu

Professor Sang Hea Kil

Associate Professor
“Justice” Studies Department
San José State University

Sang.kil@sjsu.edu

Professor Jess Ghannam

Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and

Global Health Sciences

University of California San Francisco

School of Medicine

Jess.ghannam@ucsf.edu

Dennis Kortheuer

Lecturer emeritus

California State University, Long Beach

Dennis.kortheuer@csulb.edu​​

Margaret Ferguson

Distinguished Professor 

Department of English

University of California, Davis

mwferguson@ucdavis.edu

** CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM (cs4af) is a group of scholars who defend academic freedom, the right of shared governance, and the First Amendment rights of faculty and students in the academy and beyond. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere. California Scholars for Academic Freedom investigates legislative and administrative infringements on freedom of speech and assembly, and it raises the consciousness of politicians, university regents and administrators, faculty, students and the public at large through open letters, press releases, petitions, statements, and articles.

October 3, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment