California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Open Letter to the Los Angeles City Council

An Open Letter

 

From California Scholars for Academic Freedom

 

To the Los Angeles City Council

 

Council Members: Gilbert Cedillo, Paul Krekorian, Bob Blumenfield, Tom LaBonge, Paul Koretz, Nury Martinez, Felipe Fuentes, Bernard Parks, Curren D. Price, Jr., Herb J. Wesson, Jr., Mike Bonin, Mitchell Englander, Mitch O’Farrell, Jose Huizar, Joe Buscaino

 

 

June 2014

 

 

Dear Los Angeles City Council Representatives;

 

We write on behalf of California Scholars for Academic Freedom, an organization devoted to defending academic freedom and representing more than one hundred and fifty faculty at universities throughout California (cs4af),* to express strong opposition to Los Angeles City Council Resolution #14-0002-S67.   This resolution was presented by Bob Blumenfield and Nury Martinez on May 27, 2014 and has been referred to the Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee.  Resolution #14-0002-S67, hereafter referred to as the Blumenfield Resolution, is available in its entirety online [1].

 

The Blumenfield Resolution is an assault on free speech and academic freedom.  It comes in response to a student written pledge that candidates for student body elections at UCLA were asked to sign in Spring 2014.   Student activists who supported and circulated the pledge were concerned that off-campus groups would lobby student leaders and council members through free trips and other in-kind gifts as a means of buying loyalty and influencing student council votes.

 

The voluntary pledge asked UCLA student candidates to promise, while in office, not to “accept free or sponsored trips that marginalize communities on the UCLA campus. This includes any outside non-student organization that promotes discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, age, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, physical ability, mental ability, marital status, financial status or social status, or which engages in any form of systematic prejudiced oppression.”

 

Free trips to Israel funded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and Hasbara Fellowships were specifically identified in the pledge because, “as many students have experienced this year, AIPAC and ADL have political agendas that marginalize multiple communities on campus” and “Hasbara Fellowships is housed under Aish International, an organization which has helped disseminate Islamophobic materials on campuses and around the country. These materials portray the Muslim community as threats, have incited violence against Muslims, and serve to marginalize Muslim students on campus.”   Elaboration, justifications, and references were provided within the pledge statement (available online [2]), and are articulated in a separate document [3].  Of the approximately 30 candidates running for student body offices, 17 voluntarily signed the pledge,  and one of the pledge signers was elected UCLA student body president [4].

 

Responding to the controversy that inevitably ensues when Israel is criticized, UCLA Chancellor Block sent an email to the campus community in which he criticized the pledge, but also defended it as protected speech as follows [5]:

 

“Prior to the recent student elections, some student groups asked candidates to sign a pledge promising not to go on such trips. The pledge was not sanctioned, proposed or required by our current student government or the university administration. No one was barred from running for office, participating in the election or serving on the council as a result of not signing the pledge. Some students signed, others did not. Both signatories and non-signatories won offices. The decision to circulate this pledge and the choice to sign it or not fall squarely within the realm of free speech, and free speech is sacrosanct to any university campus.”

 

City Representative Bob Blumenfield is a former Chair of the Anti-Defamation League’s San Fernando Valley Chapter so it is not surprising that in its third paragraph, the Blumenfield Resolution describes AIPAC and ADL as “reputable non-profit organizations,” in sharp contrast to the student pledge document [1].  Following that, the Blumenfield Resolution makes the accusation, without any evidence, that “the [UCLA student] pledge request was part of a larger campaign which has used intimidation as a tactic.” To build its case, the Resolution also asserts:

 

“the pledge request did not concern a policy issue relevant to the University, but rather the legitimacy of the State of Israel — a democratic country that is a U.S. ally.”

 

The above accusation is remarkable for its shortsightedness and hypocrisy.  First, it ignores the freedoms guaranteed to students to express opinions about issues whether or not they relate to the University. Political speech, in particular, is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution and this protection is the foundation of academic freedom and democracy itself.  Second, the accusation is strikingly hypocritical because the Blumenfield Resolution itself has nothing to do with the City of Los Angeles and thus goes beyond the duties of the Los Angeles City Council.  Its purpose instead is to support the propaganda efforts of a foreign country.  Third,  there is nothing in the pledge that questions the legitimacy of Israel, but even if there was, the First Amendment guarantees students  that right.

 

The Blumenfield Resolution charges that the University does not go far enough to inhibit speech critical of Israel and further conflates and distorts the voluntary student pledge with “bullying,” “intimidation,” and “harassment” in this passage:

 

“comments by the UCLA and UC President indicate appropriate concern. they do not address serious underlying concerns related to bullying tactics intended to intimidate students with differing viewpoints and to protect students from harassment and personal, vengeful attacks;”

 

The Blumenfield Resolution then surmises from the above statement that, “additional action must be taken… to ensure that students are protected from bullying and harassment.”  Through these distortions the syllogism is completed with the final resolution that:

 

“the City of Los Angeles hereby includes in its 2013-2014 State Legislative Program support for administrative action by the University of California Board of Regents and President of the University of California to develop policies and institute practices that will be implemented at every University of California campus so that intimidation or harassment of any student not be tolerated and where appropriate referred to the proper law enforcement agencies.”

 

In short, the Blumenfield Resolution first mis-identifies the voluntary student pledge with “bullying,” “intimidation,” and “harassment.”  It then finds that the UC administration has taken insufficient steps to address those concerns, and then resolves that Los Angeles City Council will seek stronger measures so that this “intimidation or harassment” is not tolerated.

 

The Blumenfield Resolution is a transparent attempt to bypass constitutional protections of free speech in order to inhibit criticisms of Israeli policies and human rights violations.  California Scholars for Academic Freedom urges all Los Angeles City Council members in the strongest possible terms to vote against this misguided resolution.

 

References

 

[1] L.A. City Council Resolution Resolution #14-0002-S67

http://clkrep.lacity.org/onlinedocs/2014/14-0002-S67_RESO_05-27-14.pdf

 

[2] Joint Statement On USAC Ethics

http://www.sjpbruins.com/news–opinion/joint-statement-on-usac-ethics

 

[3] The Israel Lobby’s Use of Free Trips to Sway Student Government

http://www.sjpbruins.com/news–opinion/the-israel-lobbys-use-of-free-trips-to-sway-ucla-student-government

 

[4] Stances on Israel roil UCLA campus, Jason Song, Los Angeles Times, May 19, 2014

http://touch.latimes.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-80252752/

 

[5] UCLA Chancellor Block’s email http://www.standwithus.com/news/article.asp?id=3208

 

Endorsers, with Primary contacts indicated by (**)

 

Kevin B. Anderson

Professor of Sociology, Political Science, and Feminist Studies

University of California, Santa Barbara

kanderson@soc.ucsb.edu

 

Joel Beinin

Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History

Stanford University

beinin@stanford.edu

 

Eileen Boris

Hull Professor and Chair

Department of Feminist Studies

Professor of History and Black Studies

University of California, Santa Barbara

boris@femst.ucsb.edu

 

Judith Butler

Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature and Critical Theory

University of California, Berkeley

jpbutler@berkeley.edu

 

Samera Esmeir

Associate Professor

Department of Rhetoric

University of California, Berkeley

samera@berkeley.edu

 

Richard Falk

Research Professor, Orfalea Center

University of California, Santa Barbara

Milbank Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University

falk@global.ucsb.edu

 

Claudio Fogu

Associate Professor

French and Italian Studioes

University of California, Santa Barbara

cfogu@verizon.net

 

Aranye Fradenburg

Professor of English and Comparative Literature

University of California, Santa Barbara

lfraden@english.ucsb.edu

 

Gary Fields

University of California, San Diego

Department of Communication

gfields@ucsd.edu

 

Manzar Foroohar

History Professor

California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), San Luis Obispo

mforooha@calpoly.edu

 

Nancy Gallagher

Research Professor

Department of History

University of California, Santa Barbara

gallagher@history.ucsb.edu

 

Jess Ghannam

Clinical Professor

Department of Psychiatry, and Global Health Sciences

School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco

jess.ghannam@ucsf.edu

 

Larry Gross

Professor and Director

School of Communication

Vice Dean

Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism

University of Southern California

lpgross@asc.usc.edu

 

Sondra Hale**

Research Professor and Professor Emerita

Anthropology and Gender Studies

University of California, Los Angeles

sonhale@ucla.edu

 

Gail Hershatter

Distinguished Professor of History

University of California, Santa Cruz

gbhers@ucsc.edu

 

Suad Joseph

Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Women and Gender Studies

University of California, Davis

sjoseph@ucdavis.edu

 

Katherine King**

Professor of Comparative Literature,

University of California, Los Angeles

king@humnet.ucla.edu

 

David Klein**

Professor of Mathematics

Director, Climate Science Program

California State University, Northridge

david.klein@csun.edu

 

Dennis Kortheuer, Ph. D.

Department of History

California State University, Long Beach

Dennis.Kortheuer@csulb.edu

 

Rose Marie Kuhn

Professor of French

California State University, Fresno

rkuhn@cvip.net

 

Mark LeVine

Department of History

University of California, Irvine

mlevine@uci.edu

 

David Lloyd

Department of English

University of California, Riverside

david.lloyd@ucr.edu

 

Saree Makdisi**

Professor of English Literature

University of California, Los Angeles

sareemakdisi@me.com

 

Flagg Miller

Professor of Religious Studies

University of California, Davis

fmiller@ucdavis.edu

 

Helene Moglen

Professor Emerita, Literature

University of California, Santa Cruz

moglen@ucsc.edu

 

Kathleen M. Moore, Professor and Chair

Religious Studies Department

Affiliated faculty, Law and Society

University of California, Santa Barbara

kmoore@religion.ucsb.edu

 

Ahlam Muhtaseb, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Communication Studies

California State University, San Bernardino

amuhtase@csusb.edu

 

Gabriel Piterberg**

Professor of History

Director of the Gustav von Grunebaum Center for Near East Studies

University of California, Los Angeles

gabip@history.ucla.edu

 

Ismail K. Poonawala**

Professor of Arabic & Islamic Studies

University of California, Los Angeles

ismailp@gmail.com

 

James Quesada, Ph.D.

Professor and Chair

Department of Anthropology

San Francisco State University

jquesada@sfsu.edu

 

Rush Rehm

Professor, Theater and Performance Studies, and Classics

Artistic Director, Stanford Repertory Theater (SRT, formerly Stanford Summer Theater)

mrehm@stanford.edu

 

Craig Reinarman

Professor of Sociology and Legal Studies

University of California, Santa Cruz

craigr@ucsc.edu

 

Vida Samiian

Dean, College of Arts and Humanities

California State University, Fresno

vidas@csufresno.edu

 

David Shorter**

Associate Professor and Vice Chair

World Arts and Cultures/Dance

University of California, Los Angeles

shorter@ucla.edu

 

Judith Stevenson, Phd Anthropology

Director, Peace and Social Justice Program

Assistant Professor, Department of Human Development

California State University, Long Beach

judith.stevenson@csulb.edu

 

Stephen Zunes

Professor of Politics and Coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies

University of San Francisco

zunes@usfca.edu

 

 

**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a group of nearly 200 academics who teach in 20 California institutions.  The group formed as a response to various violations of academic freedom that were arising from both the post-9/11/2001 climate of civil rights violations and the increasing  attacks on progressive educators by neo-conservatives. Many attacks have been aimed at scholars of Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern descent or at scholars researching and teaching about the Middle East, Arab and Muslim communities.  Our goal of protecting California Scholars based mainly in institutions of higher education has grown broader in scope to include threats to academic freedom across the United States, and where relevant, globally as well. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere.

 

June 18, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment