Letter to SDSU President Hirshman re response to hateful posters from the Horowitz Freedom Center
CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM
November 3, 2016
President Elliot Hirshman
San Diego State University
San Diego, CA
Dear President Hirshman,
The California Scholars for Academic Freedom**, a group of over 200 academics from different California institutions of higher education focused on protecting academic freedom and freedom of expression, is writing to express our deep concerns regarding your response to hateful posters created by the Horowitz Freedom Center (HFC) targeting Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). The posters were found plastered across San Diego State University (SDSU) on October 7, 2016.
This is not an isolated incident as it was only six months ago when HFC posters emerged on your campus, singling out and accusing members of SJP and the Muslim Students Association (MSA) of being implicated with anti-Semitic and terrorist groups. This ongoing pattern of harassment and incitement by HFC against SJP and MSA demands serious and urgent attention, not least because of the way it creates a hostile environment that affects Muslim students specifically, while at the same time undermining the free exchange of ideas and viewpoints, and compromising educational goals.
The posters are part of a wider campaign orchestrated by a network of outside, non-academic groups that use public smear campaigns to suppress any criticism of Israeli state policies and advocacy for Palestinian rights. David Horowitz, the founder of the HFC, has defiantly stated that the latest posters mark the launching of a new nationwide campaign intended to advance those goals (http://www.stopthejewhatredoncampus.org/news/images-freedom-center-posters-targeting-hamas-and-bds-supporters-fall-2016). It should be further noted that the Southern Poverty Law Center has named the HFC a leading hate group whose goal is to spread hatred against Islam and Muslims, a finding corroborated in research by UC Berkeley’s Center for Race and Gender and the Council on American Islamic Relations.
Last semester, your inadequate response to the Horowitz posters evoked a strong reaction by SDSU students, faculty, and staff who were justifiably concerned and disappointed that your administration had refused to defend students against defamatory and harmful allegations against them. What you did instead, under the guise of deferring to the freedom of speech, served implicitly to defend the slander and harassment of those who perpetrated the attacks. The outcry from within your campus community reverberated far and wide, resulting in letters and statements released by a number of individuals and organizations amplifying the voices of the SDSU community. We wrote to you in June to express our shared concerns, and urged you to recognize the outsider campaign of harassment and to address the broader threats to fundamental rights of academic freedom and freedom of expression arising from the incident. We emphasized the need to distinguish protected from unprotected speech, and thereby to recognize that the Horowitz posters are not merely offensive. Their design and dissemination carries the explicitly stated goal of silencing speech through tactics of intimidation and harassment.
Your response to the latest round of posters has demonstrated the continued complacency of your administration in the face of increasingly aggressive fear-mongering tactics deployed by the HFC. We find troubling that the justification for your response appears to rest on a biased and sanitized representation of the Horowitz posters as a variation of “free speech,” thus revealing a systematic attempt to dismiss the malignant intentions of the HFC campaign. This can be noted in your statement released campus-wide in which you describe the posters as being critical of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, while leaving out any mention whatsoever of the hateful and bigoted claims made against SJP, and against students who were identified by name. It follows that it is insufficient to assert that “the naming of students is intentionally inflammatory” without explicitly specifying the allegations brought against the students who were named. This glaring omission conveniently elides the fact that the posters are not merely inflammatory. They are defamatory and harmful. We also note that while you acknowledge the repetition of the incident, it is equally important to name the perpetrating outsider institution that bears responsibility. Otherwise the implication is that these are random and isolated events.
We are deeply concerned by the manner in which the narrow and selective inclusion of the material facts provided in your statement obscures and downplays the serious nature and purpose of the HFC campaign. Even more problematically, your statement suggests that your administration endorses the distorted and perverse claim that equates the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement with anti-Semitism and the support of terrorism. The suppression of relevant information — and the apparent bias this reveals — is disconcerting, to say the least, especially given that it forms the basis from which you offer the anodyne conclusion that the posters do “not advance productive campus dialogue” while reaffirming the rights of all parties to voice their positions on political issues.”
Accordingly, we call upon you, President Hirshman, and your administration to reaffirm your commitment to the core values of academic freedom and free speech, which you have assured us are the cornerstone of the academic community at SDSU, by enacting the following set of tangible measures:
- Reject the defamatory allegations against SJP as baseless and false.
- Affirm the SJP’s legitimacy and good standing of its membership.
- Name and denounce the perpetrator (HFC) of the vilification campaign intended to create a hostile environment for students from SJP and MSA.
Your students are engaged in and promote critical reflection and discussion on matters of public concern, drawing important attention to issues related to Israel-Palestine. They have demonstrated remarkable courage and perseverance as they have overcome hostile adversity with maturity, discipline, and moral purpose. Instead of passive indifference to the repeated hateful derogatory acts towards them, we insist that they should be actively supported and encouraged in their endeavors, and treated with the respect they deserve.
California Scholars for Academic Freedom
Professor, Department of History
California State University, Long Beach
Associate Professor,Department of French and Italian
University of California, Santa Barbara
Research Professor and Professor Emerita, Departments of Anthropology and Gender Studies
University of California, Los Angeles
** 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.
Cc: Eric Rivera, Vice President of Student Affairs, SDSU
Jamie Miller, President, Associated Students, SDSU
Marcie Bober-Michel, Chair of the University Senate, SDSU
Chancellor White, California State University
Loren Blanchard Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs, California State University
Christine Miller, Academic Senate Chair, California State University
Thomas Norman, Chair of the Faculty Affairs Committee, California State University
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