California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Letter to Zwischenzeit Editorial Board re William I. Robinson

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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January 23, 2017

To:  Zwischenzeit Editorial Board

From: California Scholars for Academic Freedom

We write on behalf of the California Scholars for Academic Freedom** to express deep concern over what appears to be your editorial board’s violation of the free speech rights of Professor William I. Robinson.

Professor Robinson has made available to us his ongoing correspondence with Zwischenzeit editor Dennis Firmansyah from November 14 of 2016 to January 5 of 2017.  According to this correspondence, on November 14, Mr. Firmansyah contacted Professor Robinson on behalf of the Zwischenzeit editorial board to request an interview on the topic of the election of Donald Trump and its wider international implications.  Professor Robinson agreed to proceed with the interview and received a list of interview questions from Mr. Firmansyah on November 15, which he answered and submitted to Zwischenzeit on December 4.  On December 6, Mr. Firmansyah wrote to Professor Robinson acknowledging receipt of the interview and confirming it would be translated into German and published the following week.

The interview, however, had still not been published by the end of December.  In response to Professor Robinson’s December 29 query regarding the delay in publication, Mr. Firmansyah stated in a January 2 email letter that Zwischenzeit had declined to publish the interview.  While the editorial decisions of media outlets would not in themselves concern California Scholars for Academic Freedom, in this instance it appears that the decision not to publish the interview with Professor Robinson was based solely on his scholarship and political views as expressed elsewhere and not in the interview itself.

Mr. Firmansyah stated in his January 2 email letter to Professor Robinson that Zwischenzeit decided not to publish the interview because in it Professor Robinson references Israeli settlements in Palestine and uses the settlements as an example of 21st century fascism and of “the creation of green zones.”  Mr. Firmansyah goes on to state in his letter that the interview would not be published because “it is highly controversial to mention concentration camps in the same paragraph of a text with Israeli settlements and Israeli apartheid.”

We have examined the interview that you conducted with Professor Robinson and we can find no mention whatsoever of green zones or concentration camps in Israel or of Israeli apartheid.  It would appear that Mr. Firmansyah, justified the decision to censor Professor Robinson based on writings that Professor Robinson has published elsewhere.  It suggests that subsequent to the interview the Zwischenzeit editorial board researched Professor Robinson’s scholarly publications which are readily available on-line, some of which make reference to Israeli apartheid, the occupation of Palestinian territory, and what he refers to as “green zones” in the occupied territories.  But these matters are not the subject of the interview and are never mentioned in the interview.

The implication here is that you have blacklisted Professor Robinson because of his views on Israel/Palestine independent of, and unrelated to, the interview that you conducted with him.  In reviewing the explanation you provided to Professor Robinson for censoring him we can find no other explanation as to why you would refuse to publish the interview after you requested it of him.  We are particularly concerned because the matter goes beyond free speech.  If your justification for failing to publish the interview is Professor Robinson’s views on Israel/Palestine as expressed elsewhere then you are, in effect, silencing him because of his political views.

We believe that Zwischenzeit’s decision to silence Professor Robinson violates the magazine’s own mission statement.  You state on your website, “Just as we do not understand ourselves as the mouthpiece of any political organization or person, we try to connect and generate discussion with each other over a broad range of opinions among those who suffer from society.  Above all we always try to listen to all those who participate in society’s happenings and to include them in our reporting.” It would thus appear that the editorial board’s refusal to publish Professor Robinson’s solicited interview is self-censorship, a bowing to efforts to stop criticism of the Israeli government.

 

Was it fear of criticism that prompted your refusal to publish? Was the board’s consciousness that it lacked the courage of its convictions responsible for your discourteous failure to notify Professor Robinson of its change of mind?

As scholars devoted to the full enjoyment of academic freedom and to the free speech rights of its members, and of all members of the university community, we call on Zwischenzeit to rescind its decision to censor Professor Robinson and to publish the interview that you requested of him.

Contact Persons:

Manzar Foroohar, Professor of History, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. maforooha@calpoly.edu

Sondra Hale, Professor Emerita, University of California, Los Angeles. sonhale@ucla.edu

Vida Samiian, Professor of Linguistics & Dean Emerita, CSU Fresno. vidas@csufresno.edu

Lisa Rofel, Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz. lrofel@usc.edu

 

**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.

January 24, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Letter to UCI Vice-Provost Haynes in response to his report titled “Higher Ground”

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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Dear Vice Provost Haynes,

We write on behalf of California Scholars for Academic Freedom** to express our concern with the report you released titled, “Higher Ground.”

The report creates an impression of significant and disproportionate levels of anti-Jewish sentiment at UCI without providing evidence to support this contention. Moreover, it singles out anti-Semitism as a bias or prejudice against Jews, while ignoring entirely the bias and prejudice against other groups on campus, including Muslims and Arabs. Despite the apparent pains taken to avoid conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism and “anti-Israel” sentiments and behavior, the report does just this by emphasizing alleged bias and prejudice against Jews above—and, indeed, to the exclusion—of all other types of prejudice on the campus.

The problem starts at the very beginning of the document with “reports of a growing number and variety of anti-Semitic incidents,” without describing what they are or, even more importantly, what anti-Semitism is understood to be by the report’s authors. Nor does the report mention that the Regents’ statement received significant criticism from scholars and professional organizations, both for its content and the fact that there was little evidence that Jewish members of the UC community are subject to any greater bias than other protected groups. In fact, the very question that this report seeks to address, namely “Is our campus commitment to inclusive excellence capacious enough to do more to improve the climate for all students, including Jewish students?” (our emphasis) betrays a biased concern with the experience of one single group, Jewish students, which is singled out for special consideration even while the report itself indicates that groups such as “African American males and transgender students” experienced an equal or even higher degree of disrespect from their peers, as evidenced by the 2013 Undergraduate Experience Survey. These biased premises undermine the legitimacy of this report; but the damage to its credibility is compounded by several of the specific claims it makes.

The UCI report alleges that “over three-quarters of Jewish students at UCI had heard negative or stereotypical views about religions from other students.” It also declares, that the number of students reporting that faculty and staff had “express[ed] negative views” about religion had almost doubled between 2010 and 2014. Compounded to the fact that the report does not specify at all what constitute a “stereotypical” or “negative” view about “religions” we are entirely at a loss in comprehending why the opinions of a specific group of students, Jewish students in this case, should bear on a question pertaining to the general category of religion as such and not to the particular one of Jewish religion that might have justified singling out this group for analysis.

Deriving from both the biased premises of your report and those of the “UC Regents Principles Against Intolerance,” which conflate anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, are another set of very troubling statements. On p. 2 the report explains: “Far more complicated but no less real are the consequences arising from political disagreements regarding the relationship of Israel to Palestinians. For Jewish students who closely identify with Israel as a Jewish state, constitutionally protected events in which the policies of the state of Israel are vigorously criticized can be deeply offensive.”

If these are constitutionally protected views and opinions, then how and why should Jewish students be protected from them? What is the line between criticism of Israel, however upsetting, and anti-Jewish sentiments? Thus in the next sentence the report continues, “Invited speakers or sponsored exhibitions have made outrageous one-to-one comparisons between the policies of the state of Israel towards Palestinians to those of Nazi Germany which sought to liquidate European Jewry through genocidal violence.” To begin with, the report does not explain when and how often these comparisons have been made. Equally, it does not recognize that such comparisons are not just made by anti-Jewish speakers against Israel, but have also been made by Israeli and Diaspora Jewish critics, including Holocaust survivors, who also have supported BDS activities that are also considered potential evidence of anti-Jewish prejudice.

In the final section on proposed actions, the report calls for “develop[ing] and adopt[ing] an Inclusive Excellence Index” including “address[ing] anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment.” The term “anti-Israel” is never defined.  Are all criticisms of Israel to be banned? Here we see explicitly how difficult if not impossible it is even for well-meaning administrators to adjudicate debates about the Israeli occupation and the movements to seek social justice for Palestinians under that occupation.

We find troubling the total absence of any discussion about the fear and actual experiences of prejudice and bias by Arab and Muslim students, who have been singled out for monitoring, investigation and punishment even when they are acting within the law. We need look no further than the May 18, 2016 protests organized by a coalition of campus groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Black Lives Matter, against the sponsoring of a pro-IDF film, “Under the Helmets.” The next day, UCI Chancellor Gillman sent a strongly worded letter condemning the protests, accusing students of “crossing the line of civility” based entirely on hearsay and without any investigation of the events. The UCI police opened an investigation, which was ultimately forwarded to the Orange County DA, despite the police declaring repeatedly that they had seen no illegal behavior, and despite five monitors from the National Lawyers Guild being present to document the event and reaching the same conclusion. Troublingly, the Chancellor remained completely silent when the OC DA issued its finding that there was no evidence of wrong-doing and a final report was released from the Office of Student conduct that found no violations of UCI’s own rules of protest other than being too loud.

The recommendations section of your report betrays the same imbalance of attention as the rest of the document. It calls for developing “regular annual programming” that focuses “specifically” on anti-Semitism, and anti-Zionism that “crosses the line” but nothing on anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian bias that is experienced by students from these communities on a regular basis. Indeed, we could find no evidence to support the claim that Jewish students, faculty or staff at UCI suffer any significant bias or discrimination at UCI. Yearly reports from the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity do not offer any breakdown that includes Jewish, anti-Semitic, or Israel as categories, and the claims of bias or discrimination based on “religion,” the only category that seems relevant to this report, constitute only between 3-8% of the total number of complaints made each year, or about 2-5 students for the whole campus (judging by the data presented in the reports, most of those allegations were ultimately proved unfounded).

The system-wide UC Campus Climate Survey section on UCI similarly does not offer evidence of disproportionate bias or prejudice against Jewish students, faculty and staff as described in your report. Specifically, as documented on p. 64 of the report, 75 percent of Jewish students declared they were either comfortable or very comfortable with the environment on campus. The same holds for the comfort level of Jewish students, staff and faculty in their departments or other work, study and research units, as documented on p. 65-66 (see also p. 88).

The very end of the report betrays the clear conflation between criticisms of Israel and anti-Semitism. Point number 4 calls to “establish faculty chairs in academic units dedicated to: the study of Israel, understanding bigotry, religion and religious tolerance.” To begin with the call for an Israel Studies chair is linked directly and epistemologically to “understanding bigotry,” and religious “intolerance,” and not to the intellectual, academic and programmatic merits of such a chair as determined by members of the Academic Senate through their departments and schools.

As scholars devoted to the fullest enjoyment of academic freedom by all members of the University—students, professors, and staff, and members of every ethnicity, religion, political or other identifiable group—we support vigorous efforts by universities to ensure that all groups are treated equally and that all cases of bias and prejudice are thoroughly examined and addressed in the strongest possible measure. However, this report does not demonstrate a level of anti-Jewish sentiments at UCI that requires specific attention, while it ignores the clear cases of institutional bias and far greater attacks on campus against other groups, including groups whom the report puts into inherent conflict with Jewish students, such as Palestinian and Muslim students. Finally, we point out again that in light of the Trump victory and the documented rise in actions of hate and bias against a host of minority groups (Arabs and Muslims, Latinos and Mexicans, LGBTQ and Jews as well) it has encouraged, we strongly believe a report such as this, focused entirely on one group for which there is very little evidence of repeated bias, will exacerbate rather than heal tensions at the UCI and other campuses.

We therefore call on you to withdraw the report, pending a far more complete documentation of cases of bias and prejudice against Jews, and inclusion of other groups at UCI who face at least the same if not greater levels of discrimination.

Sincerely,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact Persons:

Professor Lisa Rofel,

Department of Anthropology

University of California, Santa Cruz

LROFEL@ucsc.edu

Professor Sondra Hale,

Research Professor and Professor Emerita, Departments of Anthropology and Gender Studies

University of California, Los Angeles

sonhale@ucla.edu

Professor Rei Terada,

Department of Comparative Literature

Director of Graduate Studies, Comparative Literature

Core Faculty, Ph.D. Program in Culture & Theory

University of California, Irvine

terada@uci.edu

**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR FREEDOM is a group of more than 200

academics who teach in 20 California institutions of higher education. The group formed as a response to rash violations of academic freedom that were arising from both the 9/11/2001 climate of civil rights violation and to the increasing attacks on progressive educators by neoconservatives. Many attacks were 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 and students 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.

Cc: Chancellor Howard Gillman <chancellor@uci.edu>

Exective Vice Chancellor Enrique Lavernia provost@uci.edu

Academic Senate Chair William Parker, Chair chair@uci.edu

December 1, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

CS4AF Post-Election Position Statement

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

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November 16, 2016 Press Release

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

POST-ELECTION POSITION STATEMENT

 

As part of our mission to defend the deep values and ethics of California institutions of higher education, especially academic freedom, free speech, and freedom of association, we members of California Scholars for Academic Freedom **–200 faculty from twenty universities and colleges– stand united against acts of hate, and bigotry which have already been directed at our students and colleagues in the wake of a polarizing presidential campaign.  Such acts threaten our mission as educators in institutions committed to the betterment of our global society through teaching, research, learning, and the dissemination of new knowledge. 

We will support and defend the rights of the most vulnerable among us. We have seen firsthand the anxiety and fear generated in those deliberately targeted by electioneering rhetoric and who are now victims of hate in its wake: members of our community who are undocumented, people of color, LGBTQ people, Muslims and other religious minorities (the rise of anti-Semitism, for example), immigrants, the differently abled, women, and political activists on the Left. We will do everything in our power to lessen this climate of fear and mitigate its chilling effect on academic freedom both on and off campus. 

As activist educators, we commit ourselves to doing everything we can to nurture an environment that is inclusive and respectful of diversity in all its forms — in our classrooms, our offices, on campus, and in the scholarly community.  We will take action where and when necessary to defend the academic freedom, free speech and right of association of our students and colleagues. 

In Solidarity,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom 

Contact Persons:

Manzar Foroohar, Professor, History

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

mforooha@calpoly.edu 

 

Nancy Gallagher

Research Professor of History and Professor Emerita

University of California, Santa Barbara

negallagher9@gmail.com 

 Sondra Hale

Research Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies

         and Professor Emerita

University of California, Los Angeles

sonhale@ucla.edu 

 Katherine King, Professor of Comparative Literature and Classics 

University of California, Los Angeles

king@humnet.ucla.edu

 Lisa Rofel, Professor of Anthropology

University of California, Santa Cruz

lisarofel@gmail.com  

 

**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM (CS4AF) is a group of some 200 scholars from over 20 institutions of higher education 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.

November 17, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment