California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Open Letter to Address Violations of the Right to Education and Academic Freedom of the People of Gaza

CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM

An Open Letter to Address

Violations of the Right to Education and Academic Freedom

of the People of Gaza

California Scholars for Academic Freedom,* an organization devoted to defending academic freedom and representing more than one hundred fifty faculty at universities and colleges throughout California, strongly condemns the ongoing Israeli government assault on Gaza. At this moment of temporary ceasefire, Israel’s assault has killed nearly1900 Palestinians, most of them civilians, including hundreds of children. Like all people of conscience, we deplore above all the loss of life and the injury to people, whether Palestinian or Israeli, and condemn unequivocally the conduct of warfare by any party in a manner that inevitably and willfully leads to the slaughter of innocent civilians.

As an organization of scholars, however, it is our mission to note that, as in previous assaults, the Israeli government has targeted schools and universities, including at least three United Nations facilities that were being used as shelters by civilians who had been forced out of their homes by Israeli military threats and had no other refuge.  Beyond these strikes, which the UN condemns as possible war crimes, at least 167 schools and six universities have been damaged by the month-long Israeli assault, including most recently the Islamic University of Gaza. While the Israeli government characteristically claims that these incidents were the result of the use of these schools by Hamas combatants or activists, or of the proximity of these facilities to active combat, no evidence has been produced to corroborate these claims, and the United Nations has documented its very numerous communications of its schools’ locations to the Israeli forces.  

We deplore these assaults both on civilians and on educational infrastructure in the ongoing Israeli government assault.  However, we equally condemn the continuous if less manifestly violent and destructive measures that the Israeli government has adopted against the basic educational rights of the Palestinian population of Gaza.  In the course of its blockade of Gaza since 2006, a blockade largely considered illegal under international law and expressly planned to reduce the entire civilian population to the most minimal levels of subsistence, Israel has not only denied essential construction materials for the rebuilding of educational institutions destroyed in its previous campaigns, but even prevented the importation of such basic educational supplies as pens and paper. Its act of sustained collective punishment also targets basic medical supplies, foodstuffs, and other necessities of life that inevitably affect the well-being of young people and children who form a very high proportion of the civilian population on whom this petty and vicious war of deprivation has been inflicted.

Furthermore, having so drastically curtailed the basic means to education, the Israeli government has denied to students in Gaza the right to travel in order to take up scholarships for study abroad or to continue their education at more advanced levels than Gazan institutions can offer by attending universities on the West Bank.  Those who attempt to do so are labeled infiltrators and risk arrest, deportation or even incarceration.  Israel has denied to faculty the right to travel to conferences or to do research on arbitrary grounds and generally infringed in a daily and systematic manner on fundamental rights to academic freedom.  

Nor has Gaza been the only area in which universities and schools have recently been occupied or targeted by Israeli forces. In the lead up to the current offensive, using what is now admitted to have been the mere pretext of the abduction of three settler youths, as reported by the Palestinian policy institute, Al-Shabaka, the Israeli army raided the campuses of five institutions of higher education, including Birzeit University near Ramallah, the Arab American University in Jenin, Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, and the Polytechnic University of Palestine in Hebron.  In the course of these raids, heavily armed Israeli soldiers attacked and arrested students, detained university guards, destroyed university property and equipment, and confiscated student organization materials. The Israeli army also raided and subsequently used the Palestine Ahliya University as a holding ground for detainees arrested during a separate raid of Dheisha Refugee Camp near Bethlehem. These assaults on educational institutions are not exceptional, but constitute a long-standing aspect of the Israeli government’s illegal occupation of the West Bank as well as Gaza.

This is the third time in five years that the Israeli government has unleashed its enormous military power, funded and supplied by the United States, on a sliver of land that houses nearly two million people who have no means of escape, whose most fundamental means to life, including water and power, have been steadily deteriorated, and whose homes have been systematically destroyed.  The current offensive on Gaza, in its apparently deliberate targeting of civilians, is the most extreme manifestation of the deprivation of the Palestinian people of Gaza of even the most fundamental rights to life.  But it is continuous with the Israeli government’s ongoing assault on the Palestinians’ ability to maintain their cultural and intellectual life also.  

In addition to the unspeakable violence of the last three weeks the military assault on a predominantly civilian population, and the great loss of life that this has entailed, we deplore and condemn the deleterious impact the blockade and the violence has had on educational opportunities for Palestinians.

We therefore urge our university and college presidents and our elected representatives to speak forthrightly against the Israeli government’s denial to Palestinians of educational facilities and opportunities by violence and blockade.  Many of them, with the pretext of defending academic freedom, have recently condemned non-violent efforts by academic associations and student organizations to boycott or divest from Israel’s academic or economic institutions.   To say nothing now in the face of Israel’s egregious destruction and invasion of educational facilities in Palestine is to condone a gross and ongoing humanitarian disaster and to be complicit in the continuing denial of fundamental freedoms, including academic freedoms, to a profoundly vulnerable civilian population.

Sincerely,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact persons:

Professor Larry Gross, School of Communication, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California, lpgross@asc.usc.edu

David Lloyd, Department of English, University of California, Riverside,

david.lloyd@ucr.edu

Ahlam Muhtaseb, Associate Professor, Communication Studies,

California State University, San Bernardino, AMuhtase@csusb.edu

*CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a group of over 150 professors at universities and colleges throughout California.  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.

August 9, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Letter to Assembly Member Shirley Weber and Campus Climate Committee

August 1, 2014

Assembly Member Shirley Weber, Ph.D.

Assembly Select Committee on Campus Climate hearings

State Capitol, Room 3126

Sacramento, CA  95814

To Assembly Member Shirley Weber and the Campus Climate Committee:

The California Scholars for Academic Freedom is writing to express our concern that your final hearings addressing racism on college campuses not be hijacked by false accusations that equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism and that call for infringement of academic freedom.  California Scholars for Academic Freedom is an organization devoted to defending academic freedom and representing more than one hundred and fifty faculty at universities throughout California.

We support and applaud the establishment of your committee in the wake of the blatant and shocking racism suffered by Mr. Williams that occurred on the San Jose State University campus when three white students placed a bike lock as a noose around Mr. Williams’s neck, after having bullied him for several weeks prior to that incident.

We are disturbed that the first hearings that were to address a broad range of racism on California college campuses were hijacked by Ms.Tammi Benjamin and her group, AMCHA.  Over the past ten years, Ms. Benjamin, in the name of her organization, has falsely accused both Arab and Jewish students and faculty of anti-Semitism whenever they address the Palestine/Israel conflict and whenever there are criticisms aired of Israel.  Ms. Benjamin, in the name of her organization, has brought three frivolous lawsuits against various California college campuses, accusing these campuses of having fostered anti-Semitism whenever they allow debates about the Palestine/Israel conflict to take place. AMCHA has wasted a great deal of taxpayers’ time and money with their relentless political cause that aims to silence and censor students and faculty rather than address true anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. Indeed, Palestinian, Muslim and Arab students and faculty have experienced AMCHA’s attacks as themselves a form of racism.  One of Ms. Benjamin’s speeches, which appears online, reflects a clear and unequivocal racist attack on Muslims.

We urge you to prevent the misuse of claims of racism and protect students and faculty from this virulent targeting.  We do so with a profound consciousness, reinforced by repeated instances, of the long-lasting damage and injury that frivolous but attention-grabbing accusations made by AMCHA and similar small but fanatical and well-funded organizations do to faculty and students, both psychologically and in terms of their capacity to function as students or professionals.  It is not only that  such complaints, however frivolous or trivial they may be, necessitate investigation and waste significant amounts of time for all parties involved—time that could be better spent dealing with more substantial issues relating to campus climate. It is also that they have an impact on individuals that extends far beyond the investigative process that is undertaken and resolved on campus.  We are aware of numerous cases in which the accusations leveled by AMCHA and similar groups have been found groundless and yet the accused faculty member continues to be harassed, denigrated and, in alarmingly frequent cases, threatened with violence. Such threats, often explicitly racist in their nature, usually are delivered anonymously, on websites or by email, and have the tendency of all such media to proliferate and to have an afterlife that continues long after the issue appears to be resolved.   This is clearly very damaging psychologically and materially affects the capacity of faculty to teach, to lead a normal life on campus, and to fulfill the pedagogical mission to which they are dedicated.

Unfortunately, the understandable administrative desire to accommodate all parties in such accusations, and to proceed with fairness, can give credence to baseless charges whose end it is to create a climate of fear around issues that the accusers would prefer not to be discussed openly and freely.  In our experience, faculty are best protected from harassment of this kind when university administrators clearly and unambiguously repudiate the charges and robustly defend their faculty.  Failure to do so leaves faculty vulnerable to continuing abuse and to potentially life-threatening incitement and constitutes a serious undermining of the climate of safety and of open and critical  intellectual inquiry that ought to characterize campus life.

We urge you to return to the original intent of the committee hearings, which is to address the broad range of racism that has occurred on California college campuses and to reiterate the state legislature’s protection of the right to access education without explicit or implicit racism and support for academic freedom of speech.

Sincerely,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact Persons:

Professor Craig Reinarman

Department of Sociology

University of California, Santa Cruz

craigr@ucsc.edu

Professor Jess Ghannam

Clinical Professor

Department of Psychiatry, and

Global Health Sciences

University of California, San Francisco

School of Medicine

Jess.ghannam@ucsf.edu

Professor and Chair James Quesada
Department of Anthropology
San Francisco State University

jquesada@sfsu.edu

Professor David Klein

Department of Mathematics

California State University, Northridge

david.klein@csun.edu

Professor Sondra Hale

Research Professor

University of California, Los Angeles

sonhale@ucla.edu

Edmund Burke III

Research Professor of History

University of California, Santa Cruz

eburke@ucsc.edu

Professor Lisa Rofel

Department of Anthropology

University of California, Santa Cruz

LROFEL@ucsc.edu

On March 21, 2014, at the SJSU campus climate hearing convened in response to the hate crimes suffered by Mr. Williams, a right-wing funded off-campus group, the AMCHA Initiative, hijacked the proceedings. Attempting to silence legitimate on-campus criticism of Israeli government policies and undermine the hearing. Members of AMCHA falsely reported as anti-Semitic, peaceful pro-Palestinian student projects. As a result, the attention was taken from the virulent racism experienced by Black students on campus, Palestinian and Arab students who face racism and targeting were attacked and the very serious history of anti-Semitism was misused to silence opposition to today’s racism and state-sponsored massacres.

**California Scholars for Academic Freedom is an organization devoted to defending academic freedom.  and representing more than one hundred and fifty faculty at universities throughout California

August 1, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

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

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