Pro-BDS professors hypocritical on academic freedom
ENCINITAS, California — The actual respect held by an organization of anti-Israel California professors who want to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) toward academic freedom and open exchange of views is contradicted by their actual activities and speech.
On November 6, the electorate of Californians will vote on whether to increase their taxes, against the threat by Governor Brown that the state’s severe deficits will otherwise have to be made up by cuts to education funding. The letter from California Scholars For Academic Freedom and the facts behind it do not argue for taxpayers increasing their taxes in order to fund abusers and deniers of academic freedom.
Thirty-five of the 134 California Scholars For Academic Freedom (CSAF) wrote to each member of the California State Assembly denouncing their unanimous passing of House Resolution 35. As they say:
HR 35 does not create new law, but it calls upon university administrators to deny First Amendment rights to students and faculty. The Assembly resolution states,”[university] leadership from the top remains an important priority so that no administrator, faculty, or student group can be in any doubt that anti-Semitic activity will not be tolerated in the classroom or on campus, and that no public resources will be allowed to be used for anti-Semitic or any intolerant agitation.” In a strange twist of illogic, they assert: “HR-35 itself is fundamentally anti-semitic because it associates and conflates with Judaism an unending list of well-documented racist policies and crimes against humanity committed by the state of Israel.
The actual respect held for academic freedom is exhibited by one of the 35 signers, Jess Grannam, a Palestinian clinical professor and the Chief of Medical Psychology at the University of California, San Francisco. He was taped and quoted at a March 2010 meeting as being enthusiastic about the students who interrupted the Israel Ambassador’s talk at University of California, Irvine:
He next praised the “heroic efforts” of students from the Muslim Students Union at UC Irvine nearby who had disrupted a speech by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren by shouting and yelling when he he came to speak. “It got on You Tube now,” he said, and then crowed, “Now, every single Israeli military official and politician will be afraid to speak publicly. It’s huge!”
Another signer, Susan Slyomovics, is a professor at UCLA’s Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES). Here’s her participation in a 2009 CNES event:
On January 21, 2009, UCLA’s federally subsidized Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES) staged a public symposium on “Gaza and Human Rights” in which four noted critics of Israel unanimously condemned its Gaza incursion in front of an audience of largely non-student supporters chanting “Zionism is racism” and “F— Israel.” (I say four “critics” of Israel, but many would characterize all or most of these speakers as extremist opponents of Israel’s very existence.) In the weeks since that event, many students and leading faculty at UCLA (including several critics of Israeli policy) have condemned this symposium’s one-sidedness and bemoaned the transformation of CNES from an honest broker of debate into a one-sided advocacy group. That is exactly what the new federal legislation was meant to prevent (without interfering in the classroom)….
CNES director, Professor Susan Slyomovics, may have had something to do with this shift. A CNES critic present at the symposium approached Slyomovics privately after the panel and asked if she was planning any events that might present an alternative point of view. Reportedly, Slyomovics said she wasn’t.
One could go on about the disrespect for academic freedom or the speech rights of advocates for Israel or dispassionate commenters, but if the above two examples aren’t enough, the California professors at AMCHA Initiative have described the activities of the others, naming names and offenses. In a counter-letter to the members of the California Assembly, they write:
These professors allege that HR 35 “poses a clear threat to academic freedom” by conflating “criticism of Israel or its policies with anti-Semitism.” They argue that calling Israel a “racist” or “apartheid” state, accusing Israel of “crimes against humanity” and promoting “boycott, divestment, and sanction campaigns” against Israel are all acts of legitimate political criticism and acceptable classroom discourse, despite the fact that these are all examples of anti-Semitism according to the definition of anti-Semitism established by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) and adopted by the European Union, Great Britain, Canada, and the U.S. State Department….
Although CS4AF describes itself as a group of academics whose primary goal is to protect California scholars from violations of academic freedom, this is simply not the case. CS4AF was founded in 2008 by four California academics — Sondra Hale (UCLA), Jess Ghannam (UCSF), Sherna Berger Gluck (CSU Long Beach) and Rabab Abdulhadi (SFSU) — all of whom were co-founders and organizers of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. Not suprisingly, CS4AF’s website lists the “Academic and Cultural Boycott Campaign” as the top category of interest, making it clear that the primary concern of this organization is not the protection of academic freedom, but rather the protection of academics who wish to exploit the privilege of academic freedom in order to promote at their respective universities an academic boycott of Israel, which, ironically, has itself been declared a violation of academic freedom by the American Association of University Professors….
Another example is David Delgado Shorter, a professor of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at UCLA. Shorter has been using his official UCLA class website for the purpose of promoting the academic and cultural boycott of Israel. The regulations of the University of California specifically state that university websites are not to be used for political purposes outside the course content. Other California public college professors similarly abuse their website.
The veil is indeed thin behind which abusers and deniers of academic freedom hide to foster their anti-Israel, and anti-semitic, views at the public expense. Taxpayers may take this into account when voting on November 6, to the detriment of the entire University of California and California State College systems and their students.
Kesler is a freelance writer based in Encinitas, California. He may be contacted at email@example.com
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