Proposed Peled speech stirs Mt. San Jacinto College

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

Denise Dalaimo Nussbaum

Denise Dalaimo Nussbaum

SAN DIEGO – A fight is brewing at Mt. San Jacinto College in Riverside County over a proposed speech on May 13 by Miko Peled, the anti-Israel activist whose late father, Matti Peled, was an Israeli general who became part of the peace camp.  As first reported by The Israel Group, the faculty argument pits Del Mar resident Denise Dalaimo Nussbaum, who chairs the sociology department at the community college, against Assistant Math Prof. Shahla Razavi, who persuaded the college’s Diversity Committee to invite Peled to address students.

However, the battle has spread beyond the boundaries of the faculty with U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas (D-San Diego) and former Republican congressional  and San Diego mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio writing letters to oppose the speech of Peled, who makes his home in San Diego. USCD Associate Professor of Communication Gary Fields and David Deutsch, one of the leaders of Jewish Voice for Peace San Diego, support Peled’s speech, according to The Israel Group’s executive director Jack Saltzberg, who compiled pro and con documents thus far submitted to the Diversity Committee.

In an interview, Nussbaum said the Feb. 5 meeting of the college’s 22-member Diversity Committee—made up of administration, faculty, staff, and students—neither had a quorum, nor the budget for a $2,500 stipend offered to Peled when it voted in favor of extending the invitation.  Furthermore, she said, the committee had no idea of Peled’s record before voting.  When these issues were raised with the committee’s chair, Assistant History Prof. Tamara Smith, she decided to revisit the issue at the committee’s next meeting, which takes place on Thursday, March 5.

Nussbaum said she considers Peled to be an incendiary speaker, quoting Peled as saying of the three teenagers whose murders, along with constant rocket attacks from Gaza, precipitated the most recent Israeli-Gaza War  that they “were students at a Yeshiva University, a yeshiva high school.  This is the breeding ground for the worst kind of fanatic terrorists..”

Another sample of Peled’s points of view on Israel and the Palestinians is contained in this video:

In her letter to the Diversity Committee, Nussbaum gave six reasons why she felt Peled should not be a sponsored speaker at Mt. San Jacinto:

1.  Miko Peled perpetuates lies and misconceptions that can, and most likely will, incite hate and prejudice.
2.  Miko Peled is a representative of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS).  BDS is a bigoted global propaganda campaign against Israel. It is the newest weapon in the ongoing effort to eliminate Israel as the democratic state of the Jewish people. BDS brands itself as a progressive human rights movement, but nothing could be further from the truth.  BDS (has) an extremist agenda which is anti-peace, anti-justice, and anti-human rights.
3.  Peled’s false claims include: Israel is an apartheid state; Israel is the aggressor; Israel is not a democracy; Israel is an occupying and/ or colonial power oppressing innocent Palestinians, and; there is racial segregation in Israeli institutions.
4.  Peled all but ignores the role of Hamas in the oppression of the Palestinian people. Israel endured 1,000s of rockets and tens of thousands of terrorist attacks since 2000.  How can this information not be included in any narrative on this issue.
5.  Peled leads his audiences to believe that the Palestinians want peace with Israelis…Nothing could be further from the truth.  He argues bringing down “The Wall” would bring peace. At this point bringing down Israel’s security Barrier would only bring ore violence to Israel as the terrorists would once agains have a clear shot and Israeli civilians.
6.  Miko Peled is not a “peace activist.”

Congressman Vargas, who is co-author of a bill that would invoke U.S. trade sanctions against countries that engage in the BDS campaign against Israel, wrote to Mt. San Jacinto College President Roger Shultz in support of Nussbaum and in opposition to Peled being a sole speaker on the campus.

Vargas wrote:

While I strongly support diverse ideas and free speech on our college campuses, I would like to highlight some of the offensive and inaccurate statements and incendiary actions Mr. Peled has made in recent years.  I believe an assessment of his words and deeds will allow you and your colleagues to be fully informed of the divisiveness Mr. Peled often brings to educational settings. I urge you and the college’s leadership to consider the potential consequences of his speech and to provide a balanced discussion for a true educational opportunity.

Since its creation in 1948, Israel has remained a stalwart ally of the United States and a vibrant democracy in an often hostile region. I have witnessed first-hand the diversity and respect for equality that Israelis share with their American counterparts.  While no country is perfect, Israel strives to respect the human rights of all people, particularly as they continue to confront violent extremism in various forms. Israel is frequently the target of hate and is held to a standard not met by most other countries.

The targeted hate recently transformed itself into the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is championed by Mr. Peled.  BDS seeks to cripple the Israeli economy through various mechanisms at the individual, non-state and governmental level. I have seen the effects of this unfair economic campaign and strongly support Israel at it combats another international threat.  My experience with the BDS movement had led me to cosponsor legislation aimed t combatting this destructive campaign, while I work to educate the community about this issue.

Mr. Peled’s stances, statements and base of support should provoke a pause amongst the leadership at your college. He has seriously mischaracterized Israeli actions as “a mission to destroy the Palestinian people,” accused Israeli Defense Forces of “ethnic cleansing” and falsely stated that the ongoing peace process is “a process of apartheid and colonization.”  Because the BDS movement is often promoted and supported on college campuses, his highly inaccurate comments may both mislead students and further incite hatred.

As stated beforehand, an open-dialogue between divergent views, even on an issue as contentious as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is a crucial part of an engaging and multifaceted educational experience.  However, I hope my reservations with Mrs. Peled’s appearance on your campus will allow for a more fruitful conversation regarding respect and dignity for all cultures. If you and your college leadership ultimately decide to proceed with Mr. Peled’s speech, I would encourage you to include another speaker who can serve to balance the discussion and promote an open and fair exchange of ideas that further educates the student body.

From the pro-Peled side came a letter from Gary Fields, UCSD Associate Professor of Communication, among other letters.

Fields wrote:

It has come to my attention that the Diversity Committee at Mt. San Jacinto is reconsidering the terms of its invitation to author Miko Peled to speak to the College community on the topic of the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict and his experiences as a Jewish Israeli citizen. I am writing this letter to offer the Committee some insight on this matter from my own experience teaching a class at UC San Diego on this topic, and inviting Mr. Peled to address my students.

I have been teaching my course, “Representations of the Israeli/ Palestinian Conflict” to undergraduates for the past five years. I strive, above all, in this course to introduce students to the different perspectives and arguments on both sides of the conflict. On two occasions, I invited Miko Peled to the class to provide students with a perspective on the conflict and Israeli society that they seldom, if ever, encounter.

What students in my class heard from Mr. Peled was an impassioned account of his own personal transformation from an ardent Zionist, to an outspoken critic of the dominant Israeli narrative about the longstanding conflict with the Palestinians.  Indeed, it is a riveting personal story, somewhat similar to my own, that at the same time provides students with new and different ways of looking at this highly charged issue. Based on feedback from the students themselves, Peled’s presentation was one of the most enlightening moments of the course. It provided them with a rare opportunity to raise difficult questions with the speaker, and engage critically with someone with a very different point of view about the politics of the conflict.

I have also seen criticisms levelled at Miko Peled’s book, The Generals Son as somehow not scholarly and therefore inappropriate in a university setting.  I strongly disagree with this characterization. The book is a well-researched personal memoir, indeed an important “representation” in terms of the current literature on the conflict, and as good a source as any for introducing the uninitiated student to a complex and controversial subject.

Sadly, I have also witnessed very crude efforts to discredit Mr. Peled by claiming that he is an anti-Semite.  Such spurious claims, seemingly made to derail serious discussion of the conflict, are an insult the principle of academic freedom and have absolutely no basis and no place in academic discourse.

In closing, let me emphasize what a rare opportunity you have to hear Miko Peled in person. He is a terrific speaker and an engaging lecturer. It will be an event not to be missed.

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  Your signed comment (first and last name) may be posted in the space provided below or sent to [email protected]

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2 Responses to “Proposed Peled speech stirs Mt. San Jacinto College”


  1. […] Andrew Pessin at Connecticut College.  And it also happened to tenured Sociology Professor Denise Nussbaum at MSJC at about the same […]

  2. […] Andrew Pessin at Connecticut College.  And it also happened to tenured Sociology Professor Denise Nussbaum at MSJC at about the same […]

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