Letter To Pres. Yudof in response to Jewish Campus Climate Report

Letter To Pres. Yudof in response to Jewish Campus Climate Report

July 20, 2012
Petition to
President of the University of California President of the University of California, Mark Yudof
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This petition had 208 supporters

Why this petition matters

On July 9, the UC President Mark Yudof’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion released a report written by Richard D. Barton and Alice Huffman, which aims to describe Jewish life on UC campuses.

Unfortunately, this report offers only a partial view of Jewish life and culture on UC campuses. The report excludes the experiences and values of many Jewish students who are connected to and critical of the state of Israel; it misrepresents support for Palestinian rights and inquiry into Israeli policy and as anti-Israel and latently anti-Semitic acts; and it suggests that UC campuses are hostile environments for Jewish students. In short, the report distorts campus life, and its recommendations threaten free speech on campuses.

27 UC faculty, students and alumni sent the letter below to Pres. Mark Yudof in response to the report. If you are now or have been connected to Jewish life on a UC campus, please add your name. Thank you!

You can also (or only) sign a short petition simply asking President Yudof to table the Jewish Student Campus Climate Report here (http://tinyurl.com/8xhovrm).

Dear President Yudof:

We, the undersigned University of California undergraduate students, graduate students, alumni, faculty and parents, write to you as members of the UC Jewish community who are deeply concerned and troubled by the Jewish Student Campus Climate Fact-Finding Team Report and Recommendations recently issued by Richard D. Barton and Alice Huffman. We share the commitment to “address[ing] challenges in enhancing and sustaining a tolerant, inclusive environment on each of the university's 10 campuses” which your Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion aims to do. However, the report and recommendations it includes omit the experiences of many students and faculty in the Jewish community, grossly misrepresent educational initiatives focused on Israel and Palestine and political organizing in support of Palestinian rights, and threaten academic freedom on our campuses.

For these reasons we ask that you table the report and its problematic recommendations and in the future only consider recommendations derived from a demonstrably equitable and representative study of campus climate for all students at the University of California.

Listed below are some of the most problematic aspects of the report:

1. How did the authors decide with whom to speak?

On the first page of the report, the authors state that they visited six UC campuses where they met with undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, senior administrators, and representatives of off-campus Jewish organizations and on-campus non-Jewish organizations. That is the full extent of the methodological
information the authors provide.

We believe that this report represents only a very partial view of Jewish people on UC campuses. The authors do not tell us how or why they chose the people with whom they met, who they met with, or whether the meetings were open to anyone, especially students, who wished to participate and, if so, if they were publicized as such, and what rationale guided their choices. At UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley, participation was by invitation-only, and a number of Jewish students who are publicly active and involved in campus Jewish life only learned of this report upon its publication.

Whose Jewish opinions did the authors include in this report, and why? Did the authors makes an effort to include students from left-wing groups on each campus in order to understand the divisions among Jews as well as the values and experiences of the left-leaning Jews? Did they make an effort to speak with the Jewish students who choose not to affiliate with traditional Jewish organizations? If not, why not?

2. Misrepresentation of Palestinian rights and anti-occupation movements on UC campuses.

Throughout the report, the authors portray student organizing on behalf of Palestinian rights and against the Israeli occupation as anti-Israel, carried out in bad faith, harmful to Jewish students and latently anti-Semitic. We believe this is a gross misrepresentation of the movements in which we are involved, which advocate for human rights for all peoples in the region. Criticizing the Israeli government and military are not inherently anti-Semitic acts.

There is a disconnect between the authors’ empirical findings and their exclusive focus on the feelings of students who advocate for Israeli policies. The authors claim that “the Jewish communities on the [UC] campuses are very diverse, making generalizations difficult” (page 2) and “this is especially true when it comes to the issue of Israel,” as some “Jewish students participate actively in pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist activities” (page 3). Yet when the authors speak of activism on the issue of Israel, they ignore those Jewish students’ experiences and instead only focus on the sense of “hostility” and “isolation” that the Israel-advocating students feel. This disconnect compromises the report and also shapes the misrepresentation of student organizing on campus. Many students who actively participate in organizing for Palestinian rights don’t see their political activism as “anti-Israel” or “anti-Zionist,” as the report claims; in fact, some of these students even identify as Zionists.

Yet the report portrays this activism as strongly anti-Israel and as threatening to Jewish students. The authors make strong, accusatory claims about this activism but they don’t provide any concrete details about the events they describe. The authors do not tell us in what year and on which campus or campuses these events take place and which groups organize them. For instance, the authors state, “The use of the swastika drawn next to, or integrated with, the Jewish Star of David is commonplace” (pages 5-6). On which campus or campuses do the authors think the use of the swastika “commonplace”? What defines “commonplace”? Who, besides the authors, is making this claim? Based on our experiences on UC campuses, swatiskas are irregular, unusual and widely condemned. If they appear at all, they often do so in the hands of non-campus based people. Student activists relate that when they have seen swastikas on campus, they’ve asked the holder to remove the offending sign and symbol. Simply put, our experience challenges the veracity of this claim and many others. The authors use generalizations and distortions to misrepresent our activist movements.

3. Distortion or exclusion of experiences of Jewish community members who
identify as Palestinian rights supporters, critics of Israeli policy, or anti-
occupation activists.

Though the report acknowledges the diversity of Jewish experience and suggests that this diversity makes recommendations or generalizations difficult, the authors develop and rely upon a narrative that represents the viewpoint of only one sector of students: those who support and advocate for Israeli policies. A number of Jewish students who are critical of Israel and who participated in the campus-based meetings with the authors say that their views were not included in the report.

Even more egregious than mere exclusion, the report contains a substantial claim that directly contradicts the testimony students gave to the authors. On page 7, the authors claim that Jewish students do not use the charge of anti-semitism to suppress criticism of Israel and that “all” of the Jewish students “understand the distinction between criticism of Israel and anti-semitism.” Yet in their meeting with the authors, several Jewish UCSC undergraduates discussed this very problem – the use of accusations of anti-semitism to undermine critics of Israel and limit debate – and presented the authors with articles they had published, both in campus and national Jewish press, arguing that their activism was not tantamount to the anti-semitism of which they were accused. The articles specifically address the Title VI complaint on that campus, with the students arguing that the Title VI complaint is being used to silence criticism of Israel on campus. The report’s authors chose to leave out any reference to the students’ statements or their articles and instead falsely claimed UC-campus-wide agreement on the applications of accusations of anti-semitism.

In addition, the authors either neglected or elected to exclude the well-documented experiences of a significant number of Jewish students and faculty on several different campuses who have reported being bullied, intimidated, excluded or marginalized by right-wing Israel advocates.

For instance, the UC-Berkeley Jewish Student Union refused to allow J Street U to join the union, despite a mission statement saying the JSU is “committed to a pluralistic vision of Judaism.” Another Israel advocacy group at UC-Berkeley built a file on the left-leaning student group Kesher Enoshi, including private messages in the file. The Israel advocacy group then sent the file to the CEO of Hillel International asking for Hillel to cut support for Kesher Enoshi and seriously condemning UC-Berkeley’s Hillel director for not sufficiently marginalizing the group. At UC Santa Cruz, a Hillel employee harassed an undergraduate student on her facebook page, suggesting she didn’t belong in a program with other Jewish students because she is publicly critical of Israeli policies. The authors did not include any of these examples in the report. We are certain that these events are relevant for a report on the campus climate for Jewish students at UC.

4. Misinformation regarding Israel and Palestine.

The authors continuously reveal their bias in their mischaracterizations of basic facts about Israel and Palestine. For instance, they write that Israel’s fence/barrier/wall is “constructed by Israel along its border with the West Bank” (page 5) – though 85% of the barrier is built inside of the West Bank, not on the border between the West Bank and Israel, cutting off tens of thousands of West Bank Palestinians from the West Bank and expropriating thousands of acres of land and precious water sources.

Similarly, the authors describe campus re-enactments of Israeli checkpoints (page 5) as exposing students to “what Palestinians are allegedly subjected to” – thereby again undermining the veracity of Palestinians’ checkpoint experiences, which are widely documented. Of the Nakba, which is the Arabic name for the catastrophe that befell Palestinians upon the establishment of the state of Israel, the authors note that “Nakba” is how “Palestinians refer” to that event. Yet we use the term Nakba, too, because we accept that name as the Palestinian name for the events of 1948 and their effects.

5. Anti-Defamation League involved in writing the report.

While the ADL has a strong record of civil rights and anti-racism work, they are active in the effort to vilify and marginalize people and organizations working in support of Palestinian rights. The ADL has become known for accusing critics of Israel of being anti-semitic and denouncing Palestinian rights supporters, including Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. The ADL has a history of spying on civil rights organizations and Palestinian rights supporters and was strongly opposed to the building of an Islamic Center near the World Trade Center site.

Richard D. Barton has a long history of leadership with the ADL, most recently as its National Chair of Education. Why was a member of such a well-known rightwing group chosen to spearhead this report? Was there any attempt made to balance his voice with more moderate voices?

Problematic Recommendations:

Recommendation #1: UC should review its policies on University sponsorship and neutrality and develop model institutional protocols for such activities.

We believe that UC faculty and administrators are fully capable of and empowered to make sound decisions regarding sponsorship of campus events. Any action by UC administrators to curb these decisions will be, and will be rightly seen as, infringement on faculty authority as well as free speech.

Moreover, the loss of sponsorship could spell an end to much student-led educational initiatives, which rely on faculty and administrative sponsorship for access to funding and venues. We expect that many students would choose not to attend a university that imposes political litmus tests on the programs and events they can initiate and lead.

Additionally, through their repeated misrepresentation of people, values and events in this report, the authors have proven themselves untrustworthy with regard to Jewish and Israel-Palestine related campus issues. We are quite certain that we would disagree with them on many if not most of the events they would deem “unbalanced” and “biased.”

Recommendation #2: UC should adopt a hate speech-free campus policy.

We believe in the principles of free speech and that these principles stand on their own and do not require any additional regulation. Hate speech should be answered with more speech, better speech, non-hate speech. We are committed to speaking up and speaking out. And we are also committed to ensuring anyone else’s right to speak, and not putting the reins of control over speech into the hands of any authority.

Recommendation #3: UC should develop cultural competency training around the Principles of Community, and such training be required of all community members.

Who would develop this training, who would attend, and who would decide which narratives to emphasize? There are already many academic and student-support units on UC campuses tasked with research and teaching about cultural difference and diversity; indeed, the UC is internationally known for its excellence in this area. Any kind of training should be developed by leaders from these units.

Recommendation #4: UC should adopt a UC definition of anti-Semitism and provide model protocol for campuses to identify contemporary incidents of anti-Semitism, which may be sanctioned by University non-discrimination or anti-harassment policies.

The report suggests that UC adopt the European Union’s working definition of anti-semitism. While much of the EU’s definition is fully appropriate and acceptable, the portions of it that relate to the state of Israel are highly problematic. For instance, there are times when it is appropriate to question whether certain individuals place Israel’s interests above that of their own country. Also, while we, as Jews, strongly disagree with many policies of the Israeli government and don’t believe it speaks to our Jewish values, the clause stating that it is inherently anti-semitic to “hold Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the state of Israel” is exceedingly complex. Both the state of Israel and the mainstream American Jewish establishment claim that Jews are united behind the state of Israel. Indeed, the notion that “wherever we stand, we stand with Israel” is common in many Jewish institutions. By what criteria does one distinguish between the Jewish organizations’ claim to stand with Israel and the concept of holding Jews accountable for Israel’s actions? What makes one of those an inherently anti-semitic act? We believe that the very existence of the question challenges the usefulness of the EU’s working definition of anti-semitism.

By the same token, we are cautious about the recommendation that the UC should engage organizations to educate administrators, faculty and students to “help explain the intersection, distinctions and overlap between anti-Semitism and the protest of Israel policies and actions.” As we have argued throughout this letter, we strongly disagree with the charge that opposing Israeli policies is anti-semitic. The charge of anti-semitism is often used to silence inquiry into and debate about the histories and policies shaping the region.'

Based on the above critique of the method and the outcomes of the report, we request that the recommendations be tabled and that you consider pursuing a demonstrably equitable and representative study of campus climate for all students at UC. As Jewish students, faculty, alumni and parents, we see ourselves as allies and resources to the UC community in facing our collective challenges. We believe that fighting injustice is a Jewish value, and disagreement is such a long-held Jewish practice that it was codified in the Talmud, Jewish oral law, 2000 years ago. Our connection to and criticism of Israel, support for Palestinian rights and opposition to the occupation are all deeply, richly Jewish. We will continue to fight against anti-semitism when we see it and fight against the misuse of the charge of anti-semitism to silence inquiry, debate, and activism. Education should enable learners to try on new ideas and step up to face grave problems. Our campus climate is troubled, highly charged, and extremely contentious, but we believe that the University of California is equal to the challenge.


Alana Alpert, BA, UC-Santa Cruz, 2006

Roi Bachmutsky, BA, UC-Berkeley, 2013 (expected)

Daniel Boyarin, Hermann P. and Sophia Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture, Departments of Near Eastern Studies and Rhetoric, UC-Berkeley

Allison Deger, BA, UC-Berkeley, 2009

Elizabeth Elman, BA, UC-San Diego, 2011

Jeremy Elster, BA, UC-Berkeley, 2012

Andrew Gordon-Kirsh, BA, UCLA, 2010

Emily Gottriech, Adjunct Associate Professor in the Dept. of History and Middle Eastern Studies, Vice Chair for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, UC-Berkeley

Itamar Haritan, BA, UC-Berkeley, 2009

Ari Y. Kelman, Jim Joseph Professor of Education and Jewish Studies, Stanford
University; BA, UC-Santa Cruz 1994; Professor, UC-Davis 2006-2011

Chana Kronfeld, Professor of Modern Hebrew, Yiddish and Comparative Literature, UC-Berkeley; PhD UC-Berkeley 1983. 

Mark LeVine, Professor of History, UC-Irvine

Eyal Matalon, BA, UC-Berkeley, 2009

Eyal Mazor, BA, UC-Berkeley, 2010

Sarah Anne Minkin, PhD Candidate in Sociology, UC-Berkeley

David N. Myers, Professor of Jewish History and Chair, UCLA History Department

Maya Paley, BA, UC-Berkeley, 2006

Tom Pessah, PhD Candidate in Sociology, UC-Berkeley

Rebecca Pierce, BA, UC-Santa Cruz, 2013 (expected)

Zoe Rudow, BA, UC-Berkeley 2012

Shaul Setter, PhD Candidate in Comparative Literature, UC-Berkeley

Asaf Shalev, BA, UC-Berkeley, 2010

Naomi Shiffman, BS, UC-San Diego, 2010

Roger Waldinger, Distinguished Professor of Sociology, UCLA

Zohar Weiman-Kelman, PhD Comparative Literature, UC-Berkeley

Simone Zimmerman, BA UC-Berkeley, 2013 (expected)

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