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A video has surfaced, showing UC Santa Cruz Hebrew lecturer Tammi Rossman Benjamin making extremely offensive comments about the Muslim Students Association and Students for Justice in Palestine groups at an off-campus event in June 2012. Benjamin describes their members as “foreign students who come from countries and cultures where anti-Semitism is how they think about the world.” She makes openly racist and defamatory claims that MSA and SJP are connected to terrorist organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Benjamin also singles these student activists out from all others, saying, “These are not your ordinary student groups like College Republicans or Young Democrats. These are students who come with a serious agenda, who have ties to terrorist organizations”.
These comments reflect the worst stereotypes and slurs leveled at Arab and Muslim communities in the post-9/11 era. They have absolutely no place in a university environment and it is completely unacceptable for a University of California lecturer to be making them, especially about students. What is even worse is that these comments are part of a pattern, one that the University of California Office of the President has been complicit in promoting.
Tammi Benjamin leads an extreme pro-Israel group called the Amcha Initiative, which has launched a series of censorship attempts targeting UC and California State University academics and student groups, based on claims that academic critique of Israel is tantamount to anti-Semitism. In 2011 they filed a complaint against UCLA professor David Shorter for linking to a page related to the Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement on a class website, prompting an improper investigation that was eventually dismissed. In February 2012 the Amcha Initiative tried and failed to shut down Israeli historian Illan Pappe’s speaking tour at CSU campuses, falsely claiming that he was “anti-Semitic” and supportive of terror. Tammi Benjamin was also behind a federal complaint alleging that campus political and academic speech critical of Israel creates a hostile environment for Jewish students at UC Santa Cruz, resulting in an ongoing Department of Education investigation into the school. The ACLU recently condemned the federal investigation into UC Santa Cruz as “disturbing” and having “a chilling effect” on student organizing in a letter criticizing a similar investigation at UC Berkeley.
In March 2012, Tammi Benjamin and the Amcha Initiative sent a letter to UC President Mark Yudof with racist rhetoric tying student groups to terror, and misrepresenting an incident at UC Davis. The next day President Yudof responded with a system-wide email that adopted the Amcha Initiative’s false narrative, without any condemnation of their inflammatory language or baseless claims.
It is no wonder that Tammi Benjamin felt comfortable publicly claiming students were tied to terrorism last June, when the University has rewarded her organization for doing so in the past. These actions are damaging to Muslim and Arab students and their allies, and promote an environment where students are open targets for hate groups. The University of California and the Office of the President must take a clear stand against hate speech directed at marginalized communities, and distance itself from extremists like Tammi Benjamin and the Amcha Initiative that work to smear and silence student human rights campaigners.
We ask that University of California President Mark Yudof:
-Release a statement from the UC President’s Office condemning Tammi Benjamin’s hateful comments in the video and previous Amcha Initiative statements.
-End any UC cooperation and communication with extremist groups like the Amcha Initiative that target advocates for human rights.
-Formally retract any statements issued at the request of the Amcha Initiative, and take proactive steps to address the negative impact the UC’s past cooperation with the group has had on free speech and campus climate for Muslim and Arab students and groups like SJP and MSA.