[News] California scholars decry ‘assault on academic freedom in the interest of one foreign gov’t, Israel’

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Oct 11 10:37:18 EDT 2016


  California scholars decry ‘assault on academic freedom in the interest
  of one foreign gov’t, Israel’

California Scholars for Academic Freedom
October 10, 2016

/The following is a press release //from California Scholars for 
Academic Freedom //(CS4AF 
<https://cascholars4academicfreedom.wordpress.com/>), a group of over 
200 scholars at twenty California institutions of higher learning, 
urging a renewed and strong support by university administrators for 
academic freedom and the right to free speech and dissent in light of 
the alarming recent history of assaults on academic freedom, //including 
a list of over 20 such assaults:/

On September 13, well after the school year had begun, UC Berkeley 
Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Dean Carla Hesse cancelled a course 
entitled “Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis” that had been vetted 
and approved by all the appropriate committees and authorities. It was 
soon revealed that 43 Zionist organizations (some of these may be 
organizations in name only) had sent letters of protest asking for its 
suppression. Faculty and student protest forced the administration to 
reinstate the course.But adding insult to injury, UC Berkeley 
administrators have refused to apologize publicly, and have continued to 
conceal the obvious reasons for their caving in to outside pressures 
behind a veil of administrative lingo and half-truths.

The UC Berkeley case is but the latest assault on academic freedom that 
has increased in intensity over the last fifteen years, overwhelmingly 
in the interest of one foreign government, namely Israel.

Well-funded interest groups outside of the university, including AMCHA, 
Campus Watch, Louis D. Brandeis Center, Anti-Defamation League, Zionist 
Organization of America, the David Horowitz Freedom Center, the Canary 
Mission Website, the Middle East Forum, and the David Project Center for 
Jewish Leadership have kept up a continuous effort to silence open 
debate about a controversial issue: the Israeli occupation and 
Palestinian rights. It is worth noting that two of the main proponents 
of these organizations, David Horowitz and Daniel Pipes, were named as 
leading Islamophobes by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Increasingly, such groups are intervening in campus matters across the 
nation, and they do so with the intent of chilling freedom of 
expression. It is clearly their intent not only to intimidate but also 
by example to threaten others and deter them from their rights to 
academic freedom and free speech. These groups have a well-organized 
campaign to end any critical discourse on Israel. One of them, the 
Canary Mission website has made its main mission to intimidate and 
blacklist students and faculty who speak out in support of Palestinian 
rights.The Canary Mission website tries to prevent college students who 
have been active in seeking Palestinian rights from attaining employment 
upon graduation, conflating their activism with anti-Semitism. They list 
the names of these students, their employment history, and other 
personal information, contacting prospective employers and graduate 
schools, claiming without evidence that the students are anti-Semites 
and terrorists.

The claims of these various groups are made in the name of protecting 
the ethnic or religious sensitivities of students, usually by 
intemperate and exaggerated characterizations of the statements or 
scholarly work of those they target. In particular, the charge of 
anti-Semitism is routinely and opportunistically invoked, often on the 
basis of the spurious and unfortunate equation made by the State 
Department between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Quite aside from the 
criticism that this definition has gathered from the scholarly 
community, the fact that a governmental definition that is the fruit of 
lobbying and political considerations is /de facto /assumed as valid for 
academic discussions is /in itself /a limitation of academic freedom, 
which is specifically designed to be independent of political 
constraints, and, more generally, push the boundaries of 
politically-mandated definitions and notions. In none of the cases 
listed below, was there any evidence whatsoever that the scholarly 
criticisms of Israel have in fact been anti-Semitic. The charge is meant 
to harass and silence criticism and open debate. In addition, nearly all 
of the harassment is one-sided: against those who are critical of 
Israel. All such charges of anti-Semitism against university campuses 
have been dismissed. Still, this charge continues to be invoked to 
silence debate on a controversial issue, a core of academic freedom.

These attacks have included the threat to punish a university if it 
fails to deny tenure to a targeted faculty member; efforts to sanction 
or suppress the activities and even existence of organizations like 
Students for Justice in Palestine or the Muslim Students Association; 
attempts to “eliminate” classes deemed to be biased against Israel and 
to prevent speakers from appearing on campus; and threats to individual 
students and professors. The organization Palestine Legal as well as 
Jewish Voice for Peace have both documented the increasing harassment.

At UC Berkeley and on campuses all over the country, currently no issue 
compares to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the passions and animus 
that disagreements evoke. But even more importantly, nothing presently 
compares to the problematic way that some university and college 
administrators have chosen to deal with this particular conflict, 
including advocating a censorious approach. Too often, university 
administrators concerned about donors have caved in to these outside 
pressures rather than make a robust defense of academic freedom.

Academic freedom means the freedom of faculty to conduct and disseminate 
scholarly research; the freedom to design courses and teach students in 
their areas of their expertise; and the right to free speech for 
students and faculty enshrined in the First Amendment.

Academic freedom includes the freedom of faculty and students to reach 
conclusions that contradict existing dogma, whether within the academy 
or throughout the larger society. This includes raising concerns and 
proposing actions regarding violations of international legal norms by a 
government considered to be a strategic ally of the United States.

Academic freedom includes most importantly the freedom for scholarly 
debate about controversial issues.Academic freedom ensures that 
scholarship and inquiry into controversial matters is not over-ridden by 
political interests. It means the freedom of professors and students 
from administrative or political interference with research, teaching, 
and governance, and the constitutional academic freedom that insulates 
the university in core academic affairs from interference by the state.

We review here only some of the most prominent examples over the last 15 
years of these unconstitutional efforts to suppress academic freedom and 
freedom of speech:

In 2003, tenured chemistry professor Sami Amin al-Arian was fired by the 
University of South Florida after conservative talk show host Bill 
O’Reilly made inflammatory accusations against him as a supporter of 
terrorism, for his support of Palestinian rights. The faculty at USF 
vigorously and overwhelmingly opposed this administrative firing as an 
assault on academic freedom.The U.S. government subsequently got 
involved. Professor al-Arian was forced into a plea agreement in the 
wake of post-9/11 legal accusations that never held up in court. He was 
eventually deported, although he was a U.S. citizen.

In 2004, the Boston-based David Project Center for Jewish Leadership 
produced a film “Columbia Unbecoming” accusing professors in Columbia 
University’s Middle East and Asian Languages and Civilizations of 
intimidation of Jewish students. The film did not interview the 
professors.Columbia University formed a committee that investigated the 
charges and found no credible evidence of harassment or intimidation 
that warranted disciplinary action.

In 2007, a widespread campaign was undertaken by some Barnard College 
alumni and spread through many pro-Israel websites to deny tenure to 
Barnard Professor Nadia Abu el-Haj for her book /Facts on the Ground 
/about Israeli archaeology, which argued that Israeli archaeology shaped 
the archaeological facts to support the state of Israel, including 
suppression of facts that did not support their case. She was eventually 
granted tenure.

In 2007, Norman Finkelstein, a prominent political scientist whose 
primary fields of research are the Israel/Palestine conflict and the 
politics of the Holocaust, was denied tenure by the DePaul University 
administration after public attacks by pro-Israel lobbyists and scholars 
such as Alan Dershowitz, despite the fact that the faculty on the 
relevant promotion committees overwhelmingly voted to award him tenure. 
The university administration was forced into a monetary settlement with 
Professor Finkelstein.

In 2008, Thomas Abowd, was dismissed from a tenure-track position in 
anthropology at Wayne State University. He had recently received the 
university’s President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and a merit 
raise. Undergraduates who had never taken a class with him, plus 
Zionists in the local community, complained to the administration about 
a speech he made at a political protest on campus. They accused him of 
being “anti-Semitic” and an “anti-white racist.” There was a suit, the 
university eventually admitted that these accusations were fraudulent, 
and Abowd agreed to resign with a settlement.

In 2008 and 2009, I was was twice brought up on charges at my 
university, UC Santa Cruz, by two right-wing pro-Israel faculty, 
including Tammi Rossman-Benjamin who heads AMCHA, for events I organized 
that were critical of Israel.All the participants in these events were 
Jewish, including a representative of the group Breaking the Silence, 
who are Israeli soldiers against the occupation.With no sense of irony, 
Rossman-Benjamin and her husband claimed that I had broken the rules of 
academic freedom by bringing political speech onto campus.When those 
charges were dismissed, AMCHA, using the tactic of lawfare, brought a 
lawsuit under the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights 
(OCR) charging UC Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley and UC Irvine with creating 
campus climates that were anti-Semitic.The lawsuit was eventually 
quietly dropped, but not before these campuses had to spend taxpayers’ 
money to prove the charges were illegitimate.

In 2009, Professor William Robinson, at UC, Santa Barbara, was attacked 
by pro-Israel groups, led by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), in a 
campaign against him that lasted nearly six months and that included 
among those who attacked him some of his faculty colleagues. The charge: 
Professor Robinson had included optional reading materials drawn from 
the international press for classroom discussion that evening on the 
Israel-Palestine conflict. These outside interest groups made threats 
against the university if they did not fire Professor Robinson. The 
harassment also involved slander, defamation of character, hate mail and 
death threats. The disciplinary procedure initiated against him by his 
university’s administrators involved a host of irregularities, including 
violations of the university’s own procedures, breaches of 
confidentiality, denial of due process, conflicts of interest, failure 
of disclosure, and improper political surveillance.A campaign of support 
initiated by students and some faculty eventually forced the university 
administration to back down.

In 2010, the student group Muslim Identities and Cultures (MIC) on the 
UC Berkeley campus was attacked by AMCHA, in an attempt to stop an event 
entitled “What Can American Academia Do to Realize Justice for the 
Palestinians” that featured several faculty speakers, including a 
featured speaker from Birzeit University. MIC was simply co-sponsoring 
with 5 other groups.However, AMCHA singled out that group to slander as 
well as the group’s faculty advisor Professor Paola Bacchetta. Then 
Chancellor Birgeneau wrote a statement deciding in favor of the 
students’ and faculty academic freedom.

In 2011, AMCHA launched a multi-year campaign of intimidation and 
harrassment of David Klein, a professor of mathematics at California 
State University Northridge, for his co-authored petition to the CSU 
Chancellor not to reopen the Israel Study Abroad program because of its 
discriminatory treatment of students, his webpage in support of BDS and 
Palestinian human rights, and his hosting of Ilan Pappe’s visit. AMCHA 
and 23 other Zionist organizations petitioned the California Attorney 
General, Kamala Harris, to prosecute Klein for misuse of university 
resources.  When she declined on the basis that no violations of law had 
occurred, Zionist organizations sent a letter to Los Angeles City 
Attorney Trutanich accusing Harris of abdicating her responsibilities 
and urging him, without success, to prosecute Klein.  He became the 
target of hate mail, threatening phone calls, and character 
assassination for several years.

In 2012, The AMCHA Initiative waged a campaign to prevent Ilan Pappé 
from speaking on three CSU campuses.  Ilan Pappé, an Israeli scholar, is 
Professor of History and Director of the European Centre for Palestine 
Studies, and Co-Director for the Exeter Centre for Ethno-Political 
Studies at Exeter University.  That effort at censorship failed due in 
part to the principled defense of academic freedom by three CSU campus 

In 2013, Stand With Us tried to suppress the introduction into a class 
at San Diego State University a map of the area of Palestine that 
controverts the Israeli government’s map of the area but that reflects 
the understanding of the region by others who live there.The Provost 
caved in to these outside pressures and, because the instructor did not 
have security of employment, enjoined the instructor not to present this 
material again.

In March 2014, the Louis D. Brandeis Center made false accusations 
against the University of California, Santa Barbara campus for 
supposedly fostering a hostile environment for Jewish students.In that 
case, the Center brought a U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil 
Rights Title VI complaint that was later quietly dropped.

In that same month, the AMCHA Initiative along with several other 
organizations sent highly inflammatory accusations against San Francisco 
State University faculty members and students, singling out Professor 
Rabab Abdulhadi, for an event held on the campus that was a report of an 
academic and labor delegation to Palestine.The AMCHA letter accused the 
SFSU faculty members of meeting with Palestinians, whom the letter 
labels as “terrorists.” It demands that the university provide 
“counter-programming” to what they called an anti-Semitic 
event.Professor Abdulhadi has been the repeated target of smear attacks 
by these organizations, most recently because of her leading role in the 
SFSU collaboration with An-Najah National University in Palestine.

In August 2014, Chancellor Wise of University of Illinois, 
Urbana-Champaign, overrode shared faculty governance when she 
unilaterally withdrew the offer to Professor Steven Salaita who had just 
been hired in the program of American Indian Studies, for his personal 
tweets as a private citizen exercising his First Amendment right to free 
speech. about the latest Israeli assault on Palestinians in Gaza that 
summer, that killed nearly 1900 people, most of them civilians, and 
damaged nearly 167 schools and six universities, and raided five 
universities in the West Bank.Chancellor Wise’s action was condemned by 
the American Association of University Professors, as well as other 
professional associations and thousands of academics. Professor Salaita 
sued the university and, in a virtual admission of wrongdoing, the 
university granted monetary compensation to Professor Salaita. A FOI 
request subsequently found the Chancellor had been in close 
communication with university donors opposed to Professor Salaita.

In January 2015, the University of Pennsylvania bowed to external 
pressure to disinvite a guest speaker, well-known journalist Chris 
Hedges, because of his expressed views critical of the Israeli government.

In spring 2015, the AMCHA Initiative, Accuracy in Academia, the David 
Horowitz Freedom Center and Stand With Us sent false accusations against 
a student-led course on Palestine at the University of California, 
Riverside.The course had been fully vetted and was sponsored by 
Professor David Lloyd.The student involved in leading the course, as 
well as Professor Lloyd, were subjected to hostile and racist email.The 
student was accused of wishing the annihilation of Jews.In this case, 
the course was not cancelled, although the Chancellor did not make a 
public defense of academic freedom.

In spring 2015, UC Santa Cruz Students for Justice in Palestine (a 
frequent target of these outside interest groups), held mock checkpoints 
on campus to illustrate their concern about the Israeli occupation. 
Several students, encouraged by AMCHA, lodged a false accusation of 
hate/bias against the group for allegedly targeting certain students 
(presumably Jewish) and physically blocking them from entering specific 
doorways unless they produced identification. The administration later 
apologized to SJP for publicizing what were unfounded accusations before 
meeting with them to investigate. They offered to send out a campus-wide 
apology but never did.

In 2014-2015, right-wing pro-Israel groups heavily lobbied the 
University of California to revise the university’s intolerance policy 
to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.After much critical commentary 
opposed to such an infringement on academic freedom and open debate, the 
University of California issued an Intolerance policy that states in its 
preamble (rather than in the body of the text): “Anti-Semitism, 
anti-semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination 
have no place at the University of California.”

In February 2016, two Brooklyn College students were falsely accused by 
the Anti-Defamation League and the Zionist Organization of America of 
making anti-Semitic remarks at a faculty council meeting that students 
interrupted to demand a return to free and open admissions, more 
full-time faculty members of color, and an end to the presence of 
undercover cops on campus. None of their demands were related to the 
Israel-Palestine conflict but two of the students were involved with 
Students for Justice in Palestine.After inflammatory press coverage in 
New York that repeated the false accusations, the Brooklyn College 
administration, after first pressuring the students to accept a 
settlement, eventually admitted that the students never made any 
anti-Semitic statements.

In March 2016, Sarah Schulman, faculty at City University of New York 
(CUNY), was called before a CUNY Task Force on Anti-Semitism, in her 
role as faculty adviser to Students for Justice in Palestine.The Task 
Force had a 14-page list of accusations filed by the Zionist 
Organization of America, which turned out to be vague and slanderous 
charges against Muslim students who were said to make Jewish students 
feel uncomfortable by their mere presence on campus.In addition, the ZOA 
had been harassing Professor Schulman, sending tweets to her publishers, 
reviewers, friends and colleagues and sabotaging her Wikipedia page.

As we send this press release,Professor Simona Sharoni, Professor of 
Gender and Women’s Studies at SUNY Plattsburg, is under personal and 
professional attack for her support for both victims of sexual assault 
and for the human rights of the Palestinian people.More specifically she 
is under attack for her publicly stated support for the constitutionally 
protected Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel. 
Stand With Us has now made 10 FOIL requests to the University about 
Professor Sharoni. She has also been subject to threatening e-mails and 
twitter posts.

Palestine Legal, an organization that protects the civil and 
constitutional rights of people in the U.S. who speak out in support of 
Palestinian rights, responded to 152 incidents of censorship, punishment 
or other burdening of advocacy in 2014.In the first six months of 2015, 
they responded to 140 incidents.

These right-wing pro-Israel groups have also tried to suppress academic 
freedom by repeatedly introducing un-constitutional bills into state 
legislatures that try to outlaw any criticism of Israel by erroneously 
equating that criticism with anti-Semitism.

Anti-Semitism—like racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression—is a 
real problem that universities should indeed take seriously. However, 
the conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism has become a 
standard tactic by those groups who seek to censor criticism of 
Israel. That tactic also ignores the many Jews who are critical of 
Israel’s flaunting of UN resolutions and international humanitarian law.

While both federal and state law as well as university policy protect 
students from discrimination or antagonism based on their religious, 
ethnic, gender and other identities, no law could possibly protect 
students or faculty from hearing challenges to their political, 
religious or cultural beliefs simply on the grounds of their 
identification with them, so long as such discourse is conducted in a 
non-coercive and nonviolent manner.

Any organization, internal or external, that seeks to limit the free and 
full deliberation of any viewpoint, or the representation of 
perspectives inimical to it, trespasses on a principle of academic life 
so fundamental that the university would be unimaginable without it.  It 
is a principle which cannot and must not promise that in all situations 
students or faculty will feel intellectual comfort: indeed, mental and 
moral discomfort are often essential conditions for serious learning and 
thoughtful consideration of views that challenge our preconceptions.  
This is not, however, the same thing as slanderous and intimidating 
attacks, intended to silence rather than to promote debate and inquiry.

It is a university’s responsibility to tolerate a wide range of views on 
issues, even if they are unpopular or minority opinions.  While in the 
most recent attack on academic freedom at UC Berkeley, the dean claimed 
that the university should not tolerate “political agendas,” surely the 
administrative suppression of the course also constituted political 
advocacy, of a negative kind.

Academic freedom guarantees neither that any belief of any kind will be 
held sacrosanct and above criticism, nor that in all and every situation 
every view will be given equal consideration.  The university is the 
whole colloquy of the views expressed in it and the preservation of a 
broad and complete spectrum of views, all of them allowed both space and 
time for their elaboration, is essential to it.

The California Scholars for Academic Freedom draws attention to this 
very troublesome recent history to urge a renewed support by university 
administrators for academic freedom. We urge college presidents and 
deans to re-affirm their commitment to academic freedom, the hallmark of 
a university education.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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