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Letter to San Jose State University President Regarding Anti-Israel Bias in Middle East Studies Workshop

Letter to San Jose State University President Regarding Anti-Israel Bias in Middle East Studies Workshop

From: Tammi Benjamin <>
Date: April 16, 2013 10:08:23 AM PDT
Cc: Leila Beckwith <>, Jonathan Roth <>,,, Sarita Bronstein <>,
Subject: concerns about Middle East Studies workshop


Dear President Qayoumi,

We are faculty at the University of California and co-founders of the AMCHA Initiative, a grassroots organization committed to investigating, documenting, and combatting campus antisemitism, particularly on California public university campuses.

We are writing to you now to share our concern about an upcoming event entitled “Peace Building & Approaches to Teaching the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” an all-day workshop for high school teachers and college and university professors on “how to educate students about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” which is scheduled to take place at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library this coming Friday, April 19. The workshop is being organized by SJSU Coordinator for Middle East Studies, Professor Persis Karim, and it is being sponsored by the SJSU Middle East Studies Program (MdES).

According to the promotional flyer, support for the workshop comes from the federally-funded U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) Public Education for Peace Building Support initiative, whose grant guidelines specify that “USIP cannot fund advocacy activities or programs of a partisan nature.”

In addition, as you know, MdES, through its  collaboration with the Silicon Valley Middle East Studies Consortium (CMES), receives a significant amount of funding from the U.S. Department of Education under Title VI of the Higher Education Act. In order to ensure that recipients of federal funding are engaged in education rather than advocacy, Title VI requires that all federally subsidized programs “reflect diverse perspectives and a wide range of views.”

We believe that the upcoming MdES-sponsored workshop will violate both the letter and spirit of the federally-funded USIP and Title VI grants, by engaging in anti-Israel advocacy and partisanship rather than truly educating participants about all sides of the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for the following reasons:

1. The workshop organizer and MdES Coordinator, Professor Persis Karim, has publicly declared her animosity towards the Jewish state and participated in efforts to harm it:

  • She signed a letter to President Obama falsely accusing Israel of “one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times” and supporting the elimination of the Jewish state.
  • She signed a statement by international writers and scholars endorsing an academic boycott of Israel, which U.S. State Department’s former Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Hannah Rosenthal has declared to be “antisemitic.”
  • She endorsed a petition to have an Israeli scholar ejected from an academic conference in Los Angeles, in solidarity with the academic boycott of Israel.

2. We believe that none of the 6 workshop speakers will present the Israeli narrative, and that some may even make presentations which demonize and delegitimize Israel. For example:

  • Samia Shoman, who is speaking about “Teaching the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict at the High School Level,” is a high school social studies teacher who frequently lectures on how to teach the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to high school students.  In 2009, she taught an all-day workshop entitled “Teaching the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Through Dual Narratives.”  Although the workshop’s title  implied that Shoman would provide a balanced presentation of both Israeli and Palestinian perspectives, in actuality, as can be seen in many of the materials posted with the announcement of the 2009 workshop, Shoman’s presentation was highly partisan and egregiously anti-Israel.  (For instance, in her introductory PowerPoint presentation, she whitewashed Yaser Arafat and the genocidal PLO charter, and falsely claimed that Israel — not the actual Lebanese perpetrators — committed a “deliberate massacre” of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatilla, which she emphasized with a photograph of dead and bloody bodies presumably massacred by Israelis. Shoman’s list of 15 “Useful Websites” contains only one website which does not come from a pro-Palestinian perspective, with several of them, such as “Electronic Intifada,” “If Americans Knew,” “Miftah,” “Palestine Monitor,” and “Stop the Wall,” being egregiously anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic).  Shoman advocates for inserting the Palestinian narrative in high school curricula and for encouraging anti-Israel activism among high school students.  In her own classroom at Hillsdale High School, many pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel images adorn her walls, but none presents a pro-Israel perspective. (HERE is a photograph taken in Ms. Shoman’s classroom, where a large Palestinian flag dominates the images displayed on her classroom wall;  HERE is a photograph of another wall-hanging in Ms. Shoman’s classroom, a poster “In Solidarity with the Palestinian People’s Liberation Struggle” advocating to “Tear down the Apartheid wall!”).  Ms. Shoman has also signed a petition accusing Israel of being a “racist,” “apartheid” state, engaging in “ethnic cleansing,” and treating Palestinians in “a savagely racist way,” and calling on a local food store to boycott all Israeli goods.
  • Michael Lerner, who will speak about “Engaging Israel and Palestine,” has a long history of anti-Israel bias despite being a Jew and a rabbi.  He has accused Israel of “deep racism,” suggested that its leaders are “repressive” and “fascistic,” and endorses boycotts of Israel.

3. SJSU Professor of History Jonathan Roth, who teaches courses about Israel and was included as a faculty member for the Middle East Consortium in their application for the Title VI grant, was not included in any of the planning for this event, nor was he even informed of it. We believe this was due to his well-known support for the state of Israel.

4. Within the last few years, MdES and/or CMES has sponsored several events and exhibits which have demonized and delegitimized the Jewish state.  For example:

  • May 3, 2011 –  “Arab Revolutions,” a panel discussion by four scholars about revolution in the Arab world, included negative statements about Israel, such as that Israeli’s are “foreign occupiers.”  Three of the four panelists are local leaders in campaigns to boycott Israel.
  • September 21, 2011 –  “Occupied Minds: Life and Education Under Occupation” was a lecture given by Prof. Persis Karim about the difficulty of life under Israeli “occupation” for Palestinians in the West Bank.
  • December 8, 2011 – “Slingshot Hip Hop” is a movie about life under Israeli occupation which is shown widely at events promoting the boycott of Israel.
  • February 27 – March 30, 2012 – “Recollections: Art and Archive of an Iranian-American Journey” was an art exhibit on display at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library, containing a poster from the Islamic Society of America with a swastika superimposed on a star of David, next to a map of Israel.

In addition to our concern that the upcoming workshop may violate the funding stipulations of both the USIP and Title VI grants, as educators we are troubled by the unbalanced composition of a pedagogical workshop for training high school and college instructors how to teach about a complex conflict, and as members of the Jewish community we are worried that a workshop which purports to promote “peace building” between Israelis and Palestinians will instead be a forum for promoting hatred of the Jewish state.

We request that you look into this workshop and its lack of a credible Israeli perspective, and we urge you to ensure that all future events and exhibits sponsored by SJSU academic units receiving federal funds, especially MdES and CMES, will avoid engaging in advocacy and partisanship and “reflect diverse perspectives and a wide range of views.”

Thank you for your consideration of this matter.




Tammi Rossman-Benjamin
Co-founder the AMCHA Initiative

Leila Beckwith
Co-founder the AMCHA Initiative

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