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Anti-Zionism and BDS Intrinsic Part of ‘Critical’ Ethnic Studies Mission


Contact: Nicole Rosen

Santa Cruz, CA, August 13, 2020 – Citing research demonstrating the harassment, bigotry and physical harm that could threaten Jewish students if a bill that makes ethnic studies courses a California State University (CSU) graduation requirement becomes law, 90 education, civil rights and religious organizations today strongly urged California Governor Gavin Newsom to veto the bill.

The organizations noted an important distinction between the broad field of ethnic studies, with its goal of understanding and celebrating the contributions of California’s and our nation’s diversity, and the narrow field of “Critical Ethnic Studies” referenced in AB 1460. This narrow understanding of ethnic studies has a much more limited focus, and, as a central part of its disciplinary mission, promotes political activism and certain political ideologies the organizations note are antithetical to an educational setting and pose a threat to Jewish students.

“We are deeply concerned that without adequate safeguards, these courses could become vehicles for one-sided political advocacy and activism that will both subvert the academic mission of the university, and incite bigotry and harm against some CSU students,” wrote the organizations. “In particular, we fear that the anti-Zionist orientation of Critical Ethnic Studies – the version of ethnic studies likely to be taught in response to AB 1460 -- coupled with the willingness of many ethnic studies faculty to bring anti-Zionist advocacy and activism into their professional spaces, will foster a toxic climate for Jewish and pro-Israel students and foment harm against them.”

AB 1460 was approved by the California legislature and is currently awaiting the Governor’s signature. CSU has approved an alternative to AB 1460 that it prefers. Newsom has the remainder of this week to sign or veto the bill. Several members of the Academic Engagement Network sent a letter in opposition to AB 1460 that has gotten more than 100 signatures from faculty across CSU.

The 90 groups noted that vetoing AB 1460 is necessary because anti-Zionist advocacy and the promotion of BDS are an intrinsic part of critical ethnic studies; critical ethnic studies faculty have repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to promote BDS and anti-Zionist advocacy in their academic programming and classrooms; and faculty support and promotion of BDS is strongly linked to the harassment of Jewish students.

“While faculty have every right to engage in political advocacy and activism outside the university, recent studies suggest that many Critical Ethnic Studies faculty are bringing their extramural support for BDS and their anti-Zionist politics into their conference halls and classrooms,” wrote the organizations. “And this type of anti-Zionist political activism directly corresponds to a rise in anti-Semitic incidents on campus,” noted Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, the director of AMCHA Initiative, who coordinated this letter.

Research demonstrates that departments with faculty who support BDS are five to twelve times more likely to sponsor events with BDS-supporting speakers and anti-Zionist content, and BDS-supporting faculty are four times more likely to include readings by anti-Zionist, BDS-supporting authors in the syllabi of Israel-related courses they teach.

In addition, and more alarming, several studies on anti-Semitic activity on U.S. campuses have shown strong correlations between faculty who support and advocate for BDS and acts of harassment targeting Jewish students, including physical and verbal assault, vandalism, bullying, and suppression of speech: Schools with faculty who support BDS are about five times more likely to have incidents targeting Jewish students for harm; schools with student and faculty anti-Zionist expression and BDS promotion are about four times more likely to have acts of anti-Jewish hostility; and schools that host departmentally sponsored events that include BDS-supporting speakers are twice as likely to have such incidents.

“We therefore urge you to veto AB 1460, as well as to call on CSU Chancellor Timothy White and the CSU Board of Trustees to institute robust safeguards against using CSU classrooms and other academic or educational spaces for politically-motivated advocacy and activism,” wrote the groups, noting that the University of California (UC) has a policy against using the classroom for political indoctrination.

When a California commission released a highly political ethnic studies high school curriculum last summer, which was based on this same narrow Critical Ethnic Studies model, many of the groups on today’s letter wrote to the California Department of Education and the State Board of Education to ring similar alarm bells that political indoctrination in schools often leads to increased ethnic bigotry, including anti-Semitism. That draft curriculum was immediately rejected by Newsom and numerous legislators, and a revised draft was recently shared.

“AB 331, a bill similar to AB 1460 which will make a course based on the high school ethnic studies curriculum a high school graduation requirement, is currently being considered by the California legislature and is equally problematic,” stated Rossman-Benjamin. “The legislators should amend that bill now to incorporate safeguards so that we can avoid this problem and protect students.”

AMCHA monitors 450 college campuses across the U.S. for anti-Semitic activity. The organization has recorded more than 3,500 anti-Semitic incidents since 2015. Its daily Anti-Semitism Tracker, organized by state and university, can be viewed here.

AMCHA Initiative is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to combating anti-Semitism at colleges and universities in the United States.

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