Recently, many members of the Jewish community wrote to you and to UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal, asking you to acknowledge and condemn anti-Semitic acts such as the latest swastika that was found by a Jewish student in a men’s bathroom at UCSC. In response to the serious concerns about anti-Jewish bigotry raised by these community members, you emailed to each of them the text of a speech you had given at the annual convention of the Anti-Defamation League on November 4, 2011. Unfortunately, your speech was not only dismissive of their serious concerns, it contained several misleading and misinformed statements about your efforts to protect Jewish students at the University of California. We will address them in turn:
1) You professed that you and the Chancellors condemn “bad speech at every turn.” It is true that you and the Chancellors do issue generic condemnations of “bad speech,” and you do plead for Principles of Community. But generic statements do not identify and label the content of the hate as anti-Semitic; they do not label the targets as Jews; nor are the haters identified, condemned, and shamed to the campus community. Your vague condemnations enable anti-Jewish bigotry to continue. Indeed, that is the very reason so many community members recently wrote to you and Chancellor Blumenthal, urging you to acknowledge and condemn anti-Semitic acts, such as swastikas, to the entire campus community.
2) You champion the new system for reporting “incidents of intolerance or bias, religious or otherwise” on each UC campus. Although in theory this reporting system could help administrators respond to acts of anti-Jewish bigotry in a swifter and more decisive way, in practice, however, because of the current absence of any guidelines about what constitutes an anti-Semitic act or how to address anti-Semitic bigotry, it is clear that Jewish students will derive little if any benefit from the new campus climate reporting system, and they may even be harmed by it. Indeed, one Jewish student at UCSC recently reported to us that he felt retaliated against after he had filed a hate/bias report about an event sponsored by one of the residential colleges, which he and many other Jewish students felt was deeply offensive and hurtful to them as Jews.
3) As you know, the “ground-breaking, system-wide climate study” that you mention as a step you are taking to improve the climate on UC campuses was recommended by the Regents’ Study Group on University Diversity in their 2007 report. Appointed by President Dynes in 2006 to improve campus climate by increasing student and faculty diversity, the Regents’ Study Group focused almost exclusively on underrepresented minorities, including women and the African American, Latino, and American Indian student and faculty populations. The system-wide climate study that they recommended was intended to facilitate the recruitment and retention of these targeted minorities. Without disparaging the importance of this study, it’s important to point out that little if any of it will focus on Jewish students and their concerns, and to suggest otherwise is disingenuous.
4) While we applaud the recent addition to the UC student code of conduct of a provision (104.90) to enhance disciplinary sanctions when threatening behavior is motivated by bias (including religious bias), we once again believe that without a definition of anti-Semitism or any clear guidelines about what constitutes anti-Jewish bias, Jewish students will most likely not be helped by this new provision.
5) You claim credit for initiating a “Jewish Student Experience Fact Finding Tour” and assert that it has resulted in UC Jewish students on three campuses feeling “heard…and their concerns respected.” This claim, however, is misinformed, at least as far as some Jewish students are concerned. At UCSC, for example, the “Fact Finding Tour” was held with a small group of students, who had been selected a priori by the administration. Following the meeting, which lasted little more than an hour, several of the students reported feeling frustrated that they were given insufficient opportunity to express their concerns. At UC Davis, a small group of students met with the tour leaders for only one hour. And at UC Irvine, where many Jewish students have reported being intimidated and harassed by members of Muslim and pro-Palestinian student groups and their cries for help ignored by administrators, tour leaders met with a mixed group of students and faculty for only 45 minutes! Given the perfunctory nature of the effort made to understand Jewish students’ experiences, which was the focus of the Fact Finding Tour, one wonders about the accuracy of the sweeping statement that “students felt heard” and “their concerns..respected.”
6) You allege that “the climate on UC campuses is getting better, not worse, for our Jewish students.” We believe that this assertion, which you have presented without any evidence at all, is not only misinformed, but hypocritical. For when we and 12 Jewish organizations sent you a letter in June 2010 with five pages of testimonies of Jewish students from 3 different UC campuses describing the hostile and intimidating environment for them as Jews (see Appendix One of our letter dated 6/28/10), in your response to us you criticized the student data as statistically unreliable and unrepresentative. In other words, you refused to even acknowledge dozens of student testimonies describing experiences of anti-Jewish bigotry, and yet you want the Jewish community to accept your statement that the climate for Jewish students on UC campuses is improving, without any empirical data at all!
7) Your statement that “recent criticisms consistently rely on grievances that occurred several years ago” is wholly unfounded. All of our letters to you contain many recent incidents of anti-Jewish bigotry. Your statement ignores, for example, the June, 2011 “Teach in on Islamophobia” at UCSC, in which an administrator distributed material to students to encourage them to support the flotilla to Gaza, organized by individuals with ties to organizations that call for the murder of Jews, and in violation of a U.S. State Department warning; it ignores the September, 2011 publication by UCLA Today of an article calling for the dismantling of the Jewish state; it ignores the 2011 sponsorship by the UC San Diego Cross Cultural Center and Office of Student Affairs of Israel Apartheid Week at UC San Diego, an event that included well-known speakers who routinely engage in anti-Semitic rhetoric; and it ignores that the previous Israel Apartheid Week at UCSD, similarly rife with anti-Israel and and anti-Jewish bigotry, was sponsored by 18 academic and administrative units and was publicly praised by a UCSD faculty member whom you subsequently appointed to your Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion. Indeed, our communications with you have consistently relied on current incidents and student testimonies, and to say otherwise is clearly an attempt to dismiss our concerns out of hand.
8) Your assertion that “there is universal agreement on the part of our student groups and administrators that most of the ‘bad’ speech, and actions of intolerance that occur at UC are agitated from off-campus,” is again without evidence, both as to the ‘universal agreement’ and to the facts. There is ample documentation to show that the primary sources of anti-Semitism on UC campuses are registered student groups and faculty. To the extent that outside individuals or organizations come onto a UC campus for the purpose of inciting anti-Jewish hatred, they do so at the invitation of registered student groups and faculty, and with the full knowledge and approval of UC administrators.
9) You close your ADL talk by commenting on the Jewish perspective on “censorship,” contending that “censorship is not the way of the People of the Book” and warning that the First Amendment “is not a principle we should take lightly, nor should seek to undo lightly.” The context of your words leaves little doubt that you are casting aspersions on members of the Jewish community such as ourselves, who have been most vocal in identifying anti-Jewish bigotry on UC campuses, suggesting that we are secretly motivated by a desire to censor legitimate criticism of Israel and implying that our alleged disregard of the First Amendment is not only un-American, but un-Jewish as well.
Not only are the implications of your words untrue, they are extremely offensive. We are certainly not trying to censor the critics of Israel. Our sole objective is, and has always been, to keep Jewish students safe from the intellectual, emotional, and physical harassment and intimidation they are feeling and reporting, and which you have been unwilling to acknowledge and address. By raising the specter of censorship and implying that our actions are both un-Jewish and un-American, it seems that it is you who are trying to censor us.
Jewish leaders around the world, including the hosts of your recent talk at the Anti-Defamation League’s annual meeting, recognize that there has been an alarming rise in global anti-Semitism, the likes of which has not been seen since the Holocaust. In America, the primary locus of anti-Jewish animus is the college campus, and among its frightening manifestations are the emotional, intellectual, and physical intimidation and harassment of Jewish students. As we and others have documented, this is certainly the case at the University of California. That is why we are deeply disappointed that even after thousands of members of the California Jewish community have asked you to address their serious concerns, you are unwilling to take effective steps for ensuring the safety and well-being of Jewish students on UC campuses.
President Yudof, when will you publicly acknowledge and address the serious and growing problem of anti-Jewish bigotry at the University of California?