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CSUN Web page called anti-Semitic

CSUN Web page called anti-Semitic

Dana Bartholomew, Contra Costa Times
November 19, 2011

A Cal State Northridge professor’s campus-based Web page calling for a boycott of Israel has sparked charges of anti-Semitism, but the school president and others are defending it as an expression of protected academic free speech.

CSUN President Jolene Koester, after receiving complaints about the “Boycott Israel Resource Page” by mathematics Professor David Klein, called for a full administrative review. It found no violation of California State University web use policy.

“While we recognize this finding will not satisfy everyone, the conclusions are based on the important tenets of academic freedom and free speech,” the outgoing president wrote Dec. 5.

Klein’s Web page, posted on a CSUN server ( calls Israel an “apartheid state … the most racist state in the world at this time.”

It includes graphic photos of Palestinian children allegedly burned or killed by Israeli soldiers, some by incendiary white phosphorous.

Posted three years ago after the Israeli attack on Gaza, it calls for international boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

“It’s absurd,” said Klein, of the charge of anti-Semitism. “Some of the leaders of the BDS movement against Israel are Jewish.

“Supporting a boycott against Israel is no more anti-Semitic than supporting a boycott of apartheid South Africa during the 1980s was anti-white.”

The 23-year CSUN professor declined to discuss his own religious background.

The site has spurred criticism by some off-campus pro-Israel professors and a San Fernando Valley congressional candidate.

“This is propaganda,” said Susan Shelley, of Woodland Hills, a Republican running in the South Valley’s new 30th District. “It’s designed to incite an emotional hatred of Israel – (with) photos of dead babies, without a context of those incidents.

“And (as taxpayers), we’re being forced to pay for it under the cloak of academic freedom.”

A Pro-Israel Bay Bloggers site posted a letter to Koester this month by two University of California professors denouncing Klein’s page as anti-Semitic.

They accused the CSUN “Boycott Israel” site of misusing the university name, creating a hostile environment for Jewish students, possibly violating U.S. law, and “an egregious violation of public trust.”

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a lecturer at UC Santa Cruz and co-author of the letter, could not be reached Friday.

“Be afraid, Mr. Klein. Be afraid,” a woman caller warned the professor during one recent phone message.

Academics, however, defended the use of a university site established to discuss vital issues of the world.

“If you can’t discuss controversial ideas on a university campus, where can you?” asked Klein, who has received hate mail and at least one death threat.

A group called California Scholars for Academic Freedom also weighed in with a letter thanking the outgoing president.

“As university faculty members, we are well aware of attempts by special interest groups to stifle critical discussion of the Middle East,” according to the letter. “… In such a poisonous atmosphere, it is essential to have educational leaders, such as yourself, genuinely committed to academic freedom.”

Klein was one of 81 Cal State faculty and 46 students to sign an open letter opposing the reinstatement of study abroad programs in Israel, canceled a decade ago for safety reasons.

On Friday, the California State University announced that, after a risk assessment, it would lift the ban on studying in Israel. Beginning next fall, CSU students may study in Haifa through a single program run out of Chancellor Charles Reed’s office.

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