Letter to UCSC Chancellor Blumenthal Regarding Concern for UCSC’s selection and university sponsorship of Angela Davis as speaker for the 31st Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Convocation
To: Chancellor Blumenthal
Re: Concern about your office’s sponsorship of Angela Davis talk
January 27, 2014
Dear Chancellor Blumenthal,
We represent 20 organizations with hundreds of thousands of members and supporters nationwide. We are very troubled by UCSC’s selection of Angela Davis as speaker for the 31st Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Convocation, an event sponsored by your office. Given the title of her talk — “Racism, Militarism, Poverty: From Ferguson to Palestine” — it is clear that Davis will use this event, intended to honor Dr. King’s memory, as an opportunity to promote her own political agenda, which includes the demonization and delegitimization of the Jewish state. Instead of choosing a speaker who could unite diverse communities, as did Martin Luther King himself, UCSC has chosen a speaker whose well-known hatred of Israel and support for efforts to harm it through antisemitic boycotts, are extraordinarily divisive and deeply offensive to many in the Jewish community.
Even more troubling, however, is the lack of sensitivity shown to those members of the Jewish community, including many UCSC Jewish alumni who have expressed to you their sincere concerns about this major event. Rather than publicly acknowledging these concerns and seeking to address the serious issues that underlie them, you issued a statement which completely ignores their concerns and simply asserts the University’s right to sponsor any event on the grounds of freedom of speech and academic freedom.
Although you aver in your statement that the University’s commitment to providing a platform for “the widest range of viewpoints” does not imply “agreement or endorsement” of those views, the reality is that when the University itself sponsors any event — but particularly one as important to the University as the annual MLK Memorial Convocation, involving a rigorous review of possible speakers — there is indeed an implicit endorsement of the views expressed at the event. For this reason, we do not believe the University would have selected a speaker with a known history of racist or homophobic statements or allowed him or her to speak on a topic which was so obviously offensive to African Americans or members of the LGBT community, freedom of speech and academic freedom notwithstanding.
Unfortunately, the University has a history of selectively ignoring Jewish concerns and giving its official imprimatur to events which have had a deleterious effect on members of the Jewish community, particularly students. This is well-documented in the University of California Jewish Student Campus Climate Report commissioned by former UC President Mark Yudof. Here are some excerpts from that report, which included substantial testimony from Jewish members of the UCSC campus and general communities:
“Jewish students are confronting significant and difficult climate issues as a result of activities on campus which focus specifically on Israel, its right to exist and its treatment of Palestinians…[and] which portray Israel and, many times, Jews in ways which project hostility, engender a feeling of isolation, and undermine Jewish students’ sense of belonging and engagement with outside communities. The issue of anti-Zionism activities was a focal point of our discussions with all of the students, Jewish organizations, faculty and administration.”
“One of the most significant issues expressed by Jewish students, faculty and community members is their difficulty with sponsorship of university departments, campus organizations and others of events which are very clearly designed to promote themes which are biased and unbalanced in their portrayal of Zionism and Israel. The students indicated that University administrative offices, such as the multicultural or cross cultural centers, sponsor student organization events that are dominated by groups adopting anti-Zionist platforms. Others indicated that they were doubtful that academic departments exhibited balance in their sponsorship or hosting of events — symposiums, speaker series, etc. — as they related to Israel and Zionism.”
“What came through in our discussions…was a sense from Jewish students and others of a double standard when it comes to the themes and language used by those protesting Israel and its policies. Specifically, Jewish students described the use of language and imagery which they believe would not be tolerated by faculty and administration, or would at least be denounced with more force, if similar themes and language were directed at other groups on campus.”
“[P]ro-Zionist Jewish students and faculty perceive a difference in how the movement against Israel and Zionism is viewed and addressed by those in faculty and administration responsible for dealing with campus climate.”
We are aware that in response to the controversy surrounding the upcoming event you have agreed to offer a joint on-campus program with the Anti-Defamation League. While this may be a step in the right direction, it is in no way sufficient to addressing the long-standing and pervasive problems that Jewish members of the campus community have been facing at UCSC, including the harmful effects of University sponsorship of unambiguously anti-Israel events.
We therefore urge you to issue a public statement in which you commit yourself to the following two recommendations from the UC Jewish Student Campus Climate Report:
1) Review UCSC’s policies on University sponsorship and neutrality and develop model institutional protocols for such activities.
2) Adopt a definition of antisemitism consistent with the working definition developed by the European Union and used by the U.S. State Department in its 2008 report on contemporary global anti-Semitism, and provide a model protocol for campus administrators to identify contemporary incidents of antisemitism, which may be sanctioned by University non-discrimination or anti-harassment policies.
We believe that taking these important steps will help to ensure that UCSC affords all members of its diverse community a safe, equitable and inclusive campus climate.
Accuracy in Academia
Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity (AEPi)
American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists
American Freedom Alliance
Americans for Peace and Tolerance
David Horowitz Freedom Center
Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET)
Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel
Iranian American Jewish Federation
Middle East Political and Information Network (MEPIN)
Proclaiming Justice to the Nations
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East
Simon Wiesenthal Center
Students and Parents Against Campus Anti-Semitism
The Lawfare Project
Training and Education About the Middle East (T.E.A.M.)
Zionist Organization of America
UC President Janet Napolitano
UCSC Associate Chancellor Ashish Sahni
UCSC Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Herbert Lee
UCSC Assistant Campus Diversity Officer Sheree Marlowe
Jewish Community Leaders