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Commentary: Smear campaign launched against BDS opponents


By, Roz Rothstein and Roberta Seid
March 2012  

The University of California San Diego (UCSD) student government soundly defeated an anti-Israel divestment resolution presented by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) on February 29 by a vote of 20 to 13.  For the past two years, the Associated Student government has debated and tabled divestment resolution, but this year they voted on it.  After seven hours of emotional public testimony, divestment was defeated.

The call for divestment at UCSD is part of the larger organized movement to delegitimize the state of Israel in what is known as BDS–the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. In the past, Israel’s fight for survival took place on conventional battlefields in the Middle East. Today, the war against Israel has expanded into a global campaign to demonize the Jewish state through BDS, most often on college campuses.

While student organizations like SJP and the Muslim Student Association claim that divestment from Israel is merely a neutral way to reduce violence in the region, the reality is that divestment is divisive and biased, and creates a hostile campus climate for students who support Israel.   During the debate, divestment advocates repeatedly tried to discredit their opponents, accusing them of “racism.”  They singled out UCSD Professor Dubnov as a racist. They continually charged that an opinion piece against divestment was signed by “racist” professors as if arguing against divestment made one guilty of the sin of prejudice. They argued that rejecting divestment would be divisive, and would make them feel unsafe on campus, overlooking the fact that they themselves had introduced the divisive measure.

While political losses often can lead to angry recriminations, in this case, after divestment was defeated, Students for Justice in Palestine launched a disturbing tactic.  They abandoned argument about the issue and turned solely to ad hominem attacks, publicly defaming their opponents. SJP, the Student Affirmative Action Committee (SAAC) and their allied groups sent a letter to the UCSD administration on March 2, accusing their opponents of “racism” and “harassment.”  They claimed that people who videotaped the event and the recipients of the footage were “racists, classists, homophobes, sexists and bigots.”

The letter also attacked specific individuals: Shlomo Dubnov, music professor and campus leader of the international faculty group Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME); a UCSD staff member; and Alyssa Wing, the president of the UCSD student government.  The sponsoring groups charged that Professor Dubnov harassed a student in the hall after she spoke. Dubnov denies the incident ever occurred and has brought charges of harassment against his accusers.   The appropriate campus office is now investigating the case.

They vilified Alyssa Wing as “corrupt,” and of using “offensive” rhetoric because she spoke out against divestment.   In a stunning violation of procedural rules and fairness, the board of the UCSD Faculty Association, a branch of the American Association of University Professors, accepted the accusations without waiting for the university to investigate, and issued a letter of condemnation on March 6.  The letter singled out Dubnov and the staff member, neither of whom was given the chance to defend themselves.

The letter was also presented at a March 8 meeting of UCSD’s Committee on Campus Climate, a branch of the UC-wide effort to reduce hate and inter-group tensions on campus. The SJP complaints were discussed even though the Dubnov case is still under investigation.

Divestment advocates have crossed the line from political debate into a smear and defamation campaign that can stain the reputation and jeopardize the careers of those who oppose them.   The divestment advocates should not be able to bully their current and future opponents into silence. We can only hope that the UCSD administration and UC authorities expose and address this travesty in which political disagreement is termed harassment, reputations are defamed and accusations are accepted without proper investigation.  Otherwise, the bedrock American valued of free speech and democracy will be undermined and free debate on campus will be suffocated.

Roberta Seid, PhD is the education director at StandWithUs, and Roz Rothstein is the CEO and co-founder.


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