May 24, 2019
Gene Block, Ph.D.
University of California, Los Angeles
Office of the Chancellor
2147 Murphy Hall
Los Angeles, California 90095
Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
University of California, Los Angeles
2147 Murphy Hall, Box 951405
Los Angeles, California 90095
Dear Chancellor Block and Vice Chancellor Kang,
We write to you on behalf of StandWithUs, an international, non-profit, education organization supporting Israel and fighting antisemitism around the world. We are inspired by our love of Israel, our belief that education is the road to peace, and our commitment to stand up for Israel and the Jewish people when they are publicly attacked or misrepresented.
As you may be aware, on Thursday, May 14, 2019, UCLA Professor Dr. Kyeyoung Park
(“Park”) invited Rabab Abdulhadi (“Abdulhadi”), an Associate Professor at San Francisco State University, to deliver a guest lecture titled, “Islamophobia and the Attacks Against Palestine Organizing and Scholarship,” for her class, “Constructing Race.” This lecture took place on UCLA’s campus, in Fowler Hall, Room 103 B, as part of Park’s class, where – pursuant to the syllabus – attendance at all class sessions is expected. It appears that Park deemed this particular session mandatory, as evidenced in an email sent from Park’s teaching assistant to the class, as well as the fact that contrary to usual classroom procedure for most of her classes, all students were required to sign a sign-in sheet at the beginning of this guest lecture.
It is our understanding that Abdulhadi used this opportunity to deliver an anti-Israel and
antisemitic rant that included numerous offensive, false and discriminatory statements. These statements were not merely anti-Israel, but antisemitic in that they allegedly characterized all Zionists as white supremacists desiring a wholly Jewish world and willing to engage in ethnic cleansing in order to attain that goal. Abdulhadi directed this rant against at least one student in the class who was visibly upset by Abdulhadi’s statements, questioned them during an open Q&A time, and, as a result of Abdulhadi’s statements and treatment of her, was brought to
tears. In fact, when this student challenged some of Abdulhadi’s false statements, Abdulhadi silenced her, then repeatedly singled her out for scolding and belittling in front of the entire class for the remainder of the lecture.
Reportedly, Park saw that her student was upset. Rather than acknowledging that this student was unjustly singled out for standing up for her religious and ethnic identity and expressing an alternate viewpoint, and rather than inquiring into or taking any steps to ensure the student’s well being, Park apparently turned away and refused to make eye contact with this student. When the student requested to speak with Park after class, Park refused, claiming that she did not have time, though Park nevertheless remained in the classroom for several more minutes standing by, again without intervening, while Abdulhadi continued to harass the Jewish student who had previously spoken up. Since Abdulhadi’s lecture, Park reportedly continues to bring up this incident in class, asking aloud whether this student – and only this student – is present when doing so. Park called out only this student by name for the next two classes – with over 100 students present – and then complained that Park is now part of an investigation because of this student’s interaction with Abdulhadi.
Unfortunately, this episode emerges as part of a disturbing trend of antisemitic incidents at
UCLA, as detailed below. As a result, we believe that UCLA has an obligation to take action
sufficient to return the campus to a safe, non-harassing, non-discriminatory environment for
Jewish and pro-Israel students and employees alike. Additionally, as laid out more fully below, UCLA should take steps to protect itself from any potential liability based on the conduct of Park, who is an employee at the university.
Title VI and the Definition of Antisemitism
We firmly believe that at both public and private institutions, the freedom of speech, even
offensive speech, should be cherished and respected as a fundamental tenet of democracy.
However, as the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) has made
clear, there are times when speech crosses over into harassment and invidious discrimination. Harassment can be verbal if it is severe, persistent, or pervasive enough to limit or deny a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in federally assisted programs and activities on the basis of race, color or national origin. A violation of Title VI may be found if discrimination is encouraged, tolerated, not adequately addressed, or ignored by administration. Complaints alleging a violation of Title VI may be filed with OCR or in the federal district courts. Although Title VI does not use the word “religion,” OCR has deemed that some cases of religious discrimination may involve discrimination based on race, ethnicity or gender, extending Title VI protection where the facts require. Jewish students, as well as Arab Muslim and Sikh students, are thereby protected from discrimination based on their perceived ethnic, racial or ancestral background.
While StandWithUs does not condone stifling freedoms, we do believe in following the law and making sure that no one country or people are singled out for discrimination. The U.S.
Department of Education recently adopted the U.S. Department of State’s working definition of antisemitism, which states that “[a]ntisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” Such manifestations could also target the State of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity and is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It can be expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and almost always employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.
Particularly as it relates to the State of Israel, the working definition of antisemitism includes several examples of what would constitute problematic antisemitic speech. These include, but are not limited to: denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination; accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interest of their own nations; applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation; multilateral organizations focusing on Israel only for peace or human rights investigations; and holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel. Universities must be vigilant in ensuring that hateful antisemitic speech does not lead to Jewish students being improperly singled out for disparate treatment and limited in their ability to participate meaningfully in educational and other campus opportunities.
Antisemitism at UCLA
In 2016, the UC Regents approved the Principles Against Intolerance, which state, in part, “Anti- Semitism and other forms of discrimination have no place in the University. The Regents call on University leaders actively to challenge anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination when and wherever they emerge within the University community.” Although these Principles are aspirational and not governing, Vice Chancellor Kang’s office stated that they nevertheless“reflect core values that are fundamental to the UCLA community.”
Despite this endorsement, UCLA has been and continues to be fertile ground for antisemitic
• In May 2019, UCLA’s student government passed a resolution condemning “misinformation” about Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Contained in the resolution is a clause arguing that SJP was falsely accused of antisemitism. This resolution passed despite mounting evidence that in fact SJP does promote antisemitism – both nationally and at UCLA. This resolution made Jewish students at UCLA, who feel targeted by SJP’s hateful, antisemitic rhetoric, feel marginalized. The resolution also violates the spirit of a 2015 resolution condemning antisemitism.
• In November 2018, SJP held its national conference at UCLA. Nationally, SJP has a deeply disturbing record. The group receives funding and other forms of support from non-governmental organizations that are tied to multiple designated terror organizations, including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). National SJP conferences have featured lectures from terrorists like Khader Adnan, an Islamic Jihad leader who called for suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. SJP also spearheaded a campaign to glorify and raise money for Rasmea Odeh, who helped carry out a PFLP terrorist attack that killed two Israeli civilians. The group frequently expresses support for an “Intifada” (a campaign of violence against Israelis), creating a hostile climate for Jewish and Israeli students—particularly those who lost friends and family during the brutal suicide bombings of the Second Intifada. SJP- affiliated activists have threatened violence against Jewish students and others who support Israel’s existence.
Moreover, SJP spreads hate against Jews and Israelis on campus on a regular basis. SJP
members frequently shout down speakers with whom they disagree, an illegal act that has
resulted in numerous criminal and university investigations into violations of campus policies and state law. SJP has been charged with criminal violence. Much of their rhetoric falls under the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which has been adopted and applied by numerous countries and government bodies across the world, including the EU, the Government of Canada, the U.S. Department of State, and most recently the U.S. Department of Education. Such expression by SJP includes denying Israel’s right to exist,
demonizing Israelis, and attacking Israel using classic anti-Semitic tropes. In fact, SJP’s political agenda is to eliminate the State of Israel and strip away Jewish rights to self- determination. These are just a few examples of how SJP manifests antisemitism and
creates a climate on campus that is divisive, discriminatory, harassing, and sometimes
violent for Jews.
• In May 2018, anti-Israel protestors at UCLA staged a lengthy illegal disruption during a Students Supporting Israel Indigenous Speakers Unite speaker panel on campus. The panel featured Israeli, Armenian and Kurdish speakers. The disruptors barged in about halfway through the panel. One disruptor tore down one of the flags and got in the face of one of the panelists, throwing the panelist’s placard aside in acts of vandalism and menacing behavior. A larger group then entered, screaming, chanting, playing music, and disrupting the entire event. Campus police were called and stood idle for several minutes before finally asking the protestors to step aside. The disruption was substantial, illegal and the event ended abruptly.
Despite violations of both state law and UCLA policy, and video evidence identifying the disruptors, your administration refused to sanction any of the offenders. Instead, students and community members present at the event filed police reports with the UCLA Police
Department to enforce the law. Police referred the matter to the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office immediately after the filing. The City Attorney required the ten community members identified in the disruption to attend a mandatory City Attorney’s hearing. However, students identified to your administration for breaking the law received no consequences or punishment within the university framework. Furthermore, it is our understanding that the City Attorney could have investigated the students’ criminal conduct, but your administration shielded the students from further inquiry by the City Attorney.
• In January 2018, UCLA’s Undergraduate Students Association Council President Arielle
Mokhtarzadeh was the victim of an antisemitic hate crime when her mezuzah—a religious artifact—was torn down and stolen from the doorpost outside her campus office. The mezuzah is one of the most enduring symbols of Jewish identity. This act targeted a UCLA student government president because of her Jewish identity by desecrating a sacred symbol of Judaism.
• In December 2015, a UCLA student employed at the UCLA Center for Prehospital Care
posted a lengthy antisemitic diatribe in response to a Facebook post by Mayim Bialik about Zionism.
• In February 2015, UCLA student Rachel Beyda faced antisemitic questioning about her Jewish background during a routine student government judicial confirmation hearing. Four student government officials questioned Beyda’s ability to maintain an unbiased viewpoint as a student government leader for no other reason than that she is Jewish.
• In May 2014, pro-Palestinian groups asked student government political candidates to sign an ethics pledge, promising not to travel on programs paid by pro-Israel groups, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (“AIPAC”), the Anti-Defamation League (“ADL”) and Hasbara Fellowships.
• Since 2014, SJP has brought several known antisemitic speakers to campus, including
Miko Peled and Max Blumenthal, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (“BDS”) co- founder Omar Barghouti, and Abdulhadi.
• In February 2012, SJP set up a mock apartheid wall at the beginning of Palestine Awareness Week where they compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza to the
atrocities of the Holocaust.
This antisemitism on UCLA’s campus, along with UCLA’s failure to adequately address, and,
where appropriate, impose disciplinary measures for discriminatory acts, creates a hostile
environment for the UCLA Jewish and Israeli community. UCLA’s nondiscrimination policy
makes it clear that UCLA conducts its business “in accordance with applicable federal and state laws and [u]niversity policies,” and states that the university:
[D]oes not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender
identity, pregnancy (including pregnancy, childbirth, and medical conditions related to
pregnancy and childbirth), physical or mental disability, medical condition (cancer-related
or genetic characteristics), ancestry, marital status, age, sexual orientation, citizenship, or
service in the uniformed services (including membership, application for membership, performance of service, application for service, or obligation for service in the uniformed
services). The University also prohibits sexual harassment and harassment on any of the
above bases. This nondiscrimination policy covers admission, access, and treatment in
University programs and activities.
This pattern of antisemitic activity at UCLA, combined with your administration’s indifference
to taking substantive action to deter further misconduct, violates UCLA’s nondiscrimination
policy and satisfies UCLA’s definition of harassment. Harassment is defined as: [C]onduct that is so severe and/or pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so substantially impairs a person’s access to University programs or activities that the person is effectively denied equal access to the University’s resources and opportunities. Sanctions may be enhanced where an individual was selected for harassment because of the individual’s race, color, national or ethnic origin, citizenship, sex, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, marital status, ancestry, service in the uniformed services, physical or mental disability, medical condition, or perceived membership in any of these classifications.
As you are undoubtedly aware, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides that “[n]o
person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded
from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any
program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Should your administration refuse to take prompt corrective action regarding the ongoing discrimination on your campus you may place UCLA in violation of this clear prohibition.
UCLA has a legal obligation to prevent unlawful discrimination by its employees and staff.
Abdulhadi’s hateful comments were discriminatory, flagrantly antisemitic and have no place in the classroom setting. Her comments rise far beyond mere criticism of Israel; they represent a bigoted stereotype targeting anyone who supports the world’s only Jewish state. Furthermore, Abdulhadi’s invitation to be a guest speaker was entirely inappropriate to the course. Park’s class has nothing to do with Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Judaism or any topic that could hypothetically spur such a rant. Abdulhadi’s comments represent a disturbing precedent of using a teaching platform to indoctrinate students rather than to educate.
Additionally, the UC Faculty Code of Conduct, which governs faculty at UCLA, states that
professors have an ethical obligation to “avoid any exploitation, harassment, or discriminatory treatment of students,” and explicitly categorizes discrimination as unacceptable conduct. By inviting Abdulhadi to speak and permitting an antisemitic diatribe, blatantly ignoring Abdulhadi’s harassment of one of her Jewish students, and continuing to harass the student about the incident—in front of the entire class, no less—Park has violated the faculty code of conduct with respect to harassment and discrimination.
We recognize that Park offered an in-class apology for Abdulhadi’s comments on May 16, 2019. However, this apology was insufficient, particularly in light of her continual reference to the incident and her venting to her class about potentially being investigated as a result of it. Further steps are necessary to make UCLA a non-hostile, non-discriminatory environment for Jewish and Israeli students.
At a minimum, we encourage your administration immediately to issue a statement condemning Abdulhadi’s discriminatory behavior and use of UCLA’s class space to promote her antisemitic agenda. Furthermore, we encourage your administration to investigate this matter fully, and, if violations of UCLA policy are found, discipline Park for permitting such bigotry to occur in her classroom and her separate harassing treatment of her Jewish student.
In conclusion, we urge your administration to take all necessary steps to protect itself against legal liability that could result from ignoring this pattern of discrimination on your campus and the detrimental impact it is having on the Jewish members of the campus community. Further, we are resolved to take all appropriate legal action if any student or faculty member suffers from related discriminatory and/or harassing behavior.
Because of our great concern for the Jewish and Israeli campus community, and our successful track record in addressing these very issues, we would be happy to coordinate a meeting so that we can assist your administration in developing a concrete plan to address the climate at UCLA in a way that will serve to reverse the rising tide of antisemitic activity.
We appreciate your attention to these matters and look forward to hearing back from you no later than June 7, 2019.
Roz Rothstein CEO and Co-Founder
Yael Lerman Director, StandWithUs StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department
Carly Gammill Director & Counsel for Litigation Strategy StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism
Cc: University of California Board of Regents