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StandWithUs Letter to UCLA Chancellor Block Concerning Statement of Solidarity with Palestine

June 11, 2021


Gene Block, Ph.D.

Chancellor

UCLA

2147 Murphy Hall

Los Angeles, California 90095-1405


VIA EMAIL: (chancellor@ucla.edu)


Dear Chancellor Block,


We write on behalf of the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department and the StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism, divisions of StandWithUs, an international, non-profit education organization supporting Israel and combating antisemitism. The purpose of this letter is to express our deep concern over the recent biased, antisemitic, and politically-charged Statement of Solidarity with Palestine (“Statement”) by UCLA’s Department of Asian American Studies.


We find the timing of the Statement especially concerning given the sharp rise in antisemitic incidents, both locally in Los Angeles and throughout the country: Jews are being attacked for wearing a yarmulke; synagogues, campus Jewish centers and kosher restaurants are being vandalized and Jewish restaurant patrons assaulted; and antisemitic Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (“BDS”) resolutions proliferate on college campuses nationwide.


We are deeply concerned that this Statement will cause the Jewish community—especially Jewish students and faculty—further harm at this time. Specifically, the Statement blames Israel alone for the latest upsurge in violence in “the form of deadly airstrikes, unauthorized evictions, beatings and imprisonments intended to terrorize and displace Palestinians,” and further states that “such violence and intimidation are but the latest manifestation of seventy-three years of settler colonialism, racial apartheid and occupation.” This dehumanizing and misleading rhetoric not only slanders Israel, but implicitly denies 3,000 years of Jewish history, identity, and rights in their ancestral homeland.


The Statement also promotes the antisemitic “Deadly Exchange” conspiracy theory by condemning “the exchange of military tactics and financial support between the United States and Israel.” The “Deadly Exchange” campaign falsely blames Israel and Jewish organizations for racism and police brutality in the United States, distracting from the primary causes of these injustices and dividing communities that otherwise agree on these important matters. Wrongly accusing Jews of being the reason for societal injustice is classic antisemitism. The end result is exactly what we see play out regularly across the country—increased divisiveness, ultimately leading to hateful acts and violence against Jews. For example, there is evidence that the antisemitic conspiracy theory promoted by “Deadly Exchange” helped influence the shooter who murdered Jews in a New Jersey deli in December 2019. Anti-Israel activists rely on this antisemitic campaign to further alienate Jewish, Israeli and Zionist students from the rest of the campus community.


Not surprisingly, the Statement ignores that Jewish identity came into being in the land of Israel. The Jewish people have maintained a continuous presence in Israel throughout history and, despite repeated expulsions, have maintained an unbroken connection to that land. For centuries, yearning for a return to Israel/Zion has been a central component of Jewish identity. Today, Jews fulfill their inalienable rights to self-determination in the State of Israel. Recognizing these realities, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism includes, “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” and as a form of antisemitism. This has been endorsed by the Biden Administration. The Statement meets this definition of antisemitism because it seeks to deny the Jewish connection to their ancestral home and to strip Jews of their right to self-determination there.


Academic departments should never take sides in political disagreements that could ultimately marginalize their students based on components of identity, such as religion, ethnicity, or national origin. Permitting academic departments to post such biased and divisive statements with no condemnation by upper-level administrators amounts to a tacit university seal of approval of such sentiments. In fact, because the Statement was sent on behalf of a UCLA academic department, readers may even view it as a university statement and endorsement, not realizing that individual departments do not speak for the university as a whole. This leaves Jewish and Israeli students within those departments and the university at large feeling threatened, marginalized, and targeted by the university.

Furthermore, while the content in the Statement may be protected free speech, it is biased, misleading and caters solely to the perspectives of anti-Israel voices. This seems at odds with a department that was “created to address the longstanding inequities in education and research.” It is difficult to imagine language less accepting of equity and open to differing perspectives than the language contained in this Statement.


We recognize and appreciate the campus environment as a place for diverging viewpoints and discourse. The fundamental pillars of free expression and campus speech dictate that free thought and expression is essential to an institution of higher learning. However, academic departments should not be leading a political debate on behalf of a university in a manner that ostracizes your Jewish and Israeli students. While we do not promote prohibiting speech—even harmful and hateful speech—campus administrators play a critical role in creating ethical boundaries and in setting examples of tolerance for the university. When conduct on campus extends beyond these ethical boundaries, it is imperative that campus leaders exercise their own First Amendment rights and unambiguously condemn the intolerance as it happens.


As such, we ask:


1. That your administration condemns the Department of Asian American Studies Statement as nonreflective of your administration’s official viewpoints.


2. That your administration issues a statement acknowledging that for many individuals, Zionism is an integral part of their Jewish identity. This statement has been adopted already at many other campuses faced with such hateful activity, including recently at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. This will go a long way toward making Jewish students feel protected and valued by their university.

3. That your entire faculty receive diversity and equity training this summer specifically on what constitutes antisemitism and how best to protect against a hostile campus climate for Jewish students. We suggest that such training incorporate an understanding of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, the consensus international definition of antisemitism. We are also happy to recommend education providers who can conduct these trainings.

If you remain silent, your administration will become complicit in bias, discrimination, and divisiveness, sending a message that it is permissible, and perhaps even fashionable to attack and stigmatize UCLA’s Jewish and Israeli students.


Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter. Given the urgency of this matter, we look forward to your response by June 18, 2021.


Sincerely,


Roz Rothstein

CEO and Co-Founder

StandWithUs


Yael Lerman

Director

StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department


Carly Gammill

Director

StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism

StandWithUs

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StandWithUs (SWU) is an international and non-partisan Israel education organization that inspires and educates people of all ages and backgrounds, challenges misinformation and fights antisemitism.

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