July 1, 2021 VIA EMAIL: (Maria.Asturias@ed.gov)
Maria Asturias, Civil Rights Attorney
U.S. Department of Education
Office for Civil Rights
50 United Nations Plaza, Suite 1543
San Francisco, CA 94102
Re: Supplemental Information Relevant to OCR Case No. 09-20-2016 Dear Ms. Asturias,
We write to bring to the attention of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) additional information relevant to the hostile campus climate at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) detailed in the complaint submitted in October 2019 and assigned OCR Case No. 09-20-2016.
The following incidents, and most especially the response of UCLA’s administration (or lack thereof) in the face of these events, demonstrate that campus leaders regrettably have not taken the necessary steps to remedy an already hostile campus environment for the university’s Jewish community.
While the UCLA administration released a general condemnation of antisemitism in the city of Los Angeles, it has been silent or vague in regards to multiple recent incidents on campus. This approach suggests a failure to understand the harmful, marginalizing impact of such incidents on Jewish members of the campus community.
In particular, by failing to condemn the antisemitic rhetoric espoused by its own academic departments and calls for the destruction of Israel by one of its commencement speakers, the UCLA administration has fostered the impression that Jewish students, faculty and staff are not valued as equal members of the campus community.
Crucially, these incidents satisfy the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism (“IHRA Definition”), which, pursuant to Executive Order 13899, must be considered in investigating and resolving Title VI complaints alleging antisemitic discrimination.
In short, it is the responsibility of the administration to take appropriate steps to ensure that it gives equal treatment to all members of its campus community, including those who are Jewish. While the antisemitic speech at issue may be constitutionally protected against governmental infringement, the administration has a responsibility and first amendment right to condemn it. By failing to do so, UCLA has failed to satisfy its Title VI obligations.
(1) UCLA Department of Asian American Studies Statement of Solidarity with Palestine, issued May 21, 2021
Amidst a sharp rise in antisemitism across the country (immediately following and directly related to the recent war between Hamas and Israel), including numerous incidents of antisemitic vandalism and physical assaults in Los Angeles itself, the UCLA Department of Asian American Studies (DAAS) issued a Statement of Solidarity with Palestine. The Statement accuses Israel of “seventy-three years of settler colonialism.” This dehumanizing and misleading rhetoric not only slanders Israel, but denies 3,000 years of Jewish history, identity, and rights in their ancestral homeland. It frames the very presence of Jews there and the existence of Israel for the last seventy-three years as an illegitimate form of “settler colonialism.”
This erases the fact 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. Like all peoples, Jews have an inalienable right to self-determination in their homeland and today they are fulfilling those rights in the State of Israel.
Recognizing these realities, the IHRA Definition includes “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” as an example of antisemitism.
More broadly, the Statement promotes an extremely dehumanizing narrative in which Israelis alone are to blame for a war which began when the terrorist organization Hamas chose to launch missiles at civilians in Jerusalem. It entirely ignores the fact that Hamas launched over 4,000 missiles at Israeli communities, including the homes and families of UCLA students. This is precisely the type of narrative which has fueled an increase an antisemitic violence and harassment in recent weeks.
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. This leaves Jewish and Israeli students within those departments and the university at large feeling threatened, marginalized, and targeted by the university.
Despite having been made aware of the Statement—including in a letter from StandWithUs dated June 11, 2021—the UCLA administration has remained silent, failing to (1) condemn the antisemitic sentiments expressed therein or (2) clarify that the Statement was not issued on behalf of the University itself and does not reflect the values or position of UCLA and its administration.
(2) UCLA Gender Studies Department Signs Statement in Solidarity with Palestinian Feminist Collective, issued June 2021
Following the DAAS, the UCLA Gender Studies Department signed and published a statement of Gender Studies Departments in Solidarity with Palestinian Feminist Collective. This Statement promotes the same dehumanizing narrative as the one released by the DAAS. However, it goes even further by echoing a dangerous antisemitic conspiracy theory by declaring: “We do not subscribe to a ‘both sides’ rhetoric that erases the military, economic, media, and global power that Israel has over Palestine” (emphasis added).
Elsewhere, the Palestinian Feminist Collective states that it works to, “resist the normalization of Zionist violence, oppression and hegemony in all aspects of US public life” (emphasis added). This rhetoric echoes the antisemitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which claims there is an international Jewish conspiracy to control political parties, governments, banks, the media, and public opinion. In fact, white supremacist groups are known to use similar rhetoric, such as the antisemitic term, “Zionist Occupied Government.”
As with the Asian American Studies statement, the UCLA administration has failed to address the antisemitic aspects of the Gender Studies statement, either to condemn it or to make clear that these views are not those of the administration.
(3) UCLA Spring 2021 Luskin School of Public Affairs Commencement Speaker
UCLA invited Black Lives Matter (BLM) co-founder Patrisse Cullors to serve as the keynote speaker at this year’s 2021 commencement ceremony for the Luskin School of Public Affairs. After this was made public, concerned members of the UCLA community contacted the UCLA Administration and brought their attention to the fact that in 2015, as a panelist during a Harvard University event, Cullors expressly called for the destruction of Israel. Cullors asserted, “if we don’t step up boldly and courageously to end the imperialist project that’s called Israel, um, we’re doomed.” Once again, this is a clear example of antisemitism, as recognized in the IHRA Definition, because it delegitimizes Israel and denies the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in their ancestral homeland.
In response to these concerns, Professor Gary Sekura, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Dean, did issue a statement. Later, UCLA Director of Executive Communications Michael Emerson Dirda issued another response to emails about this issue. These statements said that Cullors’ comments about Israel do not represent the university’s views and generally noted that the school does “not condone racism, sexism, anti-Semitism or any form of bias.” However, they did not condemn her calls for the destruction of Israel as a form of antisemitism that has no place on UCLA’s campus.
It is difficult to imagine a UCLA department promoting and providing its commencement ceremony platform to someone who had previously made such explicitly discriminatory statements promoting “racism, sexism…or any [other] form of bias,” or at an absolute minimum doing so without specifically and expressly acknowledging and condemning such prior statements. UCLA’s equivocation in dealing with antisemitism speaks volumes about how seriously (or un-seriously) it views this form of hatred as compared to other forms of bigotry, including its harmful impact on the Jewish members of the UCLA campus community.
In conclusion, these recent incidents demonstrate that the UCLA administration is continuing to fail in its obligation to ensure that its campus is not a hostile environment for its Jewish students, faculty, and staff, especially the majority for whom Zionism (i.e., belief in and support for the right of self-determination for the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland of Israel) is an integral component of their identity.
We appreciate your consideration of this new information as it relates to the issues raised in StandWithUs’ initial complaint regarding antisemitism at UCLA. Sincerely,
CEO and Co-Founder
StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department
StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism