Monday, September 26, 2011

AMCHA Initiative Gets Attention of Media and University of California

"One person's hate speech is another person's education."

I have previously written about the AMCHA Initiative, focused on a petition to University of California President  Mark Yudof demanding that the university take steps to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitic acts of harassment. Below is a message I received from my friends, AMCHA leaders, Tammi Benjamin, Lecturer at UC Santa Cruz and Leila Beckwith, Professor Emeritus at UCLA.

"Dear AMCHA Initiative Supporter:

Congratulations! Our letter to University of California President Mark Yudof expressing concern about the hostile environment for Jewish students on some UC campuses, signed by over 5,000 members and supporters of the California Jewish community, has received public recognition from the UC administration, the LA Times, and Israel National News!

In contrast to last year’s dismissive response to a similar letter from 12 Jewish organizations , the AMCHA Initiative letter has compelled President Yudof, for the first time, to post an official statement on the UC website recognizing the concerns of the Jewish community with regard to anti-Jewish bigotry:

Although President Yudof does not address the specific issues we raise in our letter, nor are the University's efforts to date adequate to protecting Jewish students from anti-Semitic harassment, we are nevertheless pleased that the concerns of the California Jewish community for the safety and well-being of our students on UC campuses have finally been officially and publicly acknowledged.

Here is an article about the AMCHA Initiative letter that appeared in Friday's LA Times:

At the end of the article, President Yudof is quoted as saying that the university can do nothing about anti-Semitic speech, which is protected under the first amendment. We want to remind President Yudof and all UC leaders that they have a legal responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of our students at the University of California. They also have a moral and educational responsibility to exercise their own free speech in condemning anti-Jewish bigotry swiftly, forcefully, and publicly -- just as they have done in the past with respect to bigotry directed at other ethnic minorities.

Israel National News (Arutz Sheva) has also reported on our letter to President Yudof:

Your support is making a difference! UC leaders now know that the California Jewish community will not remain silent while Jewish students are being harassed and intimidated on UC campuses!

We will keep you updated about responses to our letter and future efforts of the AMCHA Initiative.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year,"

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, Lecturer, University of California at Santa Cruz

Leila Beckwith, Professor Emeritus, UCLA

"Although President Yudof does not address the specific issues we raise in our letter, nor are the University's efforts to date adequate to protecting Jewish students from anti-Semitic harassment........."

I'll say. Let's go to Yudof's letter and point a few things out.

"Such difficulties, of course, do not lessen our obligation to do everything in our power to eradicate this cancer whenever and wherever it flares anew. With the Board of Regents, campus leadership and affected students, I have worked hard to ensure that all such incidents have been met with swift and appropriate action. We have condemned these despicable incidents, published statements outlining the unacceptable nature of such behavior, and students have been disciplined to the full extent possible. All incidents of hate speech have been promptly investigated."

A couple of years ago,  after filming a speech by Amir Abdel Malik Ali at UC Irvine, a young Jewish girl was followed back to her car and surrounded by several male members of the Muslim Student Union, trying to take down her vehicle ID information. She called campus police as did a community woman who was witness and who  was subjected to similar treatment by the students, who crawled on her hood trying to jot down the VIN number. The police took no action and later told the witness that the Jewish female was the instigator. Absolutely no action was taken against the students. I know both females involved and have heard their account first-hand.

How about UC Berkeley professor Andrew Gutierrez, who showed up at a small and peaceful Jewish protest against swastikas appearing on campus bathroom walls last year? This blog has a video and photograph of Gutierrez heckling Jewish students and giving them the finger. Where was the condemnation of that?

Where was the condemnation in 2002 when Mohammed al-Asi said at UCI in 2001, "You can take the Jew out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out of the Jew."? (To be fair, the UCI chancellor at that time was the useless Ralph Cicerone, now running the National Academy of Sciences, and Yudof had not yet joined UC.)

In May of 2010, Amir Abdel Malik Ali told Jewish audience members at UCI, "You Jews! Y'all the new Nazis!" In response, Chancellor Michael Drake condemned the speaker's hate speech without identifying the speaker, the (MSU) event, or the objectionable comment.

The important point is that while acknowledging that hate speech can be protected free speech, we have been asking university officials to at least condemn the hateful words with specificity. I raised that specific point to UCI Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky during Q and A after he gave a speech last year at a local synagogue. Drake's above comment is the strongest response we have seen at UCI, but it was not nearly specific enough.

"In response to the February 2010 incident at UC Irvine involving the disruption of a speech by Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, by members of the campus Muslim Student Union (MSU), the students involved in the disruption were arrested and the matter was referred to the Orange County District Attorney's Office and to the Student Judiciary Office. The latter initiated its Student Judiciary Review process to address the issues under their jurisdiction. On May 27, 2010, a letter of sanction was issued to the MSU, which included a one-year suspension followed by one year of probation. According to the Chancellor's Office, these sanctions "were based on a thorough evaluation of the facts and were proportionate to the severity of violations of UC Irvine's Student Code of Conduct." In addition, earlier this year, the Orange County District Attorney's Office filed misdemeanor charges of conspiring to disrupt a meeting and a speech against 11 UC students in connection with the disruption."

That one-year suspension was reduced to one quarter by Vice Chancellor Manuel Gomez on his last day in office as he went into retirement. (It was hardly surprising.)

As for the Campus Climate boards set up, I won't even waste time on that. I consider it a joke.

In spite of that, the AMCHA Initiative is accomplishing something positve. The problem is gaining exposure, as evidenced by the attached articles, and the pressure on Yudof continues.


Miggie said...

It is very sIgnificant that none of the people in leadership positions here in Orange County signed that petition. I pointed this fact out the last time you posted a story on this event and you wrote "Yes. To be duly noted in an upcoming post of Amcha. Stay tuned." but I don't see anything about this aspect.

In my view the problems could have been addressed a lot sooner and more effectively had the leadership done more than their professed "working behind the scenes" and "flying below the radar." They have, in one statement after another also said that the anti-Semitism was not that bad and they were doing everything that could be done. Actually things have gotten worse while they have been outdoing themselves kissing Drake's and Yudof's respective asses.

Here these two courageous women, without any national organization behind them or any organization at all or financing, on their own, have done more than our established Jewish leadership organizations, including the local congressional Rabbis, have done. None of them, for who knows what reasons, bestirred themselves to even sign a petition. if they didn't know about it, then they are obviously out of touch with their constituency.

Kudos to Ms. Benjamin and Ms. Beckwith and shame on the leadership who still put their bets (and our money) on lame brain schemes like the Olive Tree Initiative. Their failures at UCI will be their legacy, overshadowing any other good work they may have done.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

and all the little AMCHA signators cried "Boo hoo,

We want to be a another protected group too!"

Gary Fouse said...

I think what the signers (including me) are saying, we don't want swastikas painted on campus walls and we don't want to be verbally and physically intimidated on campus by anti-Israel and/or anti-Jewish thugs. I have catalogued so many instances of abuses on UC campuses.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

But Gary, you haven't pursued them properly. You would rather have then to moan about in this kind of propaganda.

Having done a bit of "community organizing" I will offer your crowd a free tip on how to deal with this.

First, without the slightest faith in the powers that be you are confronting, you meticulously document each incident, and blandly put it "through channels." Until you have done that, you can't prove that "channels" don't work, aren't responsive, or are catering to the opposition.

One possibility is that the perps will find that their actions do have consequences. They may scream "oppression" -- that's a standard street trick many decades old. But you have each incident documented.

Another is that you will have the administration ON PAPER refusing to act, or acting wrongfully. Then you have a basis to escalate.

Right now, you have a lot of poorly documented and vaguely stated accusations floating around feeding a rhetorical frenzy.

Or, perhaps you leave it vague because you couldn't document all you say you can document. How many swastikas on walls do you have pictures of?

Gary Fouse said...

Gee Siarlys,

I guess all those events I have attended and spoken out at, all those speeches I heard, all those videos I have put up, all those pictures-all must have been my imagination.

Just because I didn't see the swastikas at Berkeley, where I don't live or teach.

DEon't take my word for it. Like the witnesses in the Davis case, I may someday recant.

Anonymous said...

Tammi Benjamin, a lecturer at UC Santa Cruz has consistently stood up for the rights of Jewish students on campus. She has done this despite considerable personal and professional risk. Tammi has been nominated to be a Jewish Community Hero. If she wins she will receive a $25,000 grant to help fight anti-Semitism on college campuses.

Please take a few minutes to sign up and vote for Tammi Benjamin. It is a simple process and you can vote once every 12 hours for the next month. Please also forward this widely. Ask your family and friends to vote for Tammi. Send out emails, post this on FB, twitter, etc. Lets help her win $25,000 to continue the battle to end anti-Semitism on college campuses.

Vote here:

(You may need to cut and paste the link)