Wednesday, July 4, 2018

A Silly Letter to Howard Gillman and Erwin Chemerinsky (University of California)

Sondra Hale                                      Nancy Gallagher

As I have previously reported,  UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman and UC Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky have established the National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement at the University of California. Interestingly, the center will be located in Washington DC. Gillman and Chemerinsky also recently teamed up to write a book called, "Free Speech on Campus". I have been critical of both gentlemen because of their seeming disinterest in the free speech rights of pro-Israel groups on campus as well as conservative groups.

I am cross-posting a letter from an organization called California Scholars for Academic Freedom, a liberal bunch who are opposed to Israel. The letter, addressed to Gillman and Chemerinsky, opposes the selection of Michelle Deutchman, a  staff attorney of the Anti-Defamation League, to head the center.

The letter was penned by Sondra Hale, a  UCLA professor emerita, and Nancy Gallagher,  UC Santa Barbara professor emerita. Hale is a member of the Center for Near Eastern Studies at UCLA, a notorious anti-Israel crowd. She has served as a chair of Women's Studies and co-chair of Islamic Studies. Gallagher taught history and was chair of the Middle East Studies program at UCSB. She is the author of Quakers in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Dilemmas of NGO Humanitarian Activism.

While I am no fan of the ADL, I take exception to the letter on several points.

"The ADL has engaged in surveillance of oppositional movements within minority communities including black and Arab/Muslim communities. Tellingly, Starbucks recently retracted an invitation to the ADL to lead its anti-bias training initiative after complaints from African American activists who accused ADL of “constantly attacking black and brown people.”

How misleading is that? The wording implies that ADL people are driving around minority communities watching and following black and brown people. That is distinctly different than following and pointing out anti-Jewish statements and actions. If anything, the ADL has been loathe to point out Jew hatred when it comes from minorities, particularly Muslim groups and their speakers on campuses. Several times in the past, I have watched and listened to and challenged anti-semitic speakers at UC Irvine, like Amir Abdel Malik Ali, while the Orange County head of ADL (I am excluding his name) stood like a potted plant and said nothing. (Maybe this is the kind of surveillance the letter is talking about.)

"Furthermore, the ADL has been deeply involved in organizing training of U.S. police forces in Israel, a country whose police and security forces routinely engage in intense levels of surveillance, repression and violence against civilians, including inside schools and universities. Indeed, the numerous problems associated with the greater use of Israeli-style surveillance, spying on civil society groups, crowd control tactics, and similar policies, including on UC campuses, are well-documented and clearly contradict the aims of the Center." 

The source for this assertion is The Intercept, which is a blog run by Glenn Greenwald, an anti-Israel, anti-US character and collaborator of Edward Snowden. Greenwald is now  living in self-imposed exile in Brazil. Even if  the ADL supports such programs, what is wrong with US police learning counter terrorism from the country most exposed to terrorism? Any techniques American cops learn from their Israeli counterparts must pass US Constitutional muster before they could be used here. The letter also confuses combating terrorism and riots with principles of free speech. Israel enjoys free speech including having Arab members of the Knesset and the liberal newspaper, Haaretz, always ready to criticize the country in its handling of Palestinians.

On university campuses, the ADL has long attempted to label much if not all criticism of Israeli policies, including but not limited to anti-Zionism, as inherently anti-Semitic. 

To clarify, pro-Israel advocates concede readily that not all criticism of Israel or Zionism itself is anti-semitic. Here is where anti-Zionism or attacks against Israel can cross the line into anti-semitism according to the US State Department's definition of anti-semitism. 

"While this view is widely discredited, UC Regents nevertheless attempted, and partially succeeded, in having criticisms of Israeli government policies and Zionist politics equated or conflated with anti-Semitism in their 2016 “Principles of Intolerance,” following closely the line of argument laid out by the ADL and other partisan, non-academic organizations whose mandates prioritize support for Israel. To this day, the ADL is one of the lead organizations in the well-funded attempt to label anyone who is critical of Israel and/or supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as anti-Semitic. The fact that other major Jewish organizations like Jewish voice for Peace support BDS has done little to change ADL’s arguments."

If it is "widely discredited", why does our own State Department include certain (not all ) references to Israel or Zionism in its definition of anti-semitism? In fact, BDS is anti-semitic in that it is a part of an effort to delegitimize Israel as a state and eventually destroy Israel. 

The reference, in addition, to Jewish Voice for Peace (whose article is used as reference) as an example of support for BDS is ludicrous. JVP is a left-wing, anarchistic group that does not believe in free speech for pro-Israel voices. In addition to their own disruption of a Benjamin Netanyahu speech in New Orleans in 2010, they have assisted Students for Justice in Palestine in disruption of pro-Israel events on many campuses nationwide, some of which I have personally witnessed at UC Irvine. When three of their representatives appeared at UC Irvine in 2011, they called pro-Israel speech, "useless discourse". In addition, the linked JVP article, used as a source, says nothing about the State Department definition. All the letter's reference to JVP accomplished is to point out that there are indeed, leftist, anti-Israel misfits to be found within America;s Jewish community. They are a minority, however. 

As for the UC Statement of Principles on Intolerance, issued by the UC Regents. It was specifically the problem of anti-semitism and bullying of Jewish students on UC campuses that led to a demand for this statement to be issued.  What was needed was specific language pertaining to anti-semitic bullying of Jewish students. I personally spoke as part of the public comments part of two UC Regents working groups at UC Irvine and UCLA in 2015 and 2016 respectively as they were trying to put together a revised statement. On the latter occasion, there was Ms Hale speaking in opposition. A revised statement was issued in 2016, which did address our concerns.

"There is a precedent for this: UC President Napolitano roundly clarified her own views upon assuming her new position in 2013: (The Daily Californian noted, “Despite the protesters’ concerns over her history in immigration policies such as Security Communities, Napolitano expressed strong support for the DREAM Act.” 

And the connection is?

The letter from this academic group is misleading and uses two sources (The Intercept and JVP) who are radical in their outlook. I could care less who is chosen to head the above-mentioned center in Washington, but to object to someone who is from the ADL requires more thoughtful argument than what is presented in this letter.

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