Wednesday, April 3, 2013

What Happens When You Fight Back Against Anti-Semitism on Campus: The Case of Tammi Benjamin at UC Santa Cruz

The appropriately named Banana Slugs of UC Santa Cruz (America's Wackiest University)

"(3) as recently as this morning, I have received hateful, anti-Semitic email accusing Jews of being "the cause of global financial and political unrest," "barbaric," "evil," and "today's Nazis"; (4) in these situations things often turn violent, such as recently when a large group of students, including several SJP members, illegally "occupied" a UC Davis administration building, which resulted in the protesters committing assault and battery against students with dissenting views."
-Tammi Benjamin
Adj teacher UCSC

As my regular readers know, I am a supporter of the AMCHA Initiative (now linked on this blog) and the efforts to fight back against the anti-Semitism on California campuses that is being fueled by the organized effort to de-legitimize the Jewish state of Israel. Recently, I posted a report of a resolution passed at UC Berkeley by the student government urging UC President Mark Yudof to censure UC Santa Cruz part-time Hebrew lecturer Tammi Benjamin, a founder of the AMCHA Initiative.

Since that time, the controversy has continued. Benjamin has formally complained about harassment and fears for her physical safety to the office of the UCSC president, George Blumenthal, who apparently can't answer his own mail, as you will see below.

The exchange of letters below begins with a UCSC reply dated February 28 to Ms Benjamin's letter expressing her concerns.

Begin forwarded message:

From: Maurene Catto <>
Date: February 28, 2013 11:33:18 AM PST
To: T Benjamin

Subject: Correspondence from Associate Chancellor Sahni

Ms. Rossman-Benjamin:

On behalf of Associate Chancellor Ashish Sahni, please see the attached letter dated February 28, 2013.

Thank you.

Maurene Catto
Maurene Catto Executive Assistant to Chancellor George Blumenthal
University of California, Santa Cruz
200 Clark Kerr Hall
1156 High Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95064
Voice: 831.459.4291
Fax:   831.459.2098

 From: Tammi Benjamin [mailto:
Sent: Monday, March 25, 2013 9:50 AM
To: Chancellor
Cc: Laura Welp; President;; Charles Robinson; Jesse M. Bernal; Carole Rossi; Ashish Sahni
Subject: Fwd: Correspondence from Associate Chancellor Sahni

Dear Chancellor Blumenthal,

I believe you have misunderstood the intentions of my previous correspondence, and I would like to clarify them.

As you know, last summer I spoke out against campus anti-Semitism at a synagogue near Boston, in order to alert members of the local Jewish community to the problem of intimidation and harassment that some Jewish students face on college campuses today.  In my speech, I did not state, nor imply, that all Muslims or members of MSA and SJP are terrorists, or associate with terrorists. I spoke to raise awareness about a situation that exists in some instances on some campuses.  My intention was not to make a blanket statement or blanket accusations.  Yet my statements are being distorted by the Committee for Justice in Palestine to demonize me, I believe in retaliation for my speaking out against campus anti-Semitism in general, and initiating a Title VI complaint in particular.

In exercising my 1st amendment rights, a campaign of harassment, defamation and intimidation has been waged against me by CJP students. They certainly have the right to disagree with me, to ask for clarification, to voice dissent.  However their chosen response is deeply disturbing and alarming. Rather than disagree with me in a way that fosters understanding or asks for clarification, I am being harassed, intimidated and defamed in ways that are causing me to fear for my physical safety (as you will see below).

My purpose with this letter is not to shut down free speech or dissent, nor to request that you do so in this instance.  Rather, I want to make you aware of my urgent concern regarding the violent campaign that is being waged against me by CJP students and my concern that other students and faculty may now feel afraid to speak up about anti-Semitism on our campus after having seen the repercussions for doing so, and I want to urge you to address these concerns as quickly as possible.

Please understand that not only have my words been misinterpreted and misconstrued, but a vicious campaign has ensued that includes everything from defamatory flyers posted widely on our campus; a petition accusing me of racism; a series of more than a dozen Youtube videos condemning me as "hateful," "dangerous," and "Islamaphobic;" and a website with an illegally pirated video that has been taken out of context. In addition, students UC campus-wide have been urged to fill out hate-bias reports against me, and last week the ASUC passed a libelous resolution condemning me for my "inflammatory, hateful, and racist assumptions."

Please understand that besides harming my reputation as a UCSC faculty member, the CJP's attacks on me, as well as the attacks they have helped to organize on other UC campuses, have not only caused me considerable emotional distress but, for many reasons, have made me fear for my physical safety and for the safety of other students and faculty who choose to speak out about campus anti-Semitism, including: (1) the last time faculty members were vilified on campus posters, two of them had their houses firebombed and another (my neighbor) had his car completely destroyed by a bomb; (2) both the petition and the video of me have been widely circulated on the International Solidarity Movement listserv - a listserv on which death threats based on dissenting views are not uncommon; (3) as recently as this morning, I have received hateful, anti-Semitic email accusing Jews of being "the cause of global financial and political unrest," "barbaric," "evil," and "today's Nazis"; (4) in these situations things often turn violent, such as recently when a large group of students, including several SJP members, illegally "occupied" a UC Davis administration building, which resulted in the protesters committing assault and battery against students with dissenting views.

Given these concerns and that my intent is not to shut down free speech but to prevent harassment and physical harm, I felt deeply dismayed by your last letter in response to me. Considering the grave escalation of the situation, I was disturbed to receive no response for two weeks, followed by a reply that I felt ignored and belittled my concerns.  This issue is very serious.

Yes, students have the right to speak out when they disagree, but these students are now violating University policies. In violation of the UC Policy on Student Conduct 102.09, they are engaging in harassment, "conduct that is so severe or pervasive, and objectively offensive...[that it] substantially impairs [my] access to University resources and opportunities." In violation of UCP 102.24, "the actors have communicated a serious expression with intent to terrorize [me], or have acted in reckless disregard of the risk [of doing so]." This situation has gone from free dissent to a very public and potentially very dangerous witch hunt.

I am not asking you to curtail free speech, but I am asking you to prevent the harassment and terrorization of a UC faculty member, and to ensure the physical, emotional, and intellectual safety and freedom of expression for all students and faculty who speak out against anti-Semitism on our campus. 

I eagerly look forward to hearing what steps you will take to address this situation.   

Thank you,

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin
Lecturer in Hebrew

On Mar 26, 2013, at 10:35 AM, Ashish Sahni wrote:

Dear Professor Benjamin:

I again write on behalf of Chancellor Blumenthal.

We take your concerns about your personal safety and wellbeing very seriously. As such, I have asked AVC Scott for Risk and Safety Services (copied) to follow-up with you directly to do an assessment around your safety and make any recommendations as needed. I am sure that AVC Scott  will be in contact you with directly.

Sincerely, Ashish.

Ashish Sahni
Associate Chancellor


Dear Chancellor Blumenthal: 

Thank you for your 3/26/13 response to my letter and for taking my safety concerns seriously. I will look out for an email from AVC Scott.
I mentioned another concern in my letter with regard to what I perceive as violations of UC policy sections 102.09 and 102.24. Can you please clarify your understanding of these sections as it relates to the CJP students' behavior? 

According to the UC policy definition, harassment is defined as "conduct that is so severe or pervasive, and objectively offensive...[that it] substantially impairs access to University resources and opportunities." As I mention in my letter, the actions of the CJP students have gone beyond free dissent and become a serious campaign of harassment. The CJP students are not simply expressing their disagreement with me but making false accusations and defaming my name through a well-orchestrated campaign. The CJP's campaign includes: 
  • a pirated video and defamatory petition accusing me of racism and censorship and urging President Yudof to condemn me; 
  • the widespread posting all over campus of defamatory flyers which falsely and maliciously imply that I have called members of the CJP and MSA "terrorists"; 
  • a series of 14 defamatory video "testimonials" suggesting that I am "Islamophobic," "hateful," "racist," and that I have "created a dangerous environment" at UCSC; 
  • collaboration with members  of Students for Justice in Palestine on other UC campuses, especially at UC Berkeley, to launch a UC-wide campaign to vilify and defame me that includes calls for students on all UC campuses to fill out hate-bias reports against me and a libelous resolution condemning me for my "inflammatory, hateful, and racist assumptions" that was unanimously passed by the ASUC.  

These actions have caused me considerable emotional distress, made me feel uncomfortable and fearful on campus, and negatively affected my interactions with students and colleagues both inside and outside of the classroom. 

The CJP students have also "acted with reckless disregard of the risk of terrorizing me," i.e. they "caused me to fear bodily harm, and consciously disregarded the risk of doing so." As I mentioned in my previous letter, forwarded below, a number of events have caused me to fear for my safety as a result of the reckless and vilifying actions of these students. 

Therefore, I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on whether CJP students have violated sections 102.09 and 102.24 of the UC Policy on Student Conduct and Discipline. In my case, as well as in the case of future students and faculty members, I want to make sure harassment and terrorization are never protected under the doctrine of free speech. I feel strongly that students should be encouraged to speak up whenever they disagree, but that the fine line between free dissent and harassment/intimidation/terrorization should always be safely guarded.

Thank you for the clarification,

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin
Lecturer in Hebrew


What is it that the suits at UC Santa Cruz (America's Wackiest University) don't get? Benjamin is being harassed and efforts are being made to silence her because she reports on the anti-Semitic outrages going on not only at UCSC, but on other California campuses as well. Does she not have the right to speak out and respond to the (free speech) of the anti-Israel crowd? Is free speech only for those who bash Israel?

It is time to call in the lawyers.


Findalis said...

I think the only thing that will get the Administration's attention will be a letter from an attorney that begins:

We are informing you of the upcoming legal action...

Until they are hit in the pocketbook and hit hard, they will ignore everything.

Squid said...

I agree with you Findalis, a strong legal action against the CJP is needed to gain Justice for Tammi. The malignant effort putting their all into this slander has become an awl, to impale, impeded and impregnate what the CJP calls justice.


Gary Fouse said...

i think the emphasis should be on going after the universities for allowing and encouraging a climate of anti-Semitism. We can supply a lot of witnesses.