Middle East studies in the News
ZOA Letter to the Chancellor of UCLA Regarding Gaza Symposium [incl. Sondra Hale]
by Morton A. Klein and Susan B. Tuchman
Chancellor Gene Block
UCLA Chancellor's Office Box 951405, 2147 Murphy Hall Los Angeles, CA 90095-1405
Re: UCLA's Center for Near Eastern Studies and
Title VI of the Higher Education Act
Dear Chancellor Block:
We write on behalf of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), the oldest pro-Israel organization in the United States.1 We have received numerous troubling reports about a program sponsored on January 21, 2009, by UCLA's Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES), entitled "Human Rights and Gaza." The CNES receives federal funding from the Department of Education as a designated National Resource Center pursuant to Title VI of the Higher Education Act (Title VI). As the CNES recognizes, its mission includes a federal directive to do public outreach; the January symposium was one of the outreach programs. As you surely know, Title VI was recently amended, making federal funding recipients more accountable. Specifically, Title VI now requires that the activities of federally subsidized national resource centers like the CNES "reflect diverse perspectives and a wide range of views and generate debate on world regions and international affairs." We write because UCLA violated this diversity-of-perspectives requirement when its CNES presented the January 21st symposium.
Despite its title, the symposium did not present and discuss the complicated human rights issues that characterize the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs in Gaza. Four speakers made presentations and all four offered a one-sided and inaccurate perspective on the conflict, which was decidedly anti-Israel. According to the reports we received about the symposium,
1 The ZOA, founded in 1897, is a charter member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. With a national membership of over 30,000, and active chapters throughout the United States, the ZOA works to strengthen U.S.-Israel relations, it educates the American public and Congress about the dangers that Israel faces, and it combats anti-Israel bias in the media and on college campuses. The ZOA's past presidents include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, Rabbi Dr. Abba Hillel Silver and Rabbi Stephen Wise. The ZOA's Center for Law and Justice was established to meet the need for greater organizational involvement in legal matters that affect relations among the United States, Israel and the Jewish people. Chancellor Gene Block April 2, 2009 Page 2
all of the speakers portrayed the Palestinians as innocent victims; Israel, on the other hand, was demonized as the ruthless occupier and oppressor.
None of the speakers focused on the fact that in the hope of achieving peace with the Palestinians, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, forcing all of the Jewish residents to leave their homes, synagogues, jobs, businesses and communities, so that the Palestinians' racist demand that the land be free of all Jews would be satisfied. None of the speakers focused on the fact that given autonomy in Gaza, free of any Jewish presence, Palestinian Arabs did not focus their energies on building businesses, industries, schools, hospitals and thriving communities. Instead, Palestinian Arabs in Gaza dedicated themselves to destroying the greenhouses, farms and synagogues that Israelis had lovingly built. They also dedicated themselves to killing Jews and obliterating Israel, immediately launching rockets from Gaza into Israeli towns and cities. For many years now, Palestinian Arabs have launched at least 50 to 150 rockets per day at innocent Israeli men, women and children, forcing these civilians to go into bomb shelters – whether at home, school or work – an average of twice an hour, day after day, and creating trauma and misery for the one million residents of southern Israel. Even now, during the so-called "cease-fire," rockets continue to be launched from Gaza into Israel every day.
As far as we know, none of the speakers at the CNES symposium acknowledged the fact that Israel showed enormous restraint, waiting years before responding to the rocket attacks against its people. Our country would have responded immediately to put a stop to missiles from Mexico or Canada that were deliberately targeting American civilians. Any other country would do the same. To our knowledge, not one speaker presented the point of view, held by many scholars and other experts on the Middle East, that much if not all of the Palestinians' suffering in Gaza has been brought on by their own Hamas leadership, and not by Israel. It would have been important in a symposium about Gaza for at least one speaker to discuss the fact that Hamas has been designated a "Foreign Terrorist Organization" by the U.S., and that it is considered a terrorist group by other countries also. In addition, at least one of the speakers at the symposium should have informed the audience that Hamas' charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews. Instead, it was Israel that was demonized by each and every speaker.
Dr. Rebecca Seid, a member of the faculty at UC Irvine, attended the symposium, and went so far as to describe it as a revival of the "1920's Munich beer halls," painting Israel exactly the way the Nazis painted the Jews – as powerful, greedy and cruel outsiders and interlopers. According to a news report about the symposium, others publicly called it an "academic lynching," a "one-sided witch hunt of Israel," a "Hamas recruiting rally," and "a degradation of academic standards." Dr. Judea Pearl, a member of your faculty and the father of Chancellor Gene Block April 2, 2009 Page 3
Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was murdered in Pakistan by Islamic terrorists, had this to say about the sponsor of the symposium: "The CNES, which once had a reputation for open-mindedness and diversity, has been closing its door to one segment of Near Eastern society, represented by the Israeli people. That is a loss for its students and shame for UCLA."
These are disturbing characterizations of UCLA and its CNES, especially when such shameful programs are being supported by our U.S. tax dollars. So far, the university's response to the public outcry has been disappointing. In defense of the symposium, Sondra Hale, the chair of the Faculty Advisory Committee of the CNES, did little to refute the fact that the symposium was one-sided and anti-Israel. In a letter to the UCLA student paper, she actually pointed out the speakers included "qualified Jews and Israelis" – as if their being Jewish and Israeli legitimized a misleading and one-sided presentation that scapegoated Israel. Jews and Israelis, like everyone else, may have their own extreme agenda that prevents them from being balanced, fair or accurate.
You, too, responded to the many complaints you said you received about the symposium's lack of balance and the lack of decorum during the question-and-answer period. Respectfully, your response also fell short. You essentially dismissed the concerns that had been raised by referring to the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression.
We support these principles also. But with academic freedom comes academic responsibility. Indeed, the purpose of academic freedom is to promote and ensure an open and free exchange of different ideas and points of view at our colleges and universities. That purpose is being undermined at UCLA when diverse points of view are not being presented in the CNES's programs and symposiums, as the amended Title VI now requires.
When Susan Slyomovics, the director of the CNES, opened the symposium on January 21st, she told the audience that they would learn the "truth" about Gaza that could not be learned from the media. What the CNES actually presented was a distortion of the facts and of history. The symposium was nothing more than political propaganda and hateful lies. As the audience's reaction attested to – with chants and cheers of "Zionism is racism," "Zionism is Nazism, "Free, Free Palestine" and "F_ _k, F_ _k Israel," as well as cries of "F_ _k you" to Jewish students – the symposium also dangerously incited the community's hatred of Jews and Israel.
If the CNES sponsored a symposium that demonized Arab Muslims, lumping them together and portraying them as terrorists and suicide bombers, would you have condoned the program as an exercise of academic freedom and free speech? Of course not. You would surely decry such a one-sided portrayal as Chancellor Gene Block April 2, 2009 Page 4
racist and anti-Muslim. When you issued your statement about the January symposium on Gaza, it would have been appropriate -- and indeed, necessary – that you condemn it, not only because it violated UCLA's obligations under Title VI, but also because it demonized Israel and crossed the line into anti-Semitism.
Your response was also troubling because it justified the one-sidedness of the symposium, by pointing out that UCLA has sponsored speakers with a pro-Israel point of view. You indicated that one week after the hateful CNES symposium against Israel, UCLA's law school sponsored the Israeli Consul General, and in November 2008, the Israeli representative to the United Nations spoke on campus.
Respectfully, this is no answer to the fact that the CNES symposium failed to reflect a diversity of perspectives and a wide range of views as required by Title VI. It is irrelevant that on other occasions, to other audiences, a department or school at UCLA invited Israeli officials to the UCLA campus. What is relevant is whether the CNES ensured that the symposium on Gaza addressed the human rights issues without unfairly and inaccurately demonizing Israel.
The ZOA is determined to ensure that universities that receive federal funding comply with the law, and that they be held accountable if they do not. As you may know, it was due in part to the efforts of the ZOA's National Executive Director, Gary Ratner, that Title VI of the Higher Education Act was amended to include the diversity-of-views requirement. In addition, the ZOA has been at the forefront of fighting Israel-bashing on college campuses and eradicating the hostile environment that many Jewish students are facing at schools across the country. The ZOA's complaint on behalf of Jewish students at UC Irvine triggered the first investigation of anti-Semitism on that campus by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights under a different Title VI – Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Based on allegations made by the ZOA, a second Office for Civil Rights' investigation into how UC Irvine has responded to anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism is still ongoing.
In our judgment, the CNES symposium last January violated the university's assurance to our government that CNES programs would "reflect diverse perspectives and a wide range of views." While we would like to believe that this was an aberration, rather than a precedent for future programs, we do not feel optimistic. According to Dr. Roberta Seid's report on the symposium, she approached Susan Slyomovics, the director of the CNES, after the symposium and asked if the CNES was planning another panel that would present other points of view. Ms. Slyomovics said that there were no such plans.
This does not bode well for the CNES's future as a recipient of federal funding under Title VI. We will be closely monitoring the conduct of the CNES, Chancellor Gene Block April 2, 2009 Page 5
and will not hesitate to report any future Title VI violations to the Department of Education. In the meantime, we urge you to ensure that the CNES sponsors another symposium about Gaza that will be accurate and balanced.
Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to hearing from you.
Very truly yours,
Morton A. Klein Susan B. Tuchman, Esq.
National President Director, Center for Law and Justice
cc: U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher UC President Mark G. Yudof
U.S. Congressman Howard Berman Rabbi Marvin Hier
U.S. Congressman Henry Waxman Rabbi Abraham Cooper
U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman Dr. Judea Pearl
U.S. Congressman Ed RoyceNote: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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