UC Davis Faculty Respond to President Yudof’s Attack on Free Speech

To:                 UC Board of Regents

From:            Concerned UC Davis faculty and doctoral students

Date:             March 19, 2012

 

As faculty and scholars who teach and work at UC Davis, we are concerned about the statement issued by UC President Mark Yudof and sent to the entire UC campus community on March 8, 2012.

This statement purports to draw attention to “hate-driven” acts at UC campuses that are “meant to silence or intimidate those who would express differing opinions.” It highlights in particular one incident, involving a heckler at an event that featured members of the Israeli Defense Forces at UC Davis on February 27. The statement fails to mention that the off-campus group that sponsored the talk, Stand with Us, and their supporters, actually harassed and intimidated the students present at the event, shouted down those who tried to ask questions during the discussion, threatened anyone who disrupted the event with arrest, and told students they were not allowed to record the event. The student who heckled was removed from the event, as acknowledged in the statement, and the event was allowed to proceed. In addition, there was a silent walkout organized by Students for Justice in Palestine and a diverse coalition of supporters, including members of MEChA and Jewish Voice for Peace. The event organizers videotaped the event themselves and posted an edited version of the video online, which has since gone viral and created a storm of controversy, generally based on incomplete information. None of these details are mentioned in the President’s selectively framed communiqué.

The statement by the UC president suggests that the only shutting down of free speech at the event was by those who were opposed to the views of the Israeli soldiers. Its bias is revealed by the fact that it seems to be concerned only with the free speech of the Israeli military and its supporters. It goes on to mention incidents of racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia at UC campuses, including the hanging of a noose at UC San Diego two years ago. The implication is that the heckling at the talk by Israeli soldiers is equivalent to these egregious eruptions of racism, such as the reprehensible incident at UC San Diego. This is a serious equivalence to make, and one that is deeply flawed. Furthermore, the statement fails to mention even one instance of anti-Arab or Islamophobic discrimination on UC campuses, even though we live in a post-9/11 era of heightened Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism.

We would like to note that there have, in fact, been other incidents of heckling and intimidation at events at UC Davis, yet these are entirely omitted from the statement. For example, in 2010, there was an anti-Palestinian act of vandalism of the historic Third World mural at UC Davis. In 2007, in an attempt to counter the racist Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week program held on college campuses, faculty and students organized an Academic Freedom Week. At an event held on the Quad, Arab and Muslim American speakers were heckled and subjected to racist taunts, and the students were videotaped by pro-Israel activists. This could be described as a fairly hostile environment that made students feel “unsafe.” There have also been instances of right-wing Christian preachers coming to the center of our campus with inflammatory, misogynistic, and Islamophobic signs. Needless to say, not one of these incidents is cited in the statement.

In addition, the President’s statement ignores the fact that the organization that sponsored the February 27 event, Stand with Us, is a highly controversial, anti-Palestinian/Arab and anti-Muslim group that uses aggressive and extremist tactics of intimidation. They have engaged in a series of violent attacks against those who have different views, pepper-spraying individuals in Berkeley on February 25 and assaulting student activists at the University of New Mexico on February 23. In fact, these events suggest that Stand with Us could be characterized as hate group.  Or is the characterization of “merchants of hatred,” to cite the UC President’s words, a highly partisan and ideological categorization reserved only for those who disagree with the policies of the Israeli government?

In fact, the President’s statement was issued two days after the Amcha Initiative issued a letter to Yudof, the UC Regents, the Chancellors of all the UC campuses, and California state assembly members, alleging that the UC administration had failed “to protect Jewish students from a hostile environment and to ensure their rights to freedom of speech.” This allegation was based on the February 27 event at UC Davis and a resolution at UC San Diego calling for economic divestment from U.S. corporations that do business with the Israeli military and underwrite the occupation in Palestine. The Amcha letter goes on to make dramatic and racist allegations, such as that SJP is tied to groups that “support the elimination of the Jewish state and has ties to terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah that call for the murder of Jews world-wide.”

While the President’s statement condemns “vile speech” and “hateful commentary,” it seems that acts of vile speech against Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim American students are of no concern to the administration. Indeed, it seems that the rights of soldiers from a foreign military (engaged in an illegal military occupation) trump those of UC Davis students.

We wish to note that we do, indeed, “keep our eyes on the prize.” We have our eyes on justice and equality, and we hold out hope that all our students can enjoy the right to speak of their struggles for self-determination, their dreams of freedom, their beliefs in human and civil rights, and their aspirations to live in dignity and equality. We are aware that to speak of certain issues is controversial in the U.S., even in the academy, but we are not afraid to ask that the truth be told. We ask that the President issue a statement clarifying this statement and letting us know if freedom of expression does, indeed, exist for ALL students at UC Davis, regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, gender, or sexuality.

 

Signed:

 

Ali Anooshar (History)

Trisha Barua (Cultural Studies)
Gina Bloom (English)

Abigail Boggs (Cultural Studies)
Nathan Brown (English)
Patrick Carroll (Sociology)

Joshua Clover (English)

Christina Cogdell (Design)

Emilie Coleman (Comparative Literature/Performance Studies)
Lucy Corin (English)
Gregory Dobbins (English)

Donald L. Donham (Anthropology)

Omnia El Shakry (History) Margaret Ferguson (English) Isao Fujimoto (Asian American Studies/Community & Regional Development)

Jeff Fort (French)
Kathleen Fredrickson (English)
Laura Grindstaff (Sociology)

Darrell Hamamoto (Asian American Studies)

Wendy Ho (Asian American Studies)

Hsuan L. Hsu (English)
Lynette Hunter (Theater/Performance Studies)

Robert Irwin (Cultural Studies)
Suad Joseph (Anthropology)

Richard Kim (Asian American Studies)
Neil Larsen (Comparative Literature)
David Lloyd (English)
Kari Lokke (Comparative Literature)

Sunaina Maira (Asian American Studies)
Flagg Miller (Religious Studies)

Susette Min (Asian American Studies)
Amina Mama (Women and Gender Studies)

Christina Owens (Cultural Studies)

Magalí Rabasa (Cultural Studies)

Noha Radwan (Comparative Literature)
Kriss Ravetto (Technocultural Studies)
Parama Roy (English)

Seth L. Schein (Comparative Literature)
Juliana Schiesari (Comparative Literature)

Sarita Echavez See (Asian American Studies)
Scott Shershow (English)
Scott Simmon (English)
David Simpson (English)
Eric Smoodin (American Studies)

Dennis Somera (Performance Studies)
Blake Stimson (Art History)

Julie Sze (American Studies)
Baki Teczan (History)
Evan Watkins (English)
Joe Wenderoth (English)

Michael Ziser (English)