A group of 176 faculty members and 47 civic organizations called on the president of the University of California system to stop anti-Israel propagandists from “using the classroom as a pulpit for anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist political advocacy and activism” on Tuesday, six weeks after UC Berkeley suspended and later reinstated a controversial anti-Israel course. Nearly 600 UC alumni echoed that demand on Wednesday, asking UC President Janet Napolitano “to put an end to the misuse of the classroom by certain faculty and student instructors to indoctrinate their students into their chosen cause.”
Both groups focused on the September incident involving “Palestine: A Settler-Colonial Analysis,” a student-led class at UC-Berkeley that sought to “explore the connection between Zionism and settler colonialism.” The course’s sponsoring department approved its syllabus, “denying that it had any particular political agenda or that it crossed the line from education to indoctrination,” the faculty members noted in their letter to Napolitano. “We find it hard to believe that a course with an obviously one-sided anti-Israel reading list, exclusively anti-Israel guest speakers, and a clear intent to justify the elimination of the State of Israel is considered to be consistent with Regents Policy.”
In a similar case at UC Riverside last year, administrators approved the student-led course “Palestine & Israel: Settler-Colonialism and Apartheid” despite concerns that its one-sided focus violated UC policy. Tellingly, Verity Educate, an non-partisan group that reviews the accuracy and objectivity of academic curricula, found that the course “reflects a singular interpretation” and warned that its deliberate lack of political balance would lead students “to see one argument as the mainstream or accepted view.”
“We are deeply troubled that courses like these receive approval, despite the fact that they are blatantly politically-motivated and intended to indoctrinate students and are thus in violation of the Regents Policy on Course Content,” the faculty wrote. They suggested that professors “are failing to exercise due diligence in reviewing and approving courses either because they share the anti-Zionist political perspective of the proselytizing instructors and faculty and condone the promotion of that perspective in the classroom, or because they hope to avoid the controversy that rejecting the courses could initiate.”
They added that on at least four UC campuses, “several department chairs and program directors have publicly endorsed an academic boycott of Israel. These departments have misused academic programming on their campuses to promote the political program” of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against Israel.
“The effects of this abuse extend beyond corruption of the academic mission,” the faculty observed. A study conducted earlier this year by the AMCHA Initiative, a signatory of the letter, found a high correlation between anti-Israel boycott activities on American university campuses and “acts of anti-Jewish hostility, including assault, harassment, discrimination, suppression of speech, and displays of antisemitic graffiti and flyers (such as those seen recently at UC- Berkeley),” they noted.
Given the apparent lack of oversight being exercised to ensure that courses “are bound by the Regents Policy on Course Content,” the faculty recommended that Napolitano take the following actions:
1. Issue a statement that describes and re-asserts the Regents Policy on Course Content and the UC Policy on Academic Freedom (APM 010), and that clarifies that the “advance of personal interest” and “political indoctrination” constitutes serious misuse of the classroom.
2. Charge each of the UC Chancellors with urging their respective academic senates to ensure that all courses are explicitly and carefully evaluated for their compliance with the standards of academic propriety as spelled out in the Regents Policy on Course Content.
The alumni letter also endorsed these recommendations as a way to counter “the alarming increase in anti-Semitic incidents plaguing our alma maters,” which they wrote “is directly proportionate to the campaign being waged against Israel by certain faculty and students.”
“While the extramural expression of anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic views may be protected by the First Amendment, faculty and students do not have the right to use the classroom to recruit for their anti-Zionist/anti-Semitic cause,” the alumni added. “And when they do so — as in the courses described above — they not only contravene UC Policy but they also undermine the University’s efforts to foster tolerance and understanding.”
In explaining the impetus behind the letter, Tammi Rossman-Benajmin, AMCHA’s director and a UC faculty member, wrote that “UC students have long shared personal anecdotes of teachers who engage in anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic advocacy and activism in the classroom. However, the corruption is now public and can no longer be ignored.”
[Photo: Charlie Nguyen / Flickr ]