Letter to the Editors: My Statement in Response to Chancellor Blumenthal

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As a Jewish student on UCSC campus, I would like to speak out about the email I have received from the Chancellor with concern that the recent resolution advocating Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions from the State of Israel by the University of California creates a hostile environment on campus for Jewish students.

 
The email in question is titled “Campus Civility in The Midst of Turmoil”. The title and subsequent content of the email posits that movements for freedom, such as that as the Black Lives Matter movement and the Palestinian liberation movement, constitute “turmoil”, rather than the racist turmoil and violence those movements oppose. The call for “civility” posits that people of color do not know how to be civil when opposing their oppression. The title and the email itself is bold, unfettered racism.

 
The email obliquely seems to liken this resolution with recent movements on campuses across the country, namely the movements initiated by Black students to fight against the prevailing racism inherent to institutions of power such as colleges and universities, movements that are in response to or have been met with white supremacist hate crimes. The Chancellor vaguely warns against “hatred” on campus, but we don’t know if this refers to the black protesters or the white supremacist attacks, we do know however that the email confusingly points to the resolution to divest from Israel as an act of “hatred” which creates a hostile environment for Jewish students.

 
To the Chancellor’s Office and to the Faculty and student body I have this to say in response, as a Jewish student:
It is disgusting that the Chancellor has sent out an email on my behalf, telling the campus that us Jews are afraid of Palestinian liberation and those that advocate for something so necessary. The only hostile environment here is that towards students of color, among them those who have suffered under violence from the state of Israel. The Chancellor alleges that the democratic resolution for divestment has sent a “chilling” response to Jewish students, when his own email ironically chills the freedom of speech and political activity of all those opposed to Israeli occupation.

 
The only thing that contributes to a hostile environment for me as a Jew is this email that alleges that Palestinian freedom from violent occupation is a threat to my well being as a Jew. The Chancellor also perpetrates a racist and nationalist understanding of Jewishness; Zionism appropriates and deploys Jewish identity for a nationalist project, and to assume that the Right-wing ideology of Zionism is representative or all-encompassing of my Jewish identity is anti-semetic. To locate me as a Jew, and because of my identity as a Jew, on a side that is necessarily against the right to life, housing, safety, and dignity of the Palestinian people is a gross affront on my understanding of my historical responsibility as a Jew towards liberation causes. The Chancellor has naturalized Jewishness as one necessarily on the side of a particular nationalist ideology and in of itself I find that to be a base, a-historical understanding of the Jewish identity. Jews have a long and diverse history of being on the Left as a way of being Jewish, and many Jews across the world have advocated against Israeli occupation of Palestine, against the use of our identity for war and violence, and against the anti-Arab racism and paranoia that emails such as this one promote.

 
Moreover, the idea that those who are fighting for Palestinian liberation from continuous bombings, illegal settlements, occupation, death, and restrictions of movement are people who are at all comparable to perpetrators of “hatred” on campus merely contributes to the already dangerous culture of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism in the aftermath of 911 and most recently the Paris attacks. That the chancellor dares to allege that students concerned with Palestinian liberation contribute to the hostile environments that Black students have been protesting is ludicris; white supremacy and the apartheid program that the state of Israel has institutionalized in Palestine have more in common. If anything, the Chancellor’s email advocates for reactionary nationalism, supremacist values that have long haunted both African Americans in the US and Palestinians in Palestine.

 
Chancellor, there are many Jewish students on campus that are anti-Zionist, and in favor of Palestinian liberation. We will fight not only alongside Palestinian students, but alongside all students of color. Invoking our Jewish identity for racist causes in of itself is a racist appropriation of our history for your own political will, we will have no part of it. Jewish self-determination must come from a place that draws on the rich history of Jewish participation in leftist, liberatory movements, particularly in the US slavery abolition and anti-Black racism movements, as well as early immigration and unionism movements.

 
I am Jewish, I am an anti-Zionist and I am anti-white supremacy. I refuse to have my history and identity become part of a racist, apartheidist cause perpetuated by the UCSC Chancellor’s Office.

 

Barucha Peller, UCSC undergrad

5 COMMENTS

  1. This letter is exceptionally one sided and totally ignorant of the Anti-semitism seen this year at UCLA and UCD. That the student reframes the debate in favor of students of color is particularly egregious. Students of color at UCSC may certainly have their problems, however that is not to the exclusion of problems a Jewish student may face. Moreover, belittling the campus response as “racist” at a time when the students have enacted a one sided legislation, and told a student they were under the “Jewish Agenda” and therefore should refrain from voting seems like a very curious oversight.

    I agree with the assertion that Anti-Zionism doesn’t constitute Anti-semitism, however when you stop pointing your fingers at Israel as “colonizers” and begin pointing them at fellow students whom you believe are unfairly privileged and therefore do not merit such a response, you’ve crossed the line between the two. If the movement was merely Anti-zionist, such an email would not have drawn any ire whatsoever because the email does not reject any claims made in favor of Israel being a “nation of colonists.” Moreover, the chancellor is not presupposing Jewish identity for his political will because nowhere in the email did he express existence of his politics, beyond his hopes to keep certain students safe from what he reasonably believes could escalate into violence if left unchecked.

    While I am saddened, as a former student, that BDS passed, I do not consider the legislation to be particularly harmful. Rather it is the culture of pointing fingers at Jewish students and Pro-Palestinian students as exhibits of “colonizers,” “occupiers” and “terrorists” which hurts me. A Jewish student, much like a pro or plainly Palestinian student, has absolutely no control over what happens 6,500 miles away, and yet must answer to questions of support as though they were anything less than American, with a freedom to express an opinion. Nothing could be further from the truth, yet its a fiction we wish to believe in order to have lively debate.

    Such debate is likely impossible now: rather than build rapport with Israeli supporting students, the Pro-Palestinian students have chosen action over dialogue. It is unfair for students to not recognize that their actions may have consequences and that one of them, is that a Jewish student may feel unsafe. If prior indications for BDS debates are all students have to go by, it’s extremely easy to see why that may be.

    The political language of this opinion does no favors to what I’ve described two paragraphs above. Rather it shows that the writer consistently crosses the line between anti-zionism and anti-semitism. Said simply, the administration is not “advocating for reactive nationalism” because Jewish students do not share the nationalism of Israel, nor are they representatives of Israel, beyond expressing a sympathetic opinion. Students do not have “supremacist values” in line with those of Israel because they are not Israeli. That you would conflate the two is the exact example of anti-semitism they are trying to fight.

    That the writer of this opinion ignores this in favor of saying other students deserve more attention is particularly troubling — the administration is allowed to speak about whom they want, when they want and where they want. The culture of “hatred” the writer points to hits more closely to home — calling students “colonizers,” “occupiers” or “terrorists” for merely expressing what they believe is the culture the chancellor is hoping to curtail. The chancellor can not to fix the Palestinian-Israeli problem, as it is largely beyond his scope as the leader of a California university or as an academic. That you spend any amount of time lecturing him is ludicrous, as his focus is to keep his campus safe. His contrary opinion is no example of “apartheid,” as he doesn’t have much, if anything to do with the state of Israel, besides leading a student body concerned with the issue.

    It is also plainly untrue that other students deserve more action on their behalf currently, as the legislation passed was plainly targeted at Israel, not at Arab students and not at Islam, whom the writer points out. It is the students own actions which the administration is reacting to. While I do not disagree that a culture of permissive Islamophobia exists at UCSC, the contents of the legislation passed is not a constructive step towards dialogue between Muslim students and Islamophobic ones, but a step towards reinforcing the toxic culture of people calling each other racists, terrorists, etc. that the administration probably wants to curtail. A dialogue free of accusation and ad hominem attacks is much more preferred.

    Finally, the writers own personal beliefs about her ties to Israel, while informative, are extremely unimportant to the contents of the email. While her lefty Jewish pride is enviable, her willingness to ignore what the email is attempting to stop isn’t. Frankly, if the writer spent less time talking about herself and more time talking about how the student group she alleges to represent kept a pledge of nonviolence, many of them potentially being victims of violence themselves, she would allay the fears of the chancellor effectively. Rather her accusatory tone does not stem my belief that her concerns over the email were anti-semitic, they confirm it: anti-semitism doesn’t just stem from students of color towards jewish students, but potentially from Jewish student to Jewish student.

    Sometimes you must face up to the fact that you’re personal beliefs about one matter may spill over into how you portray others. I do not wish to accuse anybody of Anti-semitism, but sometimes I am unable to help myself when I see a particularly egregious example.

  2. Blumenthal’s email lacked tact; he shouldn’t have piggybacked a comment about BDS on that email. That being said there are a lot of good arguments as to why BDS is anti-Semitic. The one that I agree with most is the ‘double-standard’ argument- basically the BDS campaign singles-out Israel, it judges the state with standards different from those used to judge other political situations.

    Take France as an example; a predominantly Christian European nation, after the attack last week, they launched a counter strike against ISIS; they bombed the Syrian city of Raqqa and likely killed many many civilians. There was no american public outcry against this because France was given the autonomy as a nation to defend itself. Israel is not given this autonomy — it’s singled out because its seen as separate or as ‘other’ by western nations. ‘Israel is the world’s only Jewish state. To apply to the state of the Jews a double standard that you apply to none other, to judge one people in a way you judge no other, to single out that one people for condemnation and isolation — is to engage in a gross act of discrimination.’ There’s no movement on the UCSC campus to boycott any other country, even ones with far more reprehensible human rights records (Afghanistan, Congo, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia….) which is why I see the on-campus political bias as inherently anti-Semitic.

    The BDS movement also seeks to boycott ‘Israeli cultural and academic institutions’ this includes professors, musicians, and writers. Rather than standing up for academic freedom and human rights by boycotting countries where intellectuals are imprisoned for their views, BDS seeks to single out Israeli and Israel supporting thinkers. The whole BDS movement is not Pro-Palestinian. It’s just anti-Israel. As proof of this, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority has publicly rejected a boycott of Israel. While pro-boycott forces draw parallels to the sanctions movement against South Africa during the apartheid era, Mr. Abbas, has time and time again restated the Palestinian Authority’s longstanding position of supporting a boycott only against products made in West Bank settlements, but not institutions that operate within Israel’s 1948 lines. One of his advisors said “We are neighbors with Israel, we have agreements with Israel, we recognize Israel, we are not asking anyone to boycott products of Israel.”

    Lastly, in his email Blumenthal said “[the resolution’s] passage may create an environment in which some of our Jewish students feel alienated and less welcome on our campus” he did not say ‘all Jewish students,’ he did not “appropriate” your identity, or argue that all jews are anti-BDS. A lot of jews share your viewpoint on the BDS movement and about Israeli politics at large. Many of the Jews on this campus, however, do in fact feel alienated and discriminated against by the vote. Personally, passing of this student council resolution makes me feel alienated, especially as a Mexican-American Jew of Syrian heritage on a campus and in a country that does in fact have a race problem.

  3. Barucha,

    As a non-Jewish part-time teacher at UC Irvine, I disagree on two points.

    First, as critical of the leftist lunacy that exists on campuses across the nation, I do not believe that academia is racist. Few institutions try as hard to accommodate minority students and faculty as academia.

    The one area where academia is blind, however, is when it comes to campus anti-Semitism. The pro-Palestinian BDS forces on campus have all too often crossed the line from legitimate criticism of Israel into Jew hatred. Sometimes it is scrawling swastikas on campus. Sometimes it is intimidation of pro-Israel Jewish students and other Brown Shirt tactics. Sometimes it is sponsoring vicious anti-Semitic speakers on campus like Amir Abdel Malik Ali and Omar Barghouti, the latter of whom masquerades as a human rights activist. And always, it is defending Palestinian terror and acts of violence against innocent Israelis. I have personally seen and heard it myself for several years.

    The forces you defend would eliminate every last Jew from the Holy Land. I hope someday you will wake up and realize that.