Yesterday we posted on the opposition to a May 4 forum at the University of Massachusetts about the cost of speaking up for Palestinian rights. The event features Roger Waters, Linda Sarsour, Marc Lamont Hill, and Dave Zirin talking about efforts to quash speech about Palestine.
Last night we learned about a letter to the UMass chancellor signed by 80 pro-Israel organizations — count em, 80, most obscure and rightwing — saying that the forum will “incite animosity… violence… hostility” against Jews on campus, and the only way to protect Jews is to remove all UMass sponsorship of the event.
That’s right: the letter-writers say “we believe that that [the forum’s] departmental sponsorship… will encourage acts of politically motivated aggression and violence on your campus.”
So Jews will only be safe if the UMass brand is removed.
The letter says that the “vast majority of world Jewry” perceive four speakers as anti-Semites. That is the definition of notoriety! Waters, Sarsour, Hill and organizer/professor Sut Jhally, the letter says, are “all outspoken anti-Israel activists who have engaged in expression deemed antisemitic not only by the vast majority of world Jewry, but also by the standards established by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism, which has been adopted by dozens of countries including the United States.”
These activists’ antisemitic expressions include charges that Jewish Americans are more loyal to Israel than America, calls for the elimination of the Jewish state, comparisons of Israelis to Nazis, and other false and defamatory accusations about Israel and Israel’s supporters that draw on classic antisemitic tropes.
The signatories of the letter include a few leading groups — B’nai B’rith International, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and the Israel Project — and a great number of campus pro-Israel organizations and less-well-known groups. There are also several Christian Zionist signatories, including Eagle Wings and the Israel Christian Nexus.
The letter is “not surprising, but this stuff still never ceases to be shocking,” says Jeremy Earp, an organizer of the conference. “It’s amazing the depths these people will go to smear really good people with the worst possible labels and accusations with zero concern for the truth. The fact that they invoke ‘the vast majority of world Jewry’ to support their charge that these panelists are anti-Semitic — without bothering to supply any specific or credible justification for the claim — is about as close to McCarthyism as you can get.”
The pro-Israel advocates are plainly worried about Waters and Sarsour and Hill gaining the imprimatur of a major public university. The forum is being sponsored by two UMass departments and one program: the Department of Communication; the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; and the Resistance Studies Initiative UMass.
The letter is here. Here are some other excerpts:
Dear Chancellor Subbaswamy,
We are 80 civil rights, education, religious, faculty and student organizations that span the political spectrum, writing to express our deep concern that three UMass academic units have been named as sponsors of a political event, whose apparent goal is to incite animosity towards supporters of Israel, including Jewish and pro-Israel students on your campus. Although we recognize that the event itself is protected by the First Amendment, we believe that its departmental sponsorship constitutes an unacceptable violation of the university’s academic mission, will encourage acts of politically motivated aggression and violence on your campus, and is a fundamental breach of the public trust. We call on you to rescind all university sponsorship of this event and to assure us that in the future, UMass faculty will not be permitted to use the university’s name or resources to promote their personal political agendas at the expense of academic integrity and the safety and well-being of UMass students…
As described in the press release, this is not an educational event but a political rally. Rather than aiming to promote an understanding of a highly contentious and polarizing issue by including speakers with a variety of perspectives, this event includes speakers with only one extremely partisan perspective and clearly aims to promote a political cause and encourage political action. Providing the imprimatur of three academic departments to such a politically motivated and directed event violates the core academic mission of the university, suppresses student expression and impedes the free exchange of ideas so essential for any university…
Official departmental sponsorship of this event will provide the appearance of academic legitimacy to the kind of political hatred that will undoubtedly be purveyed by these speakers — hatred that can’t help but encourage open hostility towards Jewish and pro-Israel students on your campus.
There is an interesting sidelight in the letter about Brown University concerns re the issue.
As Brown University President Christina Paxton recently stated in the Brown Herald, “If the University starts taking political positions, we run the risk of undermining
academic freedom on campus. If we say we’re the university that opposes Israel, how can we have scholarship and debate on what’s happening in the Middle East?”…
Organizers of the event report shenanigans with registration for the forum, leading to the event being sold out. Many registrants appear to have fake names, etc. Tickets are now available at the door.
H/t Allison Deger.