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ZOA to UC President Yudof: Individuals Hostile to Jews or Israel Don’t Belong on UC Advisory Council Against Bigotry

In a letter sent yesterday to Mark Yudof, President of the University of California, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) criticized the composition of a newly-established Advisory Council, which President Yudof convened to address bigotry and intolerance on University of California (UC) campuses. Not one member of the Advisory Council has any demonstrable expertise in fighting anti-Semitism. Even more troubling, the ZOA documented that two members of the Advisory Council are tainted with hostility toward Jews and the demonization of Israel that make them “wrong and even offensive choices for a committee that is supposed to be coming up with solutions for eradicating the anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing that UC students face on their campuses.”

One Advisory Council member, UC San Diego Professor Jorge Mariscal, wrote a glowing testimonial about an anti-Israel event on that campus, which promoted the vicious lie that Israel is an apartheid state. The event, which featured Norman Finkelstein and other Israel-bashers, was entitled “Justice in Palestine Week 2010 – End the Apartheid.” Professor Mariscal praised this anti-Israel event, commenting that “I have rarely seen a more sophisticated and tempered demonstration of student activism as the Justice in Palestine calendar of events that took place last week.”

In objecting to Professor Mariscal’s appointment to the Advisory Council, the ZOA wrote to President Yudof: “Much of the hostility that Jewish students are being subjected to is engendered by Israel-bashing that Jorge Mariscal apparently finds acceptable and indeed commendable.” At UC Irvine, for example, Jewish students have been subjected to hateful anti-Israel events that run for one to two weeks at a stretch each year, with titles such as “Israel, the 4th Reich” and “A World Without Israel.”

In its letter to President Yudof, the ZOA also criticized the choice of Imam Jihad Turk to sit on an Advisory Council dedicated to addressing campus bigotry and intolerance. Jihad Turk is the Director of Religious Affairs for the Islamic Center of Southern California (ICSC), which, as the ZOA pointed out, “has a long history of promoting hatred and bigotry against Jews and Israel. An ICSC leader should not be given authority to advise the UC system on how to address the problem of anti-Semitism, when the ICSC has played a role in perpetuating that problem.”

The ZOA provided President Yudof with a detailed description of the ICSC’s anti-Semitic and Israel-bashing conduct. The ICSC hosted a conference in 1986 at which copies of the anti-Semitic The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion were prominently displayed. In May 2008, the ICSC hosted a conference on the “Nakba,” i.e., the so-called “catastrophe” for the Palestinian Arabs when the State of Israel was established. According to an article in The Muslim Observer, speakers at this conference demonized and delegitimized the State do Israel by calling it colonialist and worse than apartheid South Africa; by falsely claiming that when the State was established, Israel engaged in ethnic cleansing; and by stating that Israel does not deserve to exist.

Maher Hathout, a co-founder and current spokesperson for the ICSC, supports attacks on Israel by the terrorist group Hezbollah, and has called Israel a land of “butchers” who have set up a system of “racist apartheid.” In January 2008, Hathout gave his Friday sermon at the ICSC on the “Tragedy in Gaza,” and defended Hamas’ rocket attacks on Israel’s civilian communities.

The ICSC published a magazine called Minaret until 2005, when the magazine ceased to exist. The magazine contained articles and editorials comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, and blamed Zionism for conspiring against Islam. Minaret articles and editorials frequently compared Israel to apartheid South Africa, falsely claimed that Israel was engaging in genocide, and accused American Jews of trying to undermine Muslim participation in the democratic process in the U.S. A March 2004 issue of Minaret justified the conduct of suicide bombers. In 1998, Minaret published an editorial defending Holocaust-denier Roger Garaudy. Minaret also published anti-Jewish cartoons.

“Given the ICSC’s anti-Semitic and Israel-bashing history,” the ZOA wrote to President Yudof, “choosing one of its leaders to participate on an Advisory Council dedicated to eradicating campus anti-Semitism is totally unacceptable.”

The ZOA expressed full support for a diversity of viewpoints on the Advisory Council. But “[i]f any members’ views are in sync with the views of those who perpetrate anti-Semitism or Israel-bashing on campus, then the Advisory Council will have a very difficult time finding a legitimate and effective solution to these longstanding problems.” The ZOA urged President Yudof to replace Jorge Mariscal and Imam Jihad Turk with “individuals with a track record for fighting anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing.”

The ZOA’s letter to President Yudof followed from a June 28, 2010, letter that the ZOA, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, The Orthodox Union, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, three UC faculty members, and eight other organizations, had written to President Yudof. The joint letter requested that President Yudof take certain steps in addition to the work of the Advisory Council, which the co-signers believed would significantly improve the campus environment for Jewish students. These steps included President Yudof, and each UC chancellor, issuing a written statement condemning anti-Semitism in all its forms; recognizing that anti-Semitism can include certain anti-Israel or anti-Zionist sentiment; acknowledging that anti-Semitism has been a problem on UC campuses and harmed Jewish students; and committing the UC administration to vigorously addressing the problem.

In his response of July 2, 2010, President Yudof took issue with the joint letter, calling it “a dishearteningly ill-informed rush to judgment.” The joint letter had referred to an online petition that more than 700 Jewish UC students had signed, reflecting that these students were “outraged and deeply offended” by the anti-Jewish and Israel-bashing speech and conduct on campus, and demanding that UC administrators recognize and address their concerns in the same way that they respond to the concerns of other minority groups. The joint letter also referred to an on-line questionnaire which revealed that many Jewish students feel harassed and intimidated on UC campuses as the result of anti-Israel events that they believe promoted hatred of the Jewish state and of Jews. President Yudof downplayed this data, challenging it as lacking “statistical reliability.”

Morton A. Klein, the ZOA’s National President, and Susan B. Tuchman, Esq., the Director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, expressed disappointment in President Yudof’s response and urged him to reconsider the recommendations made in the joint letter and ensure that the Advisory Council is composed of members capable of addressing the longstanding problem of anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing on UC campuses: “We were frankly taken aback by President Yudof’s dismissive response to the concerns that we, UC faculty members and several other groups raised in a joint letter in June. Had groups dedicated to ending bigotry against African Americans or Hispanics written to President Yudof about problems that African American or Hispanic students were experiencing on UC campuses, we believe it highly unlikely that President Yudof would have responded in the same way.

“For more than six years, the ZOA has been working closely with Jewish students and faculty on the UC campuses. We know that anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing are serious problems and that they have been going on for years, causing some students and faculty to fear for their physical safety. As noted historian Paul Johnson wrote in his book, A History of the Jews, ‘One of the principal lessons of Jewish history has been that repeated verbal slanders are sooner or later followed by violent physical deeds.’ This has been true at UC Irvine and UC Berkeley, where Jewish students have been physically assaulted. At least two students actually left UC Irvine because they could no longer tolerate the anti-Semitic hostility there. This past May, more than 60 faculty members at UC Irvine signed a statement saying that students and faculty feel intimidated and at times even unsafe. Jewish students and faculty on other UC campuses are also experiencing problems.

“The UC administration has to publicly recognize that anti-Semitism is a serious problem on UC campuses and that it has taken many forms. We are not just talking about ethnic slurs and the vandalism of property. Israel is being demonized with vicious lies. Speakers and programs support terrorism against Jews and Israel and call for Israel’s destruction. Jewish students have been harmed by this speech and conduct, and it’s time that President Yudof and each of the chancellors recognize it. Recognizing the seriousness of the problem is the first and necessary step to addressing it.

“We support the Advisory Council. But one would never dream of including individuals on the Council who have praised or supported events that are hostile to African Americans, Muslims or gays. Individuals who have praised or supported anti-Semitic or Israel-bashing events likewise don’t belong on an Advisory Council that is supposed to be dedicated to eradicating anti-Semitism in all its forms.

“We urge President Yudof to replace Jorge Mariscal and Imam Jihad Turk with individuals who have no hostile bias against Jews or Israel. We care deeply about what is happening on American college campuses and are committed to fixing the problems that many Jewish students face. Our goal is to work together with President Yudof to ensure that Jewish students at UC schools have the college environment that everyone is entitled to – one that is free from bigotry and that is conducive to learning.”

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