UCSD Professors Accuse Student Groups of Hypocrisy, Anti-Semitism
By Taylor Marvin
On April 4th, 28 UCSD professors and faculty published a full-page open letter in The Guardian, UCSD’s leading campus newspaper. The letter’s authors accused UCSD student organizations critical of Israel of hypocrisy — while these student groups have historically criticized Israel’s human rights record in the Occupied Territories, the letter’s signatories allege that they have turned a blind eye to abuses by Arab autocratic governments. This allegation is framed in harsh terms, with signatories accusing UCSD student groups of, in effect, anti-semitism:
“On our campus the muted reaction to this volcanic eruption of civil unrest and the ensuing horrific slaughter of thousands of civilians by their own leaders has been quite revealing. Sadly, it has confirmed strong suspicions of many students and faculty that the highly vituperative activism spearheaded by the Muslim Students Association (MSA), the Arab Student Union (ASU) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and directed relentlessly against a single Mideast country, Israel, is driven less by positive impulses of fraternity toward fellow Arabs and Muslims than by hateful impulses to destroy the world’s only sovereign Jewish nation.”
This is an extremely strong allegation. For faculty members at one of the nation’s leading universities to publicly accuse students of racism is noteworthy and disturbing. However, despite their aggressive wording, the authors’ claims are unsupported, deeply misleading and intellectually dishonest.
In contrast to the letter’s claim, in January and February 2011 UCSD student organizations hosted many events and protests designed to draw attention to the humanitarian situation in Tunisia, Egypt, and the rest of the Arab world. Case in point: Prospect’s own Perspectives event on February 28th that hosted discussion and debate about the significance and future of Egypt’s revolution by a number of student and faculty speakers. While Prospect was not mentioned in the letter, Prospect’s event partners Students for Justice in Palestine and Arab Student Union were explicitly criticized.
The UCSD student body’s enthusiasm for this event could hardly be termed “a muted response.” Roughly 250 students attended this event for no academic credit:
Prospect’s event was not the only panel discussion organized by UCSD students. On February 10th the Arab Student Union, Students for Civil Rights in Iran, Students for Justice in Palestine, and Student Sustainability Collective hosted a teach-in to draw attention to the developing situation in the Arab world:
This event was organized in part by the ASU and SJP, two groups the letter’s authors specifically targets for their “highly vituperative activism.” It’s also worth remembering that the above image is from the front page of The Guardian– the authors’ allegations are specifically contradicted by the front page of the very publication they chose to publish their letter.
The authors also criticize these student organizations for alleged online inaction, specifically through social media. From the letter:
“Why haven’t the websites and Facebook pages of the MSA, ASU and SJP been abuzz with plans for social activism and moral outrage over the murder of civilians who are fighting to gain liberty in Arab countries?”
This is untrue:
Students for Civil Rights in Iran, the Arab Student Union, and Students for Justice in Palestine clearly utilized social media plan activism protesting the murder of Arab civilians fighting to gain liberty. Students for Civil Rights in Iran’s participation in this event is noteworthy: the authors do not mention this organizations’ role in anti-autocrat protests and events, because it does not fit their narrative of student organizations solely obsessed with criticizing Israel. The fact that the letter’s authors did not bother to research this unambiguously false claim is indicative of their disrespect for their readers, and cast significant doubt over the rest of their accusations.
However, one element of the authors’ argument is understandable. Justice in Palestine Week, which the letter terms a “weeklong hate-fest,” is a large event that is highly visible to the student body — displays erected by student organizers dominate Library Walk, the center of the UCSD campus. If student activities critical of Arab governments were limited to indoor events the authors’ allegations of a bias would be justified. However, this is also untrue:
Protests held on Library Walk February 2nd were attended by about 50 students — a respectable number at a largely apolitical campus- who loudly demanded the removal of autocratic leaders in the Arab world. While this event did not display the same degree of preparation as Justice in Palestine Week, this is understandable — Justice in Palestine Week is the product of months of planning by organizing student organizations, while the February 2nd protests were held only 8 days after January 25th’s ‘Day of Rage’ that sparked the revolution in Egypt.
The letter does not simply accuse student organizations of bias — in the eyes of the letter’s authors UCSD students are deliberately targeting Israel and motivated by hate:
“Or is it possible that human rights and social justice have been hijacked by these groups for use as expedient intellectual weapons in the service of a culturally driven agenda—to bludgeon the Jewish state?”
It’s hard to overstate just how strong of an accusation this is. A number of UCSD professors are unambiguously accusing their students of racism. These are words that can’t easily be taken back, and have the potential to permanently break the bond of trust between students and teachers. These serious claims require correspondingly strong support- however, the letter’s authors decline to offer evidence to substantiate their assertions, instead choosing to rely on empty accusations that hide behind their severity.
The accusations advanced in the Guardian letter fail basic investigation and are disproved by a brief examination of the same news outlet where its authors published their message. No one is disputing that Israel is a democratic nation that offers its citizens freedoms and human rights rare in the Middle East. Similarly, aspects of the authors’ allegations are valid — Justice in Palestinian week does offer “deliberately one-sided and selective information” that often neglects the deeply complex nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and both sides’ refusal to accept the meaningful political sacrifices need to achieve peace. However, the authors’ criticism of Justice in Palestine Week’s bias ignores the deep pro-Israel bias in American culture. As of last month, 63 percent of Americans self-identified as sympathizing with Israel compared to 17 percent that identify with the Palestinians, a disparity that is increasing. Given this disparity, the biased nature of Justice in Palestine Week is not a significant threat to Israel’s perception in the United States and does not justify grossly inappropriate personal attacks on students by their professors, a serious abuse of their respected status in the eyes of their students.
However, the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are aside the point. The letter’s authors chose to spend roughly $1,000 to criticize student organizations, accusations that are clearly false and deeply unprofessional. The degree of intellectual laziness in the signatories’ argument is insulting — the letter’s authors take it for granted that readers will accept their claims, rather than undertake the very basic research needed to disprove their specific examples. This level of disrespect for the UCSD student body is not acceptable in university faculty, and its faulty reasoning is profoundly unscientific. The authors of this letter owe their students better, and as UCSD students we should demand it.
Correction: I originally wrongly cited the Feb.2 event as being attended by over 100 people. The correct number is 50, and has been corrected in the text.
Faculty signatories of the letter are listed below. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of provided contact information.
David Feifel, MD, PhD, Professor, Department of Psychiatry: (619)543-2827, firstname.lastname@example.org
Joshua Fierer, MD, Professor of Infectious Diseases: (858) 552-7446, email@example.com
Ami Berkowitz, PhD, Professor, Department of Physics: (858) 534-5627, firstname.lastname@example.org
Joseph L. Witztum, MD, Professor of Medicine: email@example.com
Seth M. Pransky, MD, Clinical Professor of Surgery: (858) 309-7708, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sidney Zisook, MD, Professor, Department of Psychiatry: (858) 534-4040, email@example.com
Larry Millstein, PhD, Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering: (858) 534-3096, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ron Evans, PhD, Professor, Department of Mathematics: (858) 534-2635, email@example.com
Eyal Raz, MD, Professor, Department of Medicine: (858) 534-5444, firstname.lastname@example.org
Gary Frost, PhD, Founding Dean, Earl Warren College
David J. Printz, MD, Associate Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry
Nora Laiken, PhD, Assistant Dean for Educational Support Services, UCSD School of Medicine: (858) 534-2131, email@example.com
Alex Groisman, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Physics: (858) 822-1838, firstname.lastname@example.org
Howard Taras, MD, Professor of Pediatrics: email@example.com
Pamela Cosman, PhD, Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering: (858)822-0157, firstname.lastname@example.org
Herbie Levine, PhD, Professor, Department of Physics: (858) 534-4844, email@example.com
Brian G. Keating, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Physics: (858) 534-7930, firstname.lastname@example.org
Neal Swerdlow, MD, PhD, Professor, Department of Psychiatry: (619) 543-6270, email@example.com
Shlomo Dubnov, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Music: (858) 534-5941, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sonia Ancoli-Israel, PhD, Professor, Department of Psychiatry: (858) 822-7710, email@example.com
Ruth Covell, MD, Clinical Professor, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine: (858) 534-4842, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mort Printz, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Department of Pharmacology: (858) 534-4227, email@example.com
Murray B. Stein, MD, MPH, Professor, Department of Psychiatry: (858) 534-6400, firstname.lastname@example.org
Vitaliy Lomakin, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering: (858) 822-4726, email@example.com
Daniel M. Tartakovsky, PhD, Professor, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering: (858) 534-1375, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ivan Schuller, PhD, Professor, Department of Physics: (858) 534 2540, email@example.com
Yeshaiahu Fainman, PhD, Professor, Jacobs School of Engineering: (858) 534-8909, firstname.lastname@example.org
Daniel Arovas, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Physics: (858) 534-6323, email@example.com