Thursday, March 22, 2007

Pro-Israel Voices Muzzled at UCSC

If anybody still believes the protestations of Jewish Voice for Peace at that anti-Israel speech is suppressed by the all-powerful pro-Israel machine, read below for details of last week's conference at University of California at Santa Cruz. This event would have been more appropriately held in Ramallah or Tehran. Note that any attempt to voice a pro-Israel opinion, or to get the organizers to provide a balancing position, was met with implacable hostility.

This phenomenon is not confined to UCSC. Muslim students at UC Irvine hold "Palestine Solidarity Week" events in which jihadist speakers spew their hatred on campus, providing an intimidating environment for any pro-Israel students (see the film "Tolerating Intolerance", available from StandWithUs at for actual videos of hate speech on campuses). Earlier this year, Muslims students at Brown University forced the cancellation of a speech by Nonie Darwish, an Arab Muslim woman who grew up in Gaza but now speaks out against jihadist terror, on the grounds that having her speak was "offensive" to them. the truth of the matter is that on too many campuses all across America, pro-Israel students and faculty find that they are not allowed to have their views heard, not allowed to question the presumption of evil Israeli guilt and noble Palestinian resistance, not allowed to promote the Zionist perspective-- in short, THEY are the ones truly "muzzled".

Those of you who agree that the type of biased political advocacy described below might just be a few giant steps short of the "highest ideals of academic freedom" should address your concerns to the individuals listed after the report on the conference.

BlueTruth thanks Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, lecturer in Hebrew at UCSC, for attending and documenting the conference and for providing us with the opportunity to disseminate her report. She noted "The most egregious part of the event was not the anti-Israel sentiment or the fact that all alternative positions were stifled, but rather the fact that the conference was sponsored by 8 university departments and therefore given complete academic legtimacy. In this way UCSC differs from, say UC Irvine, where the anti-Israel propaganda comes from the students. In my opinion, that makes UCSC far worse than Irvine. All citizens of California should be outraged by this university-sponsored taxpayer-funded conference."

Report on “Alternative Histories Within and Beyond Zionism” conference
at UCSC on March 15, 2007
Submitted by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin and Ilan Benjamin
Approximately 100 people attended the conference -- about 70 students, 20 faculty members and 10 community members. UCSC Anthropology professor Lisa Rofel, the conference organizer and moderator, opened the event by saying that the conference was an historic one at UCSC, and represented the “highest ideals of academic freedom”.
The first speaker was David Theo Goldberg, Director of the University of California Humanities Research Institute, who spoke on “Racial Palestinianization”. Goldberg claimed that Israel was, from its inception, a racist entity, which used its racist state policies to protect the purity of the Jewish race and exclude and oppress the Palestinians. In his talk and accompanying slide presentation, Goldberg explicitly and implicitly linked Israel’s current state policies and practices to those of the Nazis. Goldberg concluded his talk by asserting that Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians was part of a race war begun by Israel in order to rid the land of a despised racial group, and that within such a context, suicide bombing was an understandable and even fair response.
Judith Butler, a professor in the departments of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley, was the second speaker. Her talk was entitled “Hidden Histories of Post- Zionism”. Basing herself in part on the writings of Edward Said and in part on those of Jewish thinkers in the first half of the 20th century such as Martin Buber and Hannah Arendt, Butler claimed that Zionism was a racist and therefore illegitimate ideology, and she argued for the creation of a secular democratic bi-national state, which would replace the Jewish State. While Butler complained that the debate about a bi-national state is often stifled with the argument that it will lead to the destruction of Israel, she did not address the issue of why this concern is unfounded, or how Jews would be able to live safely and securely in a state with a Muslim majority.
The third speaker was Hilton Obenzinger, Associate Director for Honors and Advanced Writing at the Stanford Writing Center. His talk, entitled “Jewish Opposition to the Occupation Since 1967, A Personal and Public Journey“, was indeed primarily a personal account of how, after growing up in a Zionist Jewish home, Obenzinger became an anti- Zionist activist who opposed the Jewish State and advocated Palestinian causes. Obenzinger also described and decried the opposition within the Jewish community to his anti-Israel pro-Palestinian efforts.
Terri Ginsberg, an adjunct professor at Purchase College, was the fourth speaker. In her talk, “Holocaust Film and Zionism: Exposing a Collaboration”, Ginsburg drew heavily upon the writings of Norman Finkelstein in claiming that Holocaust films have facilitated and justified the propagation of a racist Zionist ideology, which has resulted in the oppression, ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Palestinians. She noted that her ideas were very unpopular both in the academy and in the Jewish community, and she accused those who would discredit her work of being “McCarthyites”.
The fifth and final speaker was Ryvka Bar Zohar, a graduate student at NYU, whose talk was entitled “A History of Zionism and the Politics of Divestment”. Bar Zohar presented her own ideas about the history of Zionism, arguing that the ideology grew out of the attempt of Eastern European Jews to recover from the “shame” of the Diaspora and the Holocaust by finding pride in domination. According to her analysis, Zionism was an essentially racist doctrine, which led to the creation of an apartheid state. Bar Zohar used her analysis to argue that the movement to divest from Israel was a justified and effective strategy for mounting an opposition to Zionism for all anti-Zionist and anti-apartheid activists.
It wasn’t until after the final speaker had concluded, with less than a half-hour remaining to the 3-and-a-half hours scheduled for the conference, that the moderator opened the floor for questions. Unfortunately, by that time most of the audience had left the hall, as well as one of the speakers. At the end of the event, a student approached one of the members of the audience who had, during the question and answer period, challenged the use of the term ‘Arab Jews’ by one of the speakers, and she yelled at him several times, “You are a racist”. Another student approached two men engaged in a private conversation about how egregiously biased the conference was, and she said in a clear and accusatory tone, “You have blood on your hands”. The few pro-Israel students in the room were extremely upset after the event. One student was appalled that her own department, History, had sponsored this event. Another expressed outrage that her university tuition was supporting what she felt was anti-Israel propaganda.
There are four aspects of this conference that should deeply concern all university administrators and faculty, as well as members of the tax-paying public:
1) Although promoted as an academic event and sponsored by 8 UCSC departments and research groups (Institute for Humanities Research, Feminist Studies, Anthropology, CGIRS, Community Studies, Sociology, Politics and History), this conference did not adhere to even minimal standards of scholarship. First of all, neither the conference organizer nor any of the speakers is a recognized scholar of the history of Zionism or Israel, and collectively they boast few academic publications in this area. Secondly, only two of the five speakers referenced the scholarship of others. Of these, Ginsburg based much of her work on the highly questionable scholarship of Norman Finkelstein, and Butler’s interpretation of one of her key sources was disputed by the book’s editor, who happened to be in the audience at the time. Thirdly, the use of demonizing and vilifying language and slides in Goldberg’s talk, the focus on personal anecdotes in Obenzinger’s talk, and the justification of political activism that was at the heart of Bar Zohar’s talk, all raise a number of serious questions about the academic quality of this event. 2) Far from representing a diversity of legitimate scholarly perspectives on the topic of Zionism, the speakers all articulated the same extremist view about Israel’s founding ideology, namely, that it was racist and illegitimate, and called into question the legitimacy of the Jewish State itself. Indeed, this uniformity of perspective and expression of egregious anti-Israel bias, which violate the norms of academic integrity, are not surprising, given that all five speakers identified
themselves in the course of their talks as anti-Zionists, and two of them, Obenzinger and Ginsberg, openly expressed their solidarity with the Palestinian people. It seems, however, that such a one-sided anti-Israel conference is just what the conference organizer, Lisa Rofel, had in mind. For when Jewish Studies director Murray Baumgarten offered to work with Rofel to create a more balanced event by bringing speakers with other legitimate scholarly perspectives about Zionism and Israel, she declined the offer.
3) It is clear that the conference was an event dominated by political advocacy. Most of the speakers were explicit about their political motivation and advocacy efforts: The talks by Obenzinger and Bar Zohar were wholly devoted to justifying and promoting their anti-Israel political efforts. Butler introduced her talk by saying that she had committed herself “to speaking out, and to encouraging other Jews to speak out”, and Ginsberg said that her goal was “to transform Zionism in the name of social justice”. Moreover, the anti-Israel political stands of the speakers must have been well-known to the conference organizer, as all of them had previously spoken out publicly against the Jewish State, either by signing divestment petitions and other public statements calling for halting all aid to Israel, boycotting Israeli academics, or organizing "Israeli Apartheid Week" events. Indeed, the conference organizer herself is a signatory the petition urging that the University of California divest from Israel.
4) The US Department of State, in its working definition of anti-Semitism, has included the following examples of the manifestation of anti-Semitism in public discourse:
• Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination (e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor).
• Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
• Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
• Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
The description of the talks above suggests that every one of these examples found expression at this conference. In addition, it is reasonable to assume that the speakers’ blatant anti-Israel bias and inflammatory rhetoric gave rise to the hostile behavior of some students in the audience towards the few people who openly expressed disagreement with the speakers.


If you wish to share your concerns about this with responsible individuals at UCSC, please contact the following; let them know you read it on BlueTruth!

Acting Chancellor George Blumenthal:
Executive Vice Chancellor David Kliger:
Dean of Humanities, Prof. Georges Van Den Abbeele:
Dean of Social Sciences, Prof. Sheldon Kamieniecki:
Prof. Ronnie Lipschutz, co-director, Center for Global International and Regional Studies (CGIRS):
Prof. Daniel J. Wirls, Chair Politics:
Prof. Gail Hershatter, Director Institute for Humanities Research:
Prof. Karen Barad, Chair Feminist Studies:
Prof. Judith A. Habicht-Mauche, Chair Anthropology:
Prof. Mary Beth Pudup, Chair Community Studies:
Prof. Herman S. Gray, Chair Sociology:
Prof. Daniel J. Wirls, Chair Politics:
Prof. Lisa Rofel, Anthropology (conference organizer):

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