Santa Cruz, CA, April 23 – Eighty organizations that span the political spectrum today called on University of Massachusetts Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy to rescind all named university sponsorship of an upcoming political event that the groups are concerned will "incite animosity towards supporters of Israel, including Jewish and pro-Israel students on your campus." They also ask the university to provide assurances that in the future UMass faculty will not be permitted to use the university's name or resources to promote their own personal political agenda at the expense of academic integrity and the welfare of students.
"As described in the [event's] press release, this is not an educational event but a political rally," wrote the groups in their letter to Subbaswamy. "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."
The May 4th event, "Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech, & the Battle for Palestinian Rights," is being organized by the NGO Media Education Foundation (MEF), whose director, Sut Jhally, is also a UMass professor and chair of the Department of Communication. It will include a panel and a discussion of "recent attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar and other progressives who have spoken out against Israel's 50-year military occupation of Palestinian land and criticized pro-Israel pressure groups for conflating legitimate criticism of Israeli government policies with 'anti-Semitism'."
Featured speakers include Roger Waters, Linda Sarsour, and Marc Lamont Hill, outspoken anti-Israel activists who have engaged in anti-Semitic expressions including 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 anti-Semitic tropes, as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism. Lamont Hill was dismissed by CNN after recent anti-Semitic statements before the U.N., and many prominent national women's organizations and local chapters of the Women's March denounced and distanced themselves from the national organization, Women's March Inc., after learning of Sarsour's multiple anti-Semitic remarks.
The event is being sponsored by three UMass departments – the Department of Communication, the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and the Resistance Studies Initiative UMass.
"Although we recognize that the event itself is protected by the First Amendment, we believe that its department 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," wrote the groups. "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."
The groups also point out in their letter the professional abuse of Professor Jhally, writing, "As a private citizen and director of an NGO, Jhally has the right to express these views publicly, just as his NGO has the right to rent space from UMass for the purpose of expressing such views. However, we believe that Jhally is engaging in an unacceptable conflict of interest when he exploits his position as a UMass professor and department chair and the university's name to promote his own personal animosity towards Israel and its supporters." The groups raise concerns that his actions are in violation of the UMass Amherst Principles of Employee Conduct.
The letter was coordinated by AMCHA Initiative. AMCHA monitors more than 400 college campuses across the U.S. for anti-Semitic activity. It is the only organization that documents incidents in real time on its website for the public. AMCHA recorded 468 known anti-Semitic incidents in 2015, 643 in 2016, 657 in 2017, 694 in 2018, and 198 so far in 2019. Its daily Anti-Semitism Tracker, organized by state and university, can be viewed here.
AMCHA's research has shown that schools with faculty who support an academic boycott of Israel are five times more likely to have acts of anti-Jewish aggression, including assault, harassment and vandalism.
AMCHA Initiative is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to combating anti-Semitism at colleges and universities in the United States.