(May 7, 2019 / JNS) An event at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst featuring several anti-Israel speakers and sponsored by university departments took place on Saturday, despite pushback from the pro-Israel community that included filing an emergency motion to block it, which a judge dismissed.
Titled "Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech & the Battle for Palestinian Rights," the event was organized by the NGO Media Education Foundation, whose director, Sut Jhally, is also a UMass professor and chair of the communication department.
Speakers included supporters of the anti-Israel BDS movement, including musician Roger Waters, Women's March leader Linda Sarsour, and professor and former CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill.
The event was sponsored by three UMass departments: the Department of Communication; the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; and the Resistance Studies Initiative UMass.
"UMass says it is 'committed to fostering diversity and inclusion in the classroom,' " Hali Haber, director of campus programs and strategic relationships at CAMERA, told JNS. "Yet the university gave its backing to anti-Israel activists like Linda Sarsour, Marc Lamont Hill and Roger Waters, without any opposing voices."
"UMass owes its students an apology following this blatant endorsement of a single political point of view on campus. To make amends, and in the spirit of 'fostering diversity,' it is now incumbent upon these departments of the university to also hold an event from a perspective that defends Israel," she added. "That way, students get to hear both sides. Giving the students just one side that demonizes Israel, with absolutely no counterpoint, is an offense to a true liberal education."
The moderator, Vijay Prashad, opened the panel, reportedly attended by some 2,000 people, by saying, "We are not backing down. Not when the stakes are so high for Palestinian people, who should be the focus of the conversation."
Hill said that fighting for the Palestinians is "not about isolating Israel ... it's about speaking the truth everywhere," reported MassLive.
"I can't say enough about what's wrong in the United States of America," he added.
"It's outrageous that conference organizers used the event as an excuse to promote clips of Sut Jhally's dishonest movie, 'The Occupation of the American Mind,' to the audience," CAMERA researcher Dexter Van Zile told JNS. "This film uses doctored quotes to demonize Israel."
"Parents of incoming students to UMass Amherst need to know that they are paying for the indoctrination of their children and the general public when they pay their tuition fees," he added. "The administrators at UMass are allowing disinformation to be broadcast under the rubric of 'academic freedom.' "
A university spokesperson said the event was being presented by a private foundation that rented space on campus, and that no university or taxpayer funds would be used.
"UMass Amherst is committed to fostering a community of dignity and respect and rejects all forms of bigotry," the spokesman said in a statement. "The campus is also firmly committed to the principles of free speech and academic freedom."
The spokesperson also said that the departments' sponsorship of the event does not mean they are endorsing its views.
"The opinions expressed by participants at the May 4 event and other such events do not represent the views of the University," the spokesman added. "And, as has been stated repeatedly, the University remains firmly opposed to academic boycotts of any kind, including BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement)."