Local Jewish community advocates are urging the University of California-Los Angeles to issue "a robust and thorough response to continued incidents of anti-Israel bias and anti-Semitism."
Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA, and Amanda Susskind, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League's Los Angeles branch, noted in an open letter published Monday that UCLA's reputation in the past few years "has been tarnished by a series of incidents reflecting anti-Semitism and extreme bias against Israel."
After acknowledging "important steps" that have already been taken by the administration to address the situation, Lerner and Susskind called for a "more full-throated response."
"On campus, the repetition of aggressive, ill-informed and often academically devoid anti-Israel bias has created a highly-volatile, and at times vulnerable, atmosphere for Zionist and Jewish students," they wrote. "Off campus, it has also created a perception in the community, among alumni, and across the nation that UCLA has failed to provide an environment where it is safe to be Zionist or Jewish."
Lerner and Susskind said "campaigns that uniquely demonize Israel and its supporters have gained momentum over the last several years," citing six specific incidents, including the distributions of a May 2014 "ethics statement" that urged student government candidates to forgo taking subsidized trips to Israel with several major Jewish and Zionist groups.
Other examples included the antisemitic questioning of a Judicial Board student candidate in February 2015, the disruption of a Students Supporting Israel event in May 2018, and a guest lecture given last month by San Francisco State University Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, who linked Zionism — a movement that supports the Jewish people's right to national self-determination — with European colonialism and white supremacy.
"We are aware of several other issues with faculty, only some of which have been reported," Lerner and Susskind said. "Students have also shared with us as-yet unreported discriminatory experiences with fellow students."
While emphasizing the value of academic freedom, they also called for "academic responsibility" and four actions by campus leaders — namely, swiftly and unambiguously calling out inappropriate incidents, issuing clear guidance "on the lines which separate academic freedom from bigotry and political activism," monitoring and remediating factors that contribute to a hostile environment for Jewish and Zionist students, and instituting regular trainings for community members on "anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination which may not have been adequately addressed in the past."
A representative for UCLA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The school published a "progress dashboard" last week in an attempt to provide more transparency on its handling of complaints against Abdulhadi's lecture.
On Wednesday, the Academic Freedom Committee of the UCLA Academic Senate, backed the freedom of the professor who invited Abdulhadi "to present materials in the classroom as she determines to be appropriate."
"It may well be that students find the words of such speakers or the content of classroom materials objectionable, but this does not alter the fact that a professor has the right to introduce such course content," the committee determined, while noting that students should be allowed to express their own opinions and objections.