When a university starts a new academic program in a critical area of study, it typically chooses a scholar with impeccable credentials to direct it. Unfortunately, that is not the path the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) has taken with its new Center for the Middle East and North Africa (CMENA)
To head CMENA, UCSC chose history professor Jennifer Derr, whose objectivity towards Israel is questionable at best. A class she gave in 2014 bore the politically loaded title, "The History of Palestine: From Colonialism to Occupation." One wonders whether Jewish history, stretching some three millennia in what is now Israel, was included in her syllabus. Derr also signed a letter calling on President Obama to suspend military aid to Israel in 2014, when it was fighting a war against Gaza-based terror group Hamas. In addition, she has supported the academic boycott of Israel.
When asked about Derr, AMCHA Initiative co-founder Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, who was a faculty member at UCSC for twenty years, told Campus Watch: "Establishing a MENA center with a director who supports an academic boycott of Israel, one of the countries in the center's purview, is alarming and raises serious concerns about whether the new center will be focused on education or political indoctrination."
In the announcement of the new center, Derr claimed that "Study abroad trips to the region will be one opportunity for students to learn." Given her support for BDS, it's fair to ask whether Israel will be one of the study-abroad destinations of this new center. It's also fair to ask, in choosing Derr for this crucial position, what UCSC was thinking.
David Gerstman is managing editor of Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.