UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman and UCI law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky have written a joint op-ed in the Wall Street Journal criticizing the recent US Senate Anti-Semitism Awareness Act passed to address the problem of campus anti-Semitism. The authors feel that the bill violates freedom of speech. I am cross-posting the op-ed from the UCI web site since the WSJ posting requires sign in.
Where to begin? I should first note that both Gillman and Chemerinsky are of Jewish background, so let's rule out anti-Semitic intent. I have no idea what their attitudes toward Israel are. However, having recently concluded an 18-year career teaching part time in the UCI Extension, I strongly believe that neither man has done much if anything to counter the long-standing problem of anti-Semitic speech and activity at UCI. In fact, Chemerinsky went on record as stating that there was no anti-Semitism problem at UCI even before he arrived to inaugurate the new law school.
As for myself having preceded Chemerinsky at UCI, I can say there has been a problem going back well over a decade. The same must be said about other UC campuses as well as many universities all over the country. The cause? That is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been turned into a hot button topic not by neo-Nazis or skin heads, not by some "alt-right" Jew haters, rather by the pro-Palestinian factions, namely the Muslim Student Association and Students for Justice in Palestine.
The letter states that the problem of campus anti-Semitism is real and should be addressed. They state that attempts to disrupt Jewish events on campus will not be tolerated. Yet for the past two years, I have personally witnessed pro-Palestinian students loudly disrupt the annual May I(srael)-Fest with their protests a few yards away and loud chanting with a bullhorn. On both occasions, the protesters marched out of the Cross Cultural Center at the beginning and back to the CCC at the end of their protest.What did the university do about that? Nothing.
A worse example was last May 18, when Students Supporting Israel was holding a pro-Israeli Defense Forces film, "Beneath the Helmet". Their event was disrupted by SJP and other student groups who tried to force their way into the room as terrified (mostly female) audience members tried to block the door while calling campus police to come and restore order. One female audience member told of being chased from the room and to another building by protesters. After the "investigation", SJP got off with a letter of warning.
But it gets worse. Some of the protesters identified themselves as "legal observers" from the National Lawyers Guild, a left-wing organization that began in the 1930s as a legal arm of the Communist Party USA. Further that they were attached to the UCI Law School. When the incident became national news, the NLG sent out a statement that the incident was not disruptive, and that when it was over they "accompanied the protesters back to the CCC."
Two points. If Chancellor Gillman ever asked Chemerinsky for an explanation of this, it is not on record. I have publicly called on Chemerinsky to explain this involvement of people in his program with this incident. To date, I am unaware of any statement he has made.
Secondly, why has the CCC for years allowed the MSU and SJP to use its facility as a staging area when they disrupt pro-Israel events-as in 2010 when the MSU disrupted the speech of Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren at UCI? I have protested this in writing to UCI and the CCC to no avail.
I also find it offensive when the letter states that "much to the consternation of groups now supporting the Anti-Semitsm Awareness Act", UCI was cleared of wrongdoing in 2013, when it was the subject of an investigation by the Office of Civil Rights, Department of Education because of complaints of harassment by Jewish students. That complaint died because of findings that complainants had not been filed (by students) in a timely manner and that there was no finding of discrimination due to national origin. (At the time, religion was not covered under Title VI. The Jewish students concerned were American as opposed to being Israelis.) UCI has crowed ever since that it was innocent of allowing a hostile environment for Jews.
Yet, last March, due to continuing complaints by Jewish students system-wide, the UC Regents finally approved a new statement of principles against intolerance that specifically addressed anti-Semitism, an acknowledgment that there was a problem. Subsequently, Chancellor Gillman himself, formed a task force at UCI, headed by the director of the UCI Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, to investigate the problem. To my knowledge this group has not completed its work.
But what the writers complain about here is what they consider an infringement on free (political) speech. I agree that just because a speaker says something that may be deemed anti-Semitic, it is still protected speech. I have never advocated that the vile Oakland-based imam Amir Abdel Malik Ali, for example, who has spoken at UCI many times over the years and who has engaged in anti-Semitic speech, should be denied his right to speak. Even when another vile Jew-hater, Washington DC-based imam Mohammad al Asi, came to UCI and stated in 2001, "We have a psychosis in the Jewish community that is unable to co-exist equally and brotherly with other human beings. You can take the Jew out of the ghetto but you can't take the ghetto out of the Jew," it was free speech. Similarly, when the MSU in 2008 put up a caricature of Ariel Sharon on their mock "apartheid wall" drawn in the stereotypical style of the old Nazi publication,"Der Stuermer", it was free speech, but should have been condemned by the university. It wasn't. The only time UCI ever spoke out about one of these expressions was in 2010, when then-Chancellor Michael Drake reacted to statements by Ali that he supported specific terror organizations (Hamas, Hizbollah and Islamic Jihad). Yet Drake did not identify the speaker, the statement (other than referring to support of terrorist organizations), the offended group, the sponsoring group, or the event. Drake did not address Ali's statement calling Jews in the audience "the new Nazis".
All we have been able to do is document these things and condemn them, which is our right of free speech. We cannot stop speakers from coming to campus and making their statements, and I am not saying we should. But there is a problem here. Many universities are all too prepared to prevent speakers like Milo Yiannopolous or Ben Shapiro from speaking on their campuses because some students don't like their message and are prepared to disrupt or try to stop it themselves. They are willing to punish those who say things deemed offensive about other groups, namely blacks, Latinos, Muslims, women or gays. Why should the rules not be the same for all?
Chancellor Gillman and his officials at UCI should use their own right of free speech to condemn hate speech when directed against Jews just as they would when other groups are targeted. As it is they have abrogated their moral responsibility to support Jewish students to the same extent they protect other minorities. It is not just a UCI problem. The same can be said of the rest of the UC system-as well as universities all over the country. The worst -ism that exists on college campuses is anti-Semitism. It is this -ism that university officials like Gillman and Chemerinsky will not confront. Shame on them.