The AMCHA Initiative, a grassroots coalition dedicated to protecting Jewish students on university campuses, particularly throughout the University of California system, recently launched its new website to serve as a resource for anyone who cares for the well-being of Jewish students. However, the AMCHA Initiative has already come under fire from the very people who maintain the unacceptable status quo. Daniel M. Dooley, senior vice president of external relations for the Office of the President at the University of California, recently criticized the AMCHA Initiative for being “outdated and completely uninformed.” The following is a response to Mr. Dooley’s aspersions by the AMCHA Initiative’s co-founders, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, lecturer at UC Santa Cruz, and Leila Beckwith, professor emeritus at UC Los Angles.
Dear Mr. Dooley,
We are faculty at the University of California and co-founders of the AMCHA Initiative, a grassroots coalition of thousands of members of the California Jewish community, who are concerned with the serious and growing problem of anti-Jewish bigotry at the University of California. The AMCHA Initiative comprises UC alumni, parents, grandparents, rabbis, religious school principals, synagogue members, etc., who have joined together to speak in one voice, demanding that UC administrators ensure the safety of our Jewish students on UC campuses.
In your response to a member of the AMCHA Initiative (forwarded below), you impugn our coalition’s efforts, saying that they are based on “outdated information,” and that we are “completely uninformed.” Presumably as evidence of the UC administration’s efforts to address the intimidation and harassment of Jewish students, you mention President Mark Yudof’s “campus climate initiative,” the “Olive Tree Initiative,” and the “aggressive position in prosecuting abusive and intolerant behavior” taken by the UC Chancellors with the support of President Yudof.
I would like to respond to each of the points you have raised in turn:
1) The President’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion was established in June 2010 by President Yudof in response to acts of intolerance and bigotry that had taken place on UC campuses earlier that year. In theory, these included numerous incidents of anti-Jewish bigotry, which had created a hostile environment for many Jewish students: the appearance of several swastikas; the malicious disruption of Jewish students’ events; the virulently anti-Israel divestment campaigns which sought to harm the Jewish state; and the “Israel Apartheid Week” events, which included rhetoric and imagery considered antisemitic by the U.S. State Department.
By any objective measure, Jewish students have experienced at least as much harassment and intimidation on UC campuses as any other ethnic group. Yet both in terms of the Advisory Council’s stated mission and the composition of its membership, it was clear to many in the Jewish community that the problem of anti-Jewish bigotry would not receive the attention it deserved. In fact, President Yudof established working groups within the Advisory Council, which were primarily focused on the concerns of African American, Latino, and gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered students; Jewish students and antisemitic harassment were not a specific focus of any working group, despite the fact that anti-Jewish bigotry has been a long-standing, pervasive, and serious problem on many UC campuses. Indeed, a review of more than 600 pages of documents pursuant to a public records request of materials related to the deliberations of the Advisory Council during the 2010 – 2011 academic year revealed that there was virtually no discussion of acts of anti-Jewish bigotry.
2) You have described the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI) in very benign terms, as “a Jewish/Muslim student led dialogue on issues of mutual concerns…with a trip to the Middle East and a publication of essays of their experiences.” However, it has recently been revealed that this program exposes students to numerous individuals who participate in campaigns to harm the Jewish state and have called for its elimination, some of whom even have ties to terrorist organizations that have murdered Jews.
For example, on the 2009 OTI trip to the Middle East, the students met with Aziz Duwaik, a leader of the terrorist organization Hamas, whose stated goal is to destroy Israel and murder Jews. They were told by the UCI faculty who organized the meeting and accompanied the students to keep the meeting secret. Not only did the meeting and collusion to silence the students possibly violate both Israeli and American law, but meeting with a known terrorist leader, who was imprisoned 3 times by Israeli authorities for engaging in terrorist activities, exposed students to considerable danger. Although the meeting with a Hamas leader was made known to UCI Chancellor Drake by October 2009, the chancellor nevertheless did not shut the OTI down. Rather, he continued to fund the program, and even gave it the 2009 Living Our Values award a few weeks later. Indeed, even President Yudof directed a non-profit organization on whose board he sits to donate thousands of dollars to the OTI and bestowed on the program the President’s Award in 2010. (See HERE and HERE for two recent articles about the OTI at the University of California).
Members of the California Jewish community are appalled that UC administrators continue to fund, promote, and honor a program which brings students into contact with individuals and organizations that call for the murder of Jews and the elimination of the Jewish state.
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