As college students go back to class across the US, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is urging a renewed crackdown on Palestine solidarity activism on campus – and at least one California university leader appears to be receptive.
University of California, Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi’s office shared an email (full text below) from Seth Brysk, Central Pacific Regional Director for the ADL, with all of her university’s senior leadership on Monday.
The email warns about an upcoming day of action for Palestinian rights and calls for extra security and “discipline.”
It singles out the advocacy group American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) for special attention and makes thinly-veiled allegations of anti-Jewish activity.
The distribution list Katehi’s office sent Brysk’s memo to includes more than two dozen top administrators who make up the Council of Deans and Vice Chancellors, and Nick Crossley, the “emergency manager” of the UC Davis police department.
Reached by telephone, the ADL’s Brysk was unwilling to discuss the email with The Electronic Intifada. “That was intended for the person I sent it and I have no comment,” Brysk said. “I’m not sure how you got hold of it and I’m going to hang up now.”
Katehi became notorious as the “Pepper Spray Chancellor” after university police attacked dozens of students protesting peacefully against tuition fee increases with pepper spray in 2011.
In 2012, Katehi led a delegation of US university leaders on a propaganda tour to Israel organized by the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange – an initiative aimed at fostering support for Israel among US elites.
“We write to you today to provide information and recommendations about how to respond to conflicts that may arise on your campus due to the recent conflict in Gaza,” the ADL email states.
“In the wake of the recent crisis, anti-Israel organizations are placing increasing pressure on academic institutions to engage in a ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ (BDS) activities [sic],” it adds.
The ADL email warns Katehi to “Be aware of the discourse around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that takes place on your campus and the potential for escalation.”
It urges her to “Review student codes of conduct to ensure that activity which is detrimental to the free exchange of ideas is not allowed on campus.”
It also cites ”Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 particularly the responsibility of the school not only to investigate an incident, but to take prompt and effective steps to eliminate any hostile environment” – an implicit threat of legal action if the university does not sufficiently crack down on Palestine-related activities.
Targeting Muslim students
The ADL email describes American Muslims for Palestine as “the leading organization providing anti-Zionist training and education to students and Muslim community organizations around the country” and alleges that “AMP advocates for a variety of BDS-related initiatives – all in an effort to isolate and demonize Israel and Jewish communal organizations.”
It also states that AMP’s call for a day of action is “scheduled for the evening before the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah.”
Neither AMP nor the Palestinian-led BDS movement advocate for actions targeting “Jewish communal organizations.”
They call for actions aimed at institutions complicit with Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights, including universities and corporations.
The allegation that AMP targets Jewish groups and the reference to Rosh Hashanah appear to be an effort by the ADL to stoke religious tension and to portray Palestine solidarity activism as anti-Semitic – a common and increasingly shrill tactic of anti-Palestinian groups.
The email was forwarded from the chancellor’s office with a note stating “For your information,” suggesting that the chancellor considers it to be sound advice that her subordinates should adopt.
It is a reasonable assumption that the ADL has sent similar emails to other university leaders across California and perhaps other states.
A person familiar with UC Davis distribution lists told The Electronic Intifada that it was unusual for such communications from private advocacy groups to be shared in this manner with the university leadership.
Amid its call for “discipline,” legal warnings and the demand for outright prohibition of certain activities, the ADL urges Katehi to “Send a senior university official to potentially hostile events and prior to the start of the event have him or her remind those in attendance of university codes of conduct regarding free speech and civil discourse.”
The ADL’s description of campus activities related to Palestine as “hostile events” suggests that the university should treat them as security threats.
The reference to “civil discourse” in this context is particularly chilling following the firing of Steven Salaita by the University of Illinois for no discernible reason other than his expressions of horror at Israel’s latest massacre in Gaza.
“The ADL has always been in the business of censoring Palestine’s narrative and promoting Israel and Zionism but they are going a step further by recruiting UC Davis and other university leadership to effectively employ prior restraint on Palestinians’ free speech,” AMP chair Hatem Bazian told The Electronic Intifada.
“We are increasingly witnessing and documenting the Israelization of the university and instrumentalizing academia into the hasbara network,” Bazian, a senior lecturer at UC Berkeley, added.
Hasbara is the Hebrew term Israel uses to describe its efforts to win global support.
The ADL email is another indicator that there will be no let up this fall in Israel lobby efforts to use all repressive means available to stigmatize and punish, if not shut down altogether, campus criticism of Israel’s crimes.
Update, 17 September
After The Electronic Intifada broke this story, The Chronicle of Higher Education picked it up, confirming that the ADL email was sent to numerous campus administrations.
UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi has now published a defensive statement saying that her “office sent the letter to the Council of Deans and Vice Chancellors and others who are engaged in working with students, with the intention of informing them of one perspective on a sensitive issue.”
“We assure our community that UC Davis leadership remains strong advocates of free speech and debate, and we will do the best we can to create the conditions on our campus for this to take place,” the chancellor’s statement adds.
From: Lori Hubbard email@example.com
Subject: Fall Campus Activities
Date: September 15, 2014 at 9:26:19 AM PDT
To: “firstname.lastname@example.org” email@example.com, Nick Crossley firstname.lastname@example.org
Cc: “’email@example.com’ (firstname.lastname@example.org)” email@example.com
For your information.
From: Brysk, Seth [mailto:SBrysk@adl.org]
Sent: Friday, September 12, 2014 3:49 PM
To: Linda P.B. Katehi
Subject: Fall Campus Activities
Dear Chancellor Katehi,
We write to you today to provide information and recommendations about how to respond to conflicts that may arise on your campus due to the recent conflict in Gaza.
Over the last several years, we have seen individual students and student groups critical of Israel attempt to stifle dialogue about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by disrupting events on campus and refusing to work with pro-Israel and Jewish student groups. In the wake of the recent crisis, anti-Israel organizations are placing increasing pressure on academic institutions to engage in a “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) activities.
You should be aware that American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), the leading organization providing anti-Zionist training and education to students and Muslim community organizations around the country, recently issued a statement calling for an “International Day of Action on College Campuses” on September 23. AMP advocates for a variety of BDS-related initiatives - all in an effort to isolate and demonize Israel and Jewish communal organizations. These efforts serve only to polarize students on campus, inflame existing tensions, and often isolate and intimidate Jewish students.
AMP’s call for a “Day of Action” –scheduled for the evening before the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah– urges the elimination of study abroad programs in Israel, a ban on university administrators traveling to Israel, and scholars to refuse to participate in research or conferences with colleagues from Israeli institutions. Such tactics disrupt campus life and stifle the ideals of inquiry, free expression, and the civil exchange of ideas - - precisely the foundation on which university communities are built.
The Anti-Defamation League is a strong advocate of free speech and we do not seek to censor or stifle opinions in the university community. We have a long history of fighting for the ideals of individual expression and the free exchange of ideas, even when we disagree with the ideas being exchanged. However, no university should countenance attempts to discourage and suppress free speech, or harass and intimidate Jewish and other students. When this occurs, as in the examples noted above, appropriate action should be taken.
To address these concerns, we urge you to consider implementing the following policies and practices in the coming academic year:
- Be aware of the discourse around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that takes place on your campus and the potential for escalation.
- Review student codes of conduct to ensure that activity which is detrimental to the free exchange of ideas is not allowed on campus.
- When an event takes place on campus where there is potential for disruption, ensure that adequate security is provided to prevent any dangerous escalation in the disruption and ensure the safety of the speakers, organizers and attendees.
- Send a senior university official to potentially hostile events and prior to the start of the event have him or her remind those in attendance of university codes of conduct regarding free speech and civil discourse.
- Remember the school’s obligations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, particularly the responsibility of the school not only to investigate an incident, but to take prompt and effective steps to eliminate any hostile environment and to take proactive steps to prevent its recurrence.
- If the actions of the protestors violate any university policies or codes of conduct, appropriately discipline those involved.
- Use your own right to free speech to condemn actions which go against the ideals of the university.
- Reach out to individual students and organizations who may have been negatively affected by an incident.
- Provide educational opportunities on campus that foster an environment of inclusion, acceptance and respect.
As one of the country’s premier civil rights organizations, ADL has decades of experience in helping administrators and students on campus respond to bigotry and intergroup strife. We would be happy to discuss the challenges many campuses face today and to assist your efforts to ensure that your campus remains a place where all viewpoints can be discussed in an atmosphere of respect and civility. We encourage you to be in touch with us if you have any questions.
Central Pacific Regional Director
Anti-Defamation League | 720 Market Street, Suite 800 | San Francisco, CA 94102 Phone: 415-981-3500 | Fax: 415-981-8933 | www.adl.org