Students in California today launched a petition calling on the University of California’s governing body to take action against the spy network of the pro-Israel Amcha Initiative and its co-founder, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin.
The effort, launched in light of documents exclusively revealed by The Electronic Intifada last month, urges administrators to condemn and investigate Amcha’s ongoing attacks on UC student and faculty privacy and First Amendment rights.
These attacks, the petition says, have contributed to “an atmosphere of fear across the UC system.”
On Twitter, petition supporters are using the hashtag #StopAmcha.
The petition, which began circulating just a few hours ago, reads in full:
Dear UC Board of Regents,
We the undersigned UC students, alumni, faculty, staff, and community members are writing to express our deep concern about the Amcha Initiative’s serious violations of the privacy of UC students and staff participating in a UC program, as well as their ongoing series of attacks on student and faculty First Amendment rights, which have created an atmosphere of fear across the UC system.
Documents published in [The] Electronic Intifada reveal that the Amcha Initiative, a group led by UCSC lecturer Tammi Rossman-Benjamin and UCLA Professor Emeritus Leila Beckwith, infiltrated and spied on an Olive Tree Initiative (OTI) delegation to Palestine and Israel. One attendee of the July-August 2012 trip, which included students from UCLA, UCSC, and UCI, passed information onto the Amcha Initiative including private Facebook posts made months after the trip. This individual may have broken OTI’s participant agreement by sharing personal information from confidential student reflection sessions. Amcha Initiative members compiled this information in a 30-page document assessing the “threat” they believed OTI posed to the Jewish community. Amcha may have passed this report on to other unknown individuals and organizations.
Amcha’s deliberate monitoring of students involved in political activities related to Israel and Palestine creates a chilling effect on students’ political speech. The Amcha Initiative has used legal threats to stifle free speech in the past, and while their legal actions have been universally dismissed, students and faculty often fear serious repercussions for simply exercising academic freedom.
Amcha has a history of attacks on the first amendment rights of Muslim and Palestinian student organizations and faculty critical of Israel. In 2012 Amcha pushed UCLA to open an improper investigation into professor David Shorter for linking to a page related to the academic boycott of Israel on his class website. In 2013 Amcha co-founder Tammi Rossman Benjamin made Islamophobic comments about Muslim and Palestinian students at a public event. Student senates at UC Berkeley, Irvine, Davis, and Santa Barbara condemned her actions. Students organizers at UC Santa Cruz launched a video campaign and petition asking then UC President Yudof to take action. There was no comment from President Yudof, UCOP, or the UC Regents on the incident. Amcha retaliated by asking then UC President Yudof to investigate, and consider shutting down, every single Muslim and Palestinian student group in the UC system.
It is time for UC Administrators to end their silence and stand up for UC students and faculty against attacks on their academic freedom and violations of their privacy. We, the undersigned, ask that the UC Board of Regents take the following steps to protect student privacy and First Amendment rights:
- Publicly condemn Amcha’s monitoring of the Olive Tree Initiative trip, and take a firm stance against Amcha’s ongoing attacks on UC student and faculty privacy and First Amendment rights
- Investigate this and all past incidents to determine if the Amcha Initiative or its members broke any UC policies or state laws. Make any investigation findings public
- Commit to supporting the political and academic freedom of UC students and faculty, and fostering an environment where all feel safe expressing their political beliefs
Supporters can sign and share the petition here.