California university chief admits failure to curb divestment campaigns

“There is a usurpation of the narrative of human rights on American campuses by [Muslim organizations and Palestine activism] groups in discussing Israel.”

Such were the shocking words of outgoing University of California President Mark Yudof, speaking at the recent Facing Tomorrow conference held in Israel (the same conference that renowned physicist Stephen Hawking boycotted, as we reported).

Yudof was part of a panel discussion entitled “The Campus at a Crossroads in the Life of a Young Jew” (which included topics such as the “de-legitimization of Israel on the campus”) and was joined by Zionist group officials including Gidi Mark, chief executive of Birthright Israel (Taglit), and Natan Sharansky, chairperson of the executive of the Jewish Agency.

In the first few minutes of his remarks, seen in the video posted above, Yudof talks about the thriving Jewish communities across the 10 UC campuses. He highlights the various academic and student life programs that Jewish students are a part of, and says that Jewish students, in general, “like the University of California better than most of the other groups.”

However, he goes on to say that Muslim organizations “and other interest groups, racial minorities and others” and events such as Palestine Awareness Weeks “offend many Jewish students.”

Divestment resolutions strike a nerve

Yudof refers to his ongoing commitment to the University of California’s governing body, the Regents, to prevent divestment from firms profiting from the Israeli occupation. He notes, though, that his stance has not “prevented the commotion from continuing on campuses.”

He says that the “delegitimization of Israel is an ongoing problem,” and adds that “it seems that every six months, I’m reading about another vote of some sort of student organization on this issue, or some sort of academic organization, and too often, that vote is lost.”

To the students organizing with limited resources across University of California campuses, those “lost” votes — here, Yudof is ostensibly referencing the divestment resolutions that passed and were upheld at UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Berkeley — are indications that the tide is turning, much to the chagrin of well-funded Israel-aligned organizations working on and off-campus.

As Alex Kane pointed out on Wednesday on Mondoweiss, Zionist groups are planning to ramp up heavily-financed efforts to bash the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) on US campuses while, paradoxically, claiming that the Palestine solidarity movement and BDS are insignificant and “limited” in their reach and support.

Kane writes:

Malcolm Hoenlein, a top official with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told [Haaretz] journalist Judy Maltz that his organization plans to launch a counter-attack to BDS on campuses in August. “It will be a major Internet and social media campaign, in which we hope to reach every single college student in America. The goal is to educate in creative ways and win the public back,” Hoenlein said in the interview published earlier this week. Hoenlein was in Israel visiting Jerusalem for Israeli President Shimon Peres’ birthday party and [the Facing Tomorrow] conference.

… The new Conference of Presidents campaign will join the multi-million dollar anti-BDS effort from the Israel Action Network, which is the Jewish establishment’s number one vehicle for battling BDS.

I could go on and on about how vile this new “campaign” by Israel-aligned organizations really is. But The Electronic Intifada’s Maureen Clare Murphy put it best:

It’s clear that university students in the US who are part of Palestinian solidarity activism will be facing some pretty intense hasbara efforts this coming year, as calls for divestment ring louder — especially here in California. 

If you can stomach it, the full video of the Facing Tomorrow panel discussion, featuring Yudof et al, is viewable here:





Wow, I can't believe this guy was the president of my university! He so unapologetically writes off the deep passions and concerns of a large segment of the students he's supposed to be serving. Of all the minority groups across several different campuses, he singles out the Jewish groups as the only groups worthy of the university's protection and resources. On top of thay, he expresses regret at not having more "power," to dictate his will on students... Wow. Where the hell did they find this guy? Is the UC board of regents an extension of Shin Bet or what? The fact that this type of person was even considered for his position in the first place gives me real reason to worry about who's going to be replacing him next year.


Yudoff's statements indicate an extraordinary and inappropriate degree of bias. He at no point considers the feelings or experiences of Arab, Muslim and Palestinian students who are continually subjected to offensive remarks, actions and policies. His remarks also indicate an indifference to the right of free speech and the value of debate. Yudoff's open embrace of discrimination and bias would be shocking in anyone but they are frankly indecent in a University President. I hope that this will be brought home to the regents. I would be happy to endorse a condemnation of this conduct on these grounds.


From my perspective as an American with no religious affiliation, nothing in this dialogue discussed why there is a negative perception of Israel, only ways to combat it.


I have no college or university degree but even i can see the bias in this university president's speech.


That a conference had to be held, that a campaign of hasbarah will be starting in September are all positive signs that BDS is working. Public opinion is getting stronger because of the BDS campaign. This is a threat, but it tells me that the campaign is having an effect. Keep on pushing, keep your eyes on the prize.


I think Yudof is correct to say that groups like Palestinian solidarity groups shouldn't be shut down and silenced and trying to silence the other would ultimate back fire. But to say say that pro Israel groups will ultimately prevail is not correct because that implies they have a superior argument which they do not.

Looks like pro Israel groups are really spooked by the rising awareness of Israeli colonialism and oppression in Palestine.


It's appalling that people such as Yudoff, with their utter disdain for free speech, open debate and justice, are in charge of American universities! Let's hope that their students recognize them for the bufoons they are.


Yes, "where there is smoke, there's fire". That the UC president was pressured, or pressured himself, to become so inappropriately lopsided in his support for political Zionism (not to be confused with Judaism!), and that Israeli and other American political Zionists feel the need to try to "plug the hole in the dike" speaks volumes about how justice cannot be denied forever.

I am an American Christian supporter of the Rev. Naim Ateek, a Palestinian Anglican priest who founded and continues to lead a Palestinian liberation organization, Sabeel. With an inclusive vision, rather than the exclusive mindset of political Zionism and most of Israeli's current leaders, it seeks a political solution with justice for both Israelis and Palestinians, with reconciliation as the goal. The Rev. Ateek's inclusive view is especially remarkable since his family was expelled from their home near Nazareth when he was 10 years old. He and Sabeel are faithful to Jesus' example of non-violent resistance to Roman occupation, by employing education of the American public via Sabeel conferences and promotion of Boycott/ Divestment/ Sanctions internationally as a means of resistance to Israeli occupation.

That growing numbers of Palestinian villages, beginning with Bi'lin, have courageously followed the non-violent path of civil disobedient weekly demonstrations against illegal seizure of their lands, with occasional victories in Israeli courts, is a testament to this approach. See the website,

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).