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Press Release: JVP Asks UC President to Table Biased Report on Jewish Life on Campuses

From Cecile Surasky
Friday July 27, 2012 - 02:41:00 PM

Jewish Voice for Peace calls on University of California President Mark Yudof to table a recently released report on Jewish student campus climate and to disregard its controversial recommendations until a methodologically sound and even-handed report can be conducted. 

The report, co-authored by Anti-Defamation League national education chairman Richard Barton and NAACP California president Alice Huffman, is coming under heavy criticism by a number of groups, including many Jewish students and faculty members, for poor methodology and bias.  

Cecilie Surasky, Jewish Voice for Peace Deputy Director: “Rather than offering a genuine exploration of a range of Jewish student life issues—which we would support — the report reads like a blueprint for limiting pro-Palestinian activism and further marginalizing the growing numbers of students, many of them Jewish, who are critical of Israeli policies." 

The report does not reveal the names of individuals or groups who were interviewed or why many meetings were by invitation-only; offers no quantitative data to substantiate anecdotal evidence that the campuses are hostile places for Jewish students; and conflates pro-Palestinian activism with anti-Semitism. While it claims to explore all aspects of Jewish life, it devotes the bulk of column inches to pro-Palestinian student activism and makes recommendations that will have negative impacts on academic freedom for all students.  

The report does accurately note that Jewish opinion on Israel and Palestine on campuses is extremely diverse, however it only offers anecdotes about the discomfort of students who support Israel policies, and omits numerous reports of harassment or intimidation experienced by Jewish students and staff who support Palestinian and Israeli rights, many of whom belong to progressive groups including Students for Justice in Palestine, J Street and Jewish Voice for Peace. 

Cecilie Surasky: "The UC system is a key battleground for groups that seek to limit criticism of Israeli policies. They are terrified of losing the unconditional support of the next generation and see UC as a testing ground for efforts to silence debate that include intimidating students and professors, making unsubstantiated claims of anti-Semitism against those critical of Israeli policies, encouraging legal action against schools and student protestors and so on.  

There is no question that some Jewish students feel uncomfortable with public criticism of Israeli policies, whether articulated by other Jews or non-Jewish students, but that does not make that criticism anti-Semitic. The answer is more speech and enhanced communication, not limiting speech in order to avoid the discomfort of some students." 

Jewish Voice for Peace is one of a growing chorus of individuals and groups with similar concerns including: 

UC Ad Hoc Committee on Jewish Campus Climate, a broad group of Jewish students, faculty and alum who have written an extensive critique of the report and are calling for it to be tabled (see signers at link): 

"...the report and recommendations it includes omit the experiences of many students and faculty in the Jewish community, grossly misrepresent educational initiatives focused on Israel and Palestine and political organizing in support of Palestinian rights, and threaten academic freedom on our campuses."

The National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, the San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and seventeen Arab, Muslim, Palestine and Palestinian rights activist organizations at the University of California, (UC) issued a statement:  

“While claiming to be motivated by a desire to introduce greater civility in campus discourse on these issues, UC may be on the verge of adopting unlawful policies limiting speech critical of Israel due to political pressures,” said Carlos Villarreal, Executive Director of the NLGSF.

Jewish Voice for Peace is a national grassroots peace organization dedicated to promoting a US foreign policy in the Middle East based on peace, democracy, human rights and respect for international law. With offices in Oakland and NY, over 115,000 online activists, 35 chapters and a Rabbi's Council, JVP’s board of advisors includes Judith Butler, Tony Kushner, Ed Asner, Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, Eve Ensler and others.