An open letter to U.C. Santa Cruz Chancellor Blumenthal

Dear Chancellor George Blumenthal:

We represent 20 organizations with hundreds of thousands of members and supporters nationwide. We are very troubled by U.C. Santa Cruz’s selection of Angela Davis as speaker for the 31st Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Convocation, a Jan. 28 event sponsored by your office.

Given the title of her talk — “Racism, Militarism, Poverty: From Ferguson to Palestine” — it was clear that Davis meant to use this event, intended to honor Dr. King’s memory, as an opportunity to promote her own political agenda, which includes the demonization and delegitimization of the Jewish state. Instead of choosing a speaker who could unite diverse communities, as King himself did, UCSC chose a speaker whose well-known hatred of Israel and support for efforts to harm it through anti-Semitic boycotts, are extraordinarily divisive and deeply offensive to many in the Jewish community.

Even more troubling, however, is the lack of sensitivity shown to those members of the Jewish community, including many UCSC Jewish alumni, who have expressed to you their sincere concerns about this major event. Rather than publicly acknowledging these concerns and seeking to address the serious issues that underlie them, you issued a statement (http://chancellor.ucsc.edu/vision/higher-ed-and-free-speech.html)  that completely ignores their concerns and simply asserts the university’s right to sponsor any event on the grounds of freedom of speech and academic freedom.

Although you state that the university’s commitment to providing a platform for “the widest range of viewpoints” does not imply “agreement or endorsement” of those views, the reality is that when the university sponsors an event — particularly one as important as the annual MLK Memorial Convocation, involving a rigorous review of possible speakers — there is indeed an implicit endorsement of the views expressed. We believe the university would not have selected a speaker with a known history of racist or homophobic statements or allowed him or her to speak on a topic so obviously offensive to African-Americans or members of the LGBT community, freedom of speech and academic freedom notwithstanding.

Unfortunately, the university has a history of ignoring Jewish concerns and giving its official imprimatur to events that have had a deleterious effect on members of the Jewish community, particularly students. This is well documented in the University of California’s Jewish Student Campus Climate Report, commissioned by former U.C. President Mark Yudof. The report included substantial testimony from Jewish members of the UCSC campus and general communities.

We are aware that in response to the controversy surrounding the MLK event you have agreed to offer a joint on-campus program with the Anti-Defamation League.

While this may be a step in the right direction, it is in no way sufficient to addressing the long-standing and pervasive problems that Jewish members of the campus community have been facing at UCSC, including the harmful effects of university sponsorship of unambiguously anti-Israel events.

We therefore urge you to issue a public statement in which you commit yourself to the following two recommendations from the U.C. Jewish Student Campus Climate Report:

1) Review UCSC’s policies on university sponsorship and neutrality and develop model institutional protocols for such activities.

2) Adopt a definition of anti-Semitism consistent with the working definition developed by the European Union and used by the U.S. State Department in its 2008 report on contemporary global anti-Semitism, and provide a model protocol for campus administrators to identify contemporary incidents of anti-Semitism, which may be sanctioned by university non-discrimination or anti-harassment policies. We believe that taking these important steps will help to ensure that UCSC affords all members of its diverse community a safe, equitable and inclusive campus climate.

Amcha Initiative, Simon Wiesenthal Center and 18 other groups sent this letter to Chancellor Blumenthal on Jan. 27.

For full list of signatories, visit www.jweekly.com.