Late last week, third-year UCLA law student and former Graduate Student Association president Milan Chatterjee announced that he will leave UCLA and finish his studies at New York University School of Law. The announcement came after Chatterjee faced nearly 10 months of harassment by anti-Israel activists in the boycotts, divestment and sanctions movement at UCLA.
Chatterjee’s withdrawal sends an alarming message not only to both sides in pending campus controversies regarding Israel and BDS, but also to all conscientious students who are considering taking an active role in student government and civic engagement.
It is disgraceful that anti-Israel extremists have managed to drive out this courageous and conscientious student leader for failing to capitulate to the demands of the BDS movement.
The Milan Chatterjee affair reflects the insidiousness of the anti-Israel movement’s new strategy, which is to suppress pro-Israel advocacy and intimidate not only Jewish pro-Israel students but anyone who remains neutral. We cannot allow anti-Israel extremists to harass, silence, suppress and banish those who refuse to support the anti-Semitic BDS movement.
This disturbing turn of events reportedly traces its origins to the decision by Chatterjee, who is an Indian American Hindi, and his GSA cabinet to remain neutral on the anti-Semitic BDS movement. They reasoned that the GSA represents the entire graduate student body, rather than any one particular faction.
Given their observation that the BDS movement, as described by Chatterjee, was “rampant” at UCLA and “created a great deal of division” on campus, Chatterjee allocated funds for a November 2015 Diversity Caucus, with the stipulation that the caucus remain neutral on BDS. This choice to unite the student body rather than to foster division was met by an outpouring of virulent harassment toward Chatterjee both online and in person.
Following months of inflammatory rhetoric, Chatterjee’s accusers pressed the GSA to impeach its president (Chatterjee) and presented a 32-page document that contained what my organization, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, has characterized as “bogus charges of overwhelmingly repetitive personal statements offered as ‘evidence’ of these claims.”
The Brandeis Center’s law student chapter at UCLA wrote a strong letter of support for then-president Chatterjee, denouncing his unjustified impeachment campaign.
“Ousting a student government official from office for his good faith pursuit of his responsibilities,” these law students explained, “discourages student participation and sends a chilling message to the student body.”
Thanks to their efforts, as well as an outpouring of support from other organizations and individuals, these impeachment efforts were foiled. However, Chatterjee received an official “censor” for actions.
Chatterjee’s troubles did not end with the unjust censure. Chatterjee faced an investigation by the UCLA administration, for which he had to acquire pro bono legal counsel. In July, the Brandeis Center released a statement of support for Chatterjee after the UCLA Discrimination Prevention Office issued a report which alleged that his refusal to fund either side of the BDS debate was a violation of university policy.
Good, conscientious students are being driven away from student government and replaced by extremists of the sort who victimized Chatterjee. This is a very dark day for the University of California, and a bad day for America. UCLA remains a great university, but it is diminished by Chatterjee’s departure.
When coupled with U.C. Irvine’s inadequate response to recent conduct code violations by Students for Justice in Palestine, this incident suggests that California administrators have not heard the strong statement that the regents sent them just a few months ago. The university cannot tolerate a situation in which the regents take strong action and the individual campuses fail to respond.
The Brandeis Center urges campuses across the country to take a stand against anti-Israel extremism and for U.C campuses to implement the regents’ recent Statement of Principles Against Intolerance. In light of the really shabby treatment that Chatterjee has received, members of the U.C. community should learn from the experience, use it as a rallying cry and demand accountability from the university.
Kenneth L. Marcus is president of the Washington, D.C.-based Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and author of “The Definition of Anti-Semitism.”