On Wednesday, January 29, 2014, AMCHA Initiative, StandWithUs, and company took the opportunity to delegitimize the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement, as well as defame California State University, Northridge (CSUN) Professor David Klein at a CSU Board of Trustees meeting. AMCHA has claimed that he “has inappropriately used university resources on several occasions, including posting anti-Semitic pictures and text on a webpage hosted by CSUN and by using CSUN email for political campaign activity.” (1) Although a letter written by lawyers, Jim Lafferty and Liz Jackson, in September of 2013 provides ample support and clarification that Klein did not violate any CSU policies and was cleared of complaints by the CSUN administration as well as the California Attorney General (2), AMCHA continues the witch-hunt on BDS supporters, such as Klein.
Thanks to mobilization by Jewish Voice for Peace – Los Angeles (JVP – LA), Palestine activists banded together within a matter of a few days to stand up for academic freedom, the BDS movement, and human rights at the CSU Board of Trustees meeting. Representatives from JVP – LA and Students for Justice in Palestine – West (SJP – West), current and former CSU students, and CSU faculty were present to show solidarity with Palestinian civil society’s call for BDS and to protect Professor David Klein’s right to freedom of speech.
SJP – West’s official statement during public comment at the CSU Board of Trustees meetings is as follows:
Students for Justice in Palestine-West would like to thank you for your time today as we urge you to foster an environment tolerant of all speech, including the advocacy of Palestinian rights as well as the boycott of and divestment from corporations that are complicit in Israel’s violations of human rights and international law. Like the students who fought for the boycott of the apartheid regime in South Africa, we are a non-violent movement driven solely by a fundamental belief in universal human rights and their interconnected and unconditional nature.
As an academic institution, the CSU system has a responsibility to recognize and protect the right to education everywhere. In Palestine, access to education is impeded by the brutality of Israeli settlers and soldiers, military checkpoints and the wall, segregated academic institutions, as well as the denial of entry for international academics. As American students, we are deeply concerned for the wellbeing of our Palestinian counterparts. Boycott and Divestment is a means to ensure that all inhabitants of the region, regardless of their religion and ethnicity, live in an equal democratic society.
We applaud American academics who have used their freedom of expression to voice their concerns about the violation of Palestinian human rights, even in the face of coercion and threats.
Along with SJP – West’s statement, 6 others publicly voiced support for academic boycott and freedom, whereas 3 people tried to silence and criminalize that support.
A few days after the CSU Board of Trustees meeting, on Friday, January 31, 2014, CSU Chancellor Tim White issued a statement on behalf of the entire CSU system denouncing Asian American Studies Association, American Studies Association, and Native American Studies Association resolutions endorsing the 2005 call by Palestinian civil society to academically boycott Israel, which is currently being challenged by CSU faculty via petition.
Part of the chancellor’s official statement reads:
“Academic boycotts violate the basic tenets of higher education including academic freedom and scholarly dialog. Boycotts attempt to limit the unfettered creation, discovery and dissemination of knowledge vital to our tripartite mission of research, teaching and service. These characteristics are essential to preparing students with the analytical and critical thinking skills to lead in business, community, educational and civic organizations.”
To paraphrase, according to Chancellor White’s proclamation, academic freedom is important, but what he chooses to ignore are academic restrictions/limitations placed upon Palestinians living under occupation, within and outside of the borders of Israel. Because of these restrictions/limitations, Palestinians are not granted the academic freedom that Chancellor White expresses is part of the “basic tenets of higher education.” Also, contrary to White’s beliefs, an academic boycott of Israel would pressure the state to give equal and just access to education for everyone, which would further academic freedom rather than hinder it.
Despite much effort to stifle critical discussions and actions in relation to Israel by administrators and external organizations, students and faculty continue to push against the current by initiating BDS campaigns and developing Palestine activism on campuses within California (and beyond).
About a month has passed since the CSU Board of Trustees meeting and within that month, a BDS campaign has sprung into action at San Diego State University (SDSU):
Website: SDSU Divest Webpage
Facebook: SJP SDSU
There is no doubt that the BDS movement is growing, is being noticed, and it will not be stopped.
2 National Lawyers Guild, Los Angeles & Center for Constitutional Rights. 22 September 2013. http://palestinelegalsupport.org/download/NLG%20&%20CCR%20Letter%20to%20CSU%20trustees%20re%20Prof.%20Klein%20website.pdf