Monday, April 9, 2012

Open Letter in Response to President Mark Yudof

Open Letter Regarding Yudof’s Statement to the UC Community:
Date: April 8, 2012

The Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at University of California, Davis condemns the statement of University of California President Mark Yudof in regards to the events surrounding the “Israeli Soldiers Speak Out” event on February 27 at the UC Davis campus.
SJP planned a silent walkout in response to the event organized by StandWithUs (SWU) on February 27. SWU is a pro-Israel group that, in just days before coming UC Davis, was caught on camera at New Mexico and UC Berkeley physically harassing and pepper spraying people with opposing viewpoints.
At the event on February 27, a student unaffiliated with SJP heckled the Israeli soldier and speaker. The heckler was removed from the room and the event carried on until the question-and-answer period, in which SWU members harassed and heckled students and community members who attempted to ask questions.
On March 8, President Yudof released an Open Letter to the UC Community in which he falsely and prematurely reported on the incident based on clear misinformation. President Yudof’s statement wrongly put the blame for the disruption of freedom of expression of Israeli soldiers on “hecklers,” when all video evidence points to there being one heckler. In reality, it was the freedom of expression of those concerned about Israel’s violations of human rights that was violated.
We attempted to raise our concerns with the UC Davis administration and with the UC President regarding the physical and verbal harassment of students that attended in support of Palestinian self-determination and human rights. Yudof’s statement did not mention the behavior of David Siegal, a professor of medicine at the UC Davis Medical School, who clearly overstepped his authority at the event by demanding to see the IDs of students at the event, nor did he mention the violent behavior of the SWU members. We also highlighted our administration’s lack of action when the Palestinian symbol in the Third World Mural was vandalized in 2010, an apparent hate crime against Palestinian students at UC Davis. Mr. Yudof did not mention any of these issues in his statement nor did he care to address them in his letter back to us. Yudof’s statement equated the political speech of supporters of Palestinian rights with categorical hate crimes and disregarded the campus climate for Palestinian students and their allies. It is important to remember that criticism of the state of Israel, much like criticism of any other state, is protected political speech. The Palestine issue is an issue of human rights, sovereignty, freedom from colonization and apartheid, and the right to live in dignity and racial equality.  
Rather than meet with members of SJP to discuss the campus climate of Arab students as we had requested, Mr. Yudof has suggested we meet with two members of his advisory board on campus climate, Jihad Turk, a religious leader, and Tyrone Howard, an associate professor at UCLA. Putting aside the fact that Mr. Yudof did not give us the contact information for either individual (as neither has contacted SJP as of the date of this letter), nor did he tell us what date they would be coming to UC Davis, the President has shown that he is clearly deficient in addressing the concerns of the Arab students on his campus by equating the issues of Arab students to Muslim students. Palestinians are not just Muslim, and our supporters come from a variety of backgrounds, ethnicities, and cultures.
Earlier this year, Hillel directors had the opportunity to meet with Yudof to discuss the campus climate regarding Israel. However, when Palestinian students and their allies feel threatened, Yudof blatantly ignores our request to meet. It saddens and shocks SJP that the UC system appears to have aligned themselves with SWU, an aggressive, violent, and racist group rather than supporting their own community and students. When Yudof so quickly jumped to the defense of a radical organization such as SWU, his words and actions make Palestinian, and all Arab students along with their allies, feel unsafe, insecure, and oppressed on our own campus. We attend UC Davis hoping that the campus will be a place where we can learn and share the truth of our histories, free of hate groups and hate speech.
When a soldier is brought to our campus to humanize the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and normalize the occupation, shouldn’t the UC administration be just as worried about how Palestinian students feel? Don’t they realize that an event like this may be difficult for, or offensive to, those who may have had personal experiences with the military or have lost family members at the hands of IDF soldiers? The UC administration and the President conveniently choose to ignore that there is an illegal military occupation for which Israel has been condemned by the international community, yet they choose to align themselves with and implicitly endorse the actions of a foreign military. The University of California system’s collaboration with the Museum of Tolerance and the Anti-Defamation League, as advertized by Yudof, will not help to protect the greater student community for these groups have a dismal record of pro-Israel advocacy and censorship of the Palestine issue. These organizations do not reassure us of an improved climate for Palestinian and Arab American students or of other marginalized communities on our campus.
Currently, the student who heckled at the event is suffering greatly for his actions. After receiving punishment by Student Judicial Affairs in the form of a suspension from school and the loss of his job, the UC Police have again acted far beyond actions appropriate for the situation. This week, nine UC police officers stormed the student’s apartment early in the morning with a search warrant in hand. They handcuffed him and ransacked his apartment, taking his laptop and cell phone. He was never violent nor a physical threat, and thus had no need to be handcuffed. This is yet another example of unnecessary action by University of California police suppressing political dissent on campuses throughout the state, the same police who engaged in pepper spraying of peaceful student protesters in November 2011.
SJP-Davis is deeply troubled by Yudof’s statements regarding the SWU event for it has only confirmed for us the one-sidedness of institutional views of this issue that apparently extend to the highest level of the administration. We lack faith in our administration’s ability to provide Palestinian and Arab students and their allies a safe and accepting environment in which we are free to share our political opinions and beliefs and to voice the truth.

Students for Justice in Palestine, UC Davis

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