UCLA, May 2007
Move over UC Irvine.
Tom Tugend has a heavily detailed article in this week’s Journal about a symposium held at UCLA last month that has angered supporters of Israel and cast fear upon many Jewish students. “Even three weeks later,” Tom writes, “some outraged critics across the country continue to weigh in and to characterize the symposium as an ‘academic lynching,’ a ‘one-sided witch hunt of Israel,’ a ‘Hamas recruiting rally’ or, at the very least, ‘a degradation of academic standards.’
The symposium was organized by the Center for Near East Studies, and though it’s panel of four included two Jews, each was not only a staunch critic of Israel’s assault on Gaza but of the state of Israel itself. The flare-up has been so bad that UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, who happens to be Jewish, issued a statement Monday urging calm.
The final speaker was UCLA English literature professor Saree Makdisi, who stated that when Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza in 2005, the continuing blockade “made Gaza a prison and [Israel] threw away the keys.” He added that it was Israel’s “premeditated state policy” to kill Gazans and stunt the growth of their children.
While the four professorial talks were delivered and received quietly, interrupted only occasionally by applause, emotions escalated during the closing question-and-answer session.
Most of the questioners were adults, well beyond student age, and their softball questions about control of Washington by the Jewish lobby and how to divest from Israel were easily fielded by the speakers.
The mood changed when a few pro-Israel attendees got their chance, according to audience members. When Eric Golub asked Hajjar whether she would consider as prosecutable crimes Hamas’ murder of Fatah rivals, the use of civilians as human shields and recruitment of suicide bombers, the professor responded, “If you think I favor suicide bombings, then you have that Zionist hat on your head screwed on way too tight.”
Hajjar later retracted her comment, but her initial response was met by audience cheers and chants of “Zionism is racism,” “Zionism is Nazism,” “Free, Free Palestine” and “F…, f… Israel.”
Although there were no threats of violence and a policeman was at hand, when the meeting concluded, some members of the audience engaged pro-Israel students with further cries of “f… you.”
Shirley Eshaghian, a psychology senior and president of Bruins for Israel, said she left the symposium shaken.
“I never felt so unsafe on campus,” she said. “People were shouting, and I had this horrible feeling that I, as a Jew, was being attacked; that I was being called a Nazi.”
You can read the rest here. The most surprising element to me is that peaceniks in L.A.‘s Jewish community—people who publicly criticized Israel’s incursion into Gaza, who have been at odds with the pro-Israel campus organization StandWithUs and who thought my article last summer about anti-Semitism on college campuses was way overblown—have been just as concerned about the symposium.
“This symposium constituted a reprehensible academic abuse by CNES,” Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, the Hillel leader and a founding member of Americans for Peace Now, told Tom. “The center was for many years an internationally respected institution, but it is becoming more and more representative of only one point of view. UCLA has been a pretty calm place, but this symposium has pierced the calm.”