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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Letter to the editor: Anti-Semitic comments on Facebook

In a Feb. 28, 2012 discussion on the official Facebook page of the UC Davis chapter of the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), members directed anti-Semitic slurs at me.

One member referred to me as “shitstein.” Clearly the use of “stein,” since it has nothing to do with my name, is a direct reference to Jews.  This epithet, which was “liked” by several members, followed an exchange where members discussed efforts to identify me and then ridiculed my name. One member commented, “his last name is Siegel. WHO WOULDA THOUGHT.” To which someone responded, “what kinda last names did you think i (sic) was looking for lol.” Another went on to comment that “they,” in apparent reference to Jews, “all look WAY too similar.” One person referred to me as an enemy, “spewing his crap.”

I consider this threatening behavior. Since SJP members appeared to have a number of questions about my identity and academic rank, on March 20, I sent an e-mail offering to meet with SJP. So far, they have not replied.

The Facebook discussion followed a Feb. 27 presentation at UC Davis by two young Israelis meant to convey some of the realities of living in Israel. That event was disrupted by several UC Davis students who attended the lectures and heckled the presenters. Particularly notable were comments made by one student who accused the speakers of turning “Palestine into a land of prostitutes,” and called the presenters “rapists and child molesters.” I quietly attempted (my actions are well documented on YouTube) to get this student to stop his disruption of the meeting. Several members of the audience appealed to the UC Davis police. All to no avail.

On March 8, 2012, University of California President Mark Yudof issued a strongly worded letter to the UC community condemning the disruptions during the event and calling the comments reprehensible.

Unfortunately, these kinds of anti-Semitic slurs are all too common on college and university campuses and, clearly, UC Davis is no exception. What appears to be challenging is to motivate UC Davis administrators to take strong action and do what they are supposed to do (maintain academic integrity) in the spirit of President Yudof’s comments.

I wrote an e-mail to UC Davis Provost Ralph J. Hexter, asking the university to take action against SJP for their hate speech directed at me, which I believe has no place on the official Facebook site of a UC Davis-sanctioned student organization. Provost Hexter referred my complaint to Courtney M. Robinson, Asst. Director for Policy and Conduct at UC Davis. She e-mailed me in response.

“(I) have thoroughly reviewed it in the context of the UC Standards of Conduct for Students. While the comments posted on the Facebook page are understandably offensive, the actions of the students that posted them do not violate any of the standards. Additionally, such speech is protected under the First Amendment, and although the comments are not consistent with the campus’ Principles of Community, those principles do not constitute a policy,” she wrote.

I am deeply troubled by these findings. If they do not violate UC Standards of Conduct for Students, then there is a serious problem. UC Davis administrators should not shrink from their responsibilities. When faculty are the target of racist and threatening behavior from students, university administrators should not hide behind misguided notions of “First Amendment” rights. If analogous comments had been made about any other minority or LGBT individuals, Ms. Robinson’s findings certainly would have been different. It appears that Ms. Robinson and the UC Davis administration do not take hate speech and threats seriously when directed against Jews. An intolerable precedent has been set.

David Siegel MD, MPH, FACP, FAHA
Chief of Medicine
VA Northern California Health Care System
Professor and Vice Chair
Department of Medicine
UC Davis School of Medicine

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