In September, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) sent an email to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi. The ADL is an avowedly Zionist lobbying organization with a long history of attempting to silence criticism of the Israeli state, usually via specious claims of anti-Semitism. They have also spied on Arab American activists in the Bay Area. This particular letter, which we can assume from its contents was sent to other campuses, recommended the heightened monitoring of specific groups organizing on campus. These included American Muslims for Palestine, as well as anyone involved with calls for “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” in response to Israel’s state policies of occupation and apartheid in Palestine, and its ongoing blockade and siege of Gaza. Paying risible lip service to free speech, the letter further suggests strategies for policing these students. Its full text is available here.
One cannot be surprised when lobbyists lobby. We could easily imagine the John Birch Society sending a similar letter in 1961 suggesting that schools monitor and police members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and anyone supporting the Civil Rights Movement in general. We would recognize this as unacceptable interference by off-campus interests. We would also recognize this as baldly racist.
Harder to imagine is what actually happened. Chancellor Katehi shared the ADL email with the Council of Deans and Vice-Provosts, as well as the “Emergency Manager” for the UC Davis Police Department, with no framing beyond “For your information.” This can only register as approval, not even tacit, of the ADL’s letter. After all, it cannot be that every such lobbying effort is passed along to the upper administration as relevant “information.” Such an action is chilling in every regard. This chill is only intensified when we recall the Chancellor’s record in directing the police toward students engaged in political advocacy.
This comes at a time when discussion of Israel’s occupation and wars, once foreclosed, is becoming more critical in U.S. academia. Various organizations have declared support for the academic boycott. A majority of UC student governments have now passed divestment resolutions, in a sequence resembling the anti-apartheid demands for South African divestment in the ’80s. It seems certain that all campuses will eventually register their principled refusal of complicity with Israel’s occupation.
Meanwhile, the rhetoric of “civility” has become the new discourse through which administrations seek to suppress political engagement. UC Berkeley’s Chancellor Nicholas Dirks went so far as to suggest recently that the standard of civility demands we choose “between free speech and political advocacy,” apparently neglecting that they are one and the same, and that free speech exists precisely to protect the possibility of political struggle.
While this is a broadly pernicious scheme, it seems clear enough at present that the leading target of civility crusades nationally is Palestinian solidarity activism. As scholars and workers on this campus we abhor such politically motivated threats, particularly when levied from outside lobbyists. The most notorious recent example is that of Palestinian American scholar Steven Salaita, who left his tenured job at Virginia Tech upon being hired by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, but was then “dehired” for the supposed incivility of his personal tweets, after extraordinary pressure from donors. The tweets concerned Israel-Palestine; Salaita has been a leading advocate of the academic boycott.
Professor Salaita will speak on Nov. 10 at 5:30 p.m. at the Student Community Center. The event is co-sponsored by the newly formed Faculty for Justice in Palestine. We are open to everyone engaged in teaching work on campus: full-time and part-time faculty as well as graduate student instructors and teaching assistants. We invite you to join us at the event, in the organization, and for a free Palestine.
Joshua Clover (Professor, English)
Sunaina Maira (Professor, Asian American Studies)
Faculty for Justice in Palestine
They can be reached through the Faculty for Justice in Palestine email: firstname.lastname@example.org.