Dr Erwin Chemerinsky, who is the dean of the UC-Irvine Law School, has come out with a statement defending UCI from charges of anti-Semitism on campus. This comes in the wake of the disruption of Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren's speech at UC-Irvine on February 8th. He also strongly criticizes the Zionist Organization of America for their criticism of the university, call for students not to attend UCI, and for donors to cease contributions to the school.
I am posting Dr Chemerinsky's statement below along with my own response, which I have emailed to him.
The Reality of the University of California, Irvine
by Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, UC-Irvine School of Law
"The claim that the University of California, Irvine is inhospitable to Jews is so far from reality that one must wonder whether those making the accusation have ever been on the campus or spoken to Jewish students and faculty there. In my almost two years of working and living on campus, I have not seen the slightest indication of anti-Semitism. I have taught hundreds of college and law students at UCI, many Jewish, and have not heard one complaint about an anti-Semitic incident on campus.
I therefore was outraged when the Zionist Organization of America asked on February 16 for donors not to contribute to UCI and students not to apply there. Astoundingly, it declared: “We (SIC)
Unfortunately, the Zionist Organization of America has been making these unfounded accusations against UCI for years. From the moment that it was rumored in the press that I was a candidate to be the founding dean of its law school, I was told that there was anti-Semitism at UCI. Before I accepted the offer to be dean, I carefully investigated these charges. As a Jew, I certainly did not want to spend the rest of my career in a place that is anti-Semitic or to move my family to live in a hostile environment.
What I learned is that almost without exception, the events which led to the accusations involved speeches on campus that were sharply critical of Israel and sometimes were anti-Jewish. On occasion, some very offensive things were said. The incidents generally involved speakers invited by the Muslim Student Union. These did not occur very often and usually were confined to one week in the spring.
Several years ago, the ZOA filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights of the United States Department of Education. The Office of Civil Rights did a thorough investigation and then concluded that there was no basis for finding that there was a hostile or intimidating environment for Jewish students on campus at the University of California, Irvine. Its conclusion was that “there is insufficient evidence to support the complainant’s allegation that the University failed to respond promptly and effectively to complaints by Jewish students that they were harassed and subjected to a hostile environment.”
Those, like the ZOA, who make such accusations ignore the many efforts by the University’s administration to make Jewish students feel safe and welcome, including the beautiful new facilities for the campus Hillel. Also, there are programs such as the Olive Tree Initiative, which has Jewish and Muslim students travel to the Middle East together and then do a series of programs on campus about their experiences.
When anti-Jewish or anti-Israeli sentiments have been expressed, Chancellor Michael Drake has responded and expressly proclaimed the inappropriateness of such speech. A public university can do no more than this; the First Amendment simply would not allow the exclusion of speakers, no matter how vile or offensive their words. Tolerating speech protected by the First Amendment is not the same as “promoting bigotry.” I have spoken with rabbis in the area and officials of organizations like the Jewish Federation. They are uniformly highly praising of Chancellor Drake and how he has handled the issue.
The most recent trigger for the ZOA’s statement was an incident on February 8, when Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren was invited to campus to speak by, among others, the law school (of which I am dean) and the political science department (of which I am a member). A series of individuals, including some UCI students affiliated with the Muslim Student Union, stood up and shouted so that the ambassador could not be heard. As each disruptive person was escorted away, another would stand up and yell.
When this occurred, the audience was admonished and then warned, including by Chancellor Drake, that such disruptions would lead to arrest and university discipline. Eleven individuals were arrested and those who are UCI students now face disciplinary proceedings. The ambassador was able to deliver his remarks.
I cannot think of how Chancellor Drake or the university could have handled this better. Everything possible was done to protect the ambassador’s right to speak.
At UCI, and likely every college campus, there are some members of the Muslim Student Union who are vehemently anti-Israel and who occasionally bring speakers to campus to express this message. But a few dozen students in a school of almost 28,000students hardly is enough to make it an anti-Semitic campus or a place inhospitable to Jews.
Yet, the ZOA’s accusations against UCI continue and it looks for any opportunity to renew them. Any accusations, even false ones, that are repeated enough begin to be believed. I have gotten email messages from people literally all over the world who have heard the ZOA message and wonder why I am working at an anti-Semitic school.
But few seem to know that in the spring of 2008, the student leaders of every Jewish organization on campus signed a joint letter that they found UCI to be a warm and hospitable place for
As I think about our law school, I see how far the ZOA’s accusations are from reality. Almost a third of our first year law students are Jewish. When asked, the Jewish students, including ones involved in inviting the ambassador, said that they have seen no indication of anti-Semitism on campus.
To those donors or prospective students who take seriously the ZOA’s call for a boycott, I invite you to spend some time on the UCI campus. Walk across it, talk to the students, sit in the student center. I am convinced that you will not find a shred of evidence of anti-Semitism. Occasionally, there may be speakers saying things that make you angry or uncomfortable. But that is what a college campus should be about, a place where all views on all issues can be expressed. It is a shame that the ZOA doesn’t realize that."
Erwin Chemerinsky is the Dean and a Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine, School of Law
Dear Dr Chemerinsky,
My name is Gary Fouse, and I am an adjunct teacher in the UCI Extension (ESL). I have been teaching part-time at UCI for over 11 years. I am not an academic by profession, rather I am retired from federal law enforcement in the Department of Justice (DEA). I have been involved in this on-going controversy for 3 or 4 years now. I am writing because I respectfully take issue with some of the things you have said in your statement regarding the situation at UCI. I am writing as a private citizen and not as a representative of the UCI-Ext.
I became involved because, though I am not Jewish, I grew up in West Los Angeles among Jews. Later, I served in the US Army in Germany close to Nuremberg, a city with great symbolism in the Third Reich. That experience made me an amateur scholar on the history of the Third Reich. Suffice to say that I am very sensitive to the subject of anti-Semitism.
When I began attending the MSU-sponsored events a few years ago, I heard speech that greatly disturbed me. The primary focus was anti-Israel. Yet, I noted that many of the speakers also bashed America (their right under free speech, I concede), but also used language that I considered anti-Semitic as well (again, protected free speech.)
Let me focus on things that have been said on this campus by MSU-sponsored speakers.
Washington-based imam Mohammed al-Asi has called Jews "ghetto-dwellers" and said that "you can take a Jew out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out of the Jew". I have posted Al-Asi's words including video clips of him speaking at UCI on my blog which may be accessed at:
Oakland-based imam Amir Abdel Malik Ali has been appearing on our campus repeatedly for years. He has glorified Palestinian suicide bombers as "martyrs" and "heroes"-not terrorists. He has repeatedly called for the violent destruction of Israel. Ali usually takes care to tack on the adjective, "Zionist" when he refers to Jews-as if that makes it alright, a fact I have personally pointed out to him. On one occasion, he referred to Rupert Murdoch as a "Zionist Jew", and repeated it for emphasis.
"Rupert Murdoch is a straight up Zionist Jew" Put that on Fox News. Rupert Murdoch is a Zionist Jew".
Dr Chemerinsky, I invite you to decide for yourself if that is anti-Semitism. The link is here. You can view it yourself.
Note how Ali literally spits out the words, "Zionist Jew" much as Nazis like Julius Streicher did. You know well that when you spit out the word "Jew", no epithet is needed. In Nazi Germany, they didn't need epithets. Simply the word "Jude" was sufficient if stated the right way. That's how Ali does it. He knows what code language is all about.
That leads me back to your initial point about not having seen anti-Semitism on the UCI campus. Please correct me if I am mistaken, but you were also quoted as having said you saw no anti-Semitism on the UCI campus way before you came to UCI-when you were either at Duke or USC. I heard that statement (quoted) prior to your hiring. With all due respect, how could you have made such a determination at that time if you were not here? In addition, I note in your statement, you acknowledge that anti-Semitic statements have been made by MSU-sponsored speakers.
In the last 11 years, I have also had occasion to meet and speak with Jewish students. Before I come directly to that point, I would like to describe my own feelings about the UCI campus. There is a reason I have chosen to continue teaching part-time at UCI. I have always considered the campus a pleasant place to work. I have always stated that 99.9% of the students at UCI are not involved in this controversy. Most are serious students who don't have time to engage in all the crazy protests one sees at other campuses like Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz or Columbia.
In most respects, UCI is a great place to study or to work. I have never tried to portray the campus as a place where Jews cannot safely walk around. In my conversations with Jewish students, I get varying opinions about the extent of the problem. The problem seems greatest when the MSU holds their events and feelings sometimes get out of hand. My sense is that most Jewish students (that I have spoken to) are not looking for confrontation, prefer to talk it out with Muslim students and want to see more Jewish students attend UCI in order to strengthen their voice.
On the other hand, a few months ago, a Jewish UCI professor who counsels Jewish students was meeting with a group of them and asked them how many actually felt intimidated as Jews on the UCI campus. About half raised their hands-virtually all females. I submit that is a troubling number.
In addition, the anecdotal incidents that have happened over the years are well documented. Fortunately, there have been no serious incidents of violence. Yet, there have been insults and cases of intimidation. How must Jewish students, some of whom are of Israeli origin, feel when they view the Israeli flag torn and smeared with red paint-which happens regularly? I myself have seen the caricature of Ariel Sharon on the MSU "Wall" depicting him in the same style as the Nazi newspaper Der Stuermer depicted Jews during the Third Reich-leering face, thick lips, and big hooked nose.
That, Dr Chemerinsky, is anti-Semitic.
More to the point, however, one Jewish student (now graduated) had her camera shoved in her face while filming an MSU event a few years ago. Another Jewish woman after filming an evening speech by Ali, was followed back to her car by a group of MSU males who surrounded her car while she was trying to leave. This was witnessed by a member of the community who happened to be in the area and tried to get the campus police to take action (unsuccessfully) even though she herself had her car surrounded and sat upon. Another Jewish girl was verbally accosted as she walked past what was supposed to be a silent MSU protest. Instead she was accosted by students who yelled in her face about "the crimes of Israel". Another male student had a rock thrown at his head by a female student on campus because he wore a t-shirt that identified him as a Jew.
These incidents were either reported to campus police or school authorities. No action was taken.
As a result of the above, rightfully or wrongfully, UCI has acquired a national reputation for these types of incidents. It may be free speech, but the fact is that many Jewish prospective students have opted not to attend UCI. That has nothing to do with any statements made by ZOA.
As a retired law enforcement officer, I am aware of what is or is not free speech. I have never argued that the above-referenced speakers or any others be shut down, arrested, disrupted or prevented from speaking. I have sat and listened to many of these speeches and then attempted to engage the speakers in debate during the Q&A. I feel that is the way to deal with it. Let me give you a couple of examples.
Last January, I attended a "seminar" at UCI entitled "Whither the Levant", (not MSU-sponsored) which was nothing more than a day-long bashing of Israel-with no opposing point of view offered. That's fine. However, during the Q&A, I sent up a question to the panel which was given to Norman Finklestein to answer. The question went something like this:
"During the fighting in Gaza, we witnessed many pro-Palestinian demonstrations in places like Ft Lauderdale, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Toronto, in which some demonstrators shouted things like, "Long live Hitler". "Jews back to the ovens", "Hitler didn't finish the job", etc. I asked the panelists if such statements did not harm their cause. Finklestein, as he always does, treated the question with contempt and finished with a comment that people who ask questions like that should "pull their heads out of their navels". The room of some 500 erupted in applause. (Most of the crowd were probably community members.)
On May 21, when George Galloway came to UCI, I posed that same question to him from the microphone. Halfway through my question, he broke in and called me a liar as a room full of about 800 again erupted in cheers. (All the incidents I described to him are on YouTube.) I was asking a respectful question-a question that should have been treated with respect by all. I took the derisive reaction of the audience as being anti-Jewish. (This incident is also documented on YouTube.)
As to the complaint filed a few years ago by ZOA on behalf of UCI
Jewish students, I was not involved in that issue. It is my
understanding though that there was much more to the failure of that
complaint than that the charges were determined to be unfounded, as you
state. Some of the allegations were dismissed because the Office for Civil
Rights (OCR) in the Department of Education determined that they weren't filed in a timely manner, a conclusion that I understand the ZOA has challenged on appeal. Most of the allegations were dismissed because OCR decided that they didn't fall under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. It is my understanding though that it would be inaccurate to say that the complaint was dismissed because the charges were determined to be unfounded, as you state.
In addition, I would refer you to the addendum section of the report issued by the Orange County Independent Task Force on Anti-Semitism in 2008 relative to the above complaint process. In this addendum, the OCITF quotes several examples of incidents from the OCR report which had been reported by Jewish students including, but not limited to, the destruction of a Holocaust memorial display in the Spring of 2003, the harassment of a Sephardic Jew in February 2004 with statements like, "slaughter the Jews", "dirty Jew" and "take off that pin (which had the US and Israeli flags and the statement, 'United We Stand') or we'll beat your ass", a Jewish girl having her Israeli flag on her dorm door defaced with a swastika in May of 2006, and a Jewish student of Russian descent being subjected to harassing and threatening statements from fall 2000 to spring 2002 including, "go back to Russia", "burn in Hell" and that he was an F-ing Jew".
As you may or may not know, I have publicly criticized the university for not adequately responding to complaints from Jewish students and not sufficiently responding to what I consider hate speech on the UCI campus. To their credit, they seem to have respected my freedom of speech (since I am still teaching here). I understand that the university's position is that this is a matter of free speech. I (and others) have asked why the university could not issue a statement to the effect that statements made by a particular speaker are hateful and that the university condemns them. I also understand that the position of the administration is that they cannot get involved in rebutting statements every time something disagreeable is said on campus. I respectfully disagree. We are not talking about a debate on the economy or government health care. We are talking about hate speech directed toward a specific group. It must be confronted and rebutted.
As to your reference to the Jewish Federation of Orange County, I am pleased to see that after years of denial, that organization has now recognized the problem at UCI and is demanding some kind of action after the disruption of Ambassador Oren's speech.
I well understand the passion that the MSU has when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Reasonable people can disagree on this issue, and the MSU has every right to express their support of the Palestinian side. It seems to me that here in America, that can be done in a civilized and mutually-respectful manner. I maintain, however, that this conflict is no justification for a resurgence in anti-Semitism, which is exactly what I see happening, especially in Europe, but also here in America. The MSU denies they are anti-Jewish-just anti-Israel. That may be, but I feel they do a disservice to their cause when they bring in speakers like Al-Asi and Malik Ali to speak for them.
I would like to take the liberty of providing you a link to the European Union's Fundamental Rights Agency's working definition of anti-Semitism. I feel that at least some of the definition's points are applicable to UCI.
As a Jewish person, you well know, we have a lesson in history as to what this all can lead to. I maintain that there is indeed a problem on this campus, the extent of which we may disagree on. It is not just UCI. This issue is flaring up on campuses all over North America. I know the American people won't stand for it if they are made aware. I see that as my duty. I too have a right to express my views, and I will continue to do that even if it eventually costs me my part-time job at UCI.
Finally, Dr Chemerinsky, If there is no problem at UCI, why has the school hired a "crisis expert" to address this issue? I submit that UCI is indeed facing a crisis. I take no pleasure in seeing the harm to the reputation of this institution and its students because of this situation. What happened February 8 is not even the culmination of the events of the past several years because, bad as it was, it was not a tragedy. Nobody was hurt. I have said for years now that one day, a tragedy could come to UCI and everybody would be asking, "how could this happen here?" I myself would not be asking that question. However, if it is truly your position that there is not the slightest indication of anti-Semitism on the UCI campus, with all due respect, Sir, I believe you are in error.