On Monday, the Sacramento Regional Coalition for Palestinian Rights sent the following message to University of California Davis Chancellor Katehi:
We write on behalf of 21 grassroots organizations plus numerous individuals united in the Sacramento Regional Coalition for Palestinian Rights, which includes Davis community members. Many of us have closely followed – and now welcome the success of – the three-year campaign by UCD students to achieve an ASUCD Senate resolution calling for UC divestment from certain corporations. These companies profit from and their actions support Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, gross violation of human rights and international law amid escalating use of violence that has led to thousands of civilian deaths in recent years.
We understand, of course, that opinions on this subject vary among students, faculty and the general public. Moreover, we trust and appreciate that you and the rest of the UCD administration are determined to ensure that all sides are able to express their views on campus without violence or intimidation. But from our observation of events and from your letter in response to the divestment resolution, we are concerned that a double standard is in play.
The UCD administration surely does not express an opinion on every bill and resolution passed by the student Senate. Yet your letter pointedly rejects the students’ decision on a matter that was not even directed to the UCD administration. Along with similar resolutions passed now by seven UC student governments, Senate Bill 9 is addressed to the UC Board of Regents, which bears responsibility for university investments. Regardless of our opinion on the 2010 position taken by the regents (and we strongly disagree with their position that divestment should not be considered until the U.S. administration declares that genocide has occurred – at which time it is truly too late), your citing that policy and rejecting the resolution sends the wrong message to students who expressed their views in a painstakingly democratic and totally peaceful, inclusive process.
We do support your consistent call for “civility and decency” when exercising freedom of expression. And surely you heard from observers at the Senate hearing how all speakers in favor of the resolution maintained these standards impeccably, telling their stories while underlining that divestment was targeted not at anyone on campus but at severe violations of human rights in Israel and the occupied territories, again and again emphasizing their opposition to all racism and bigotry. Resolution opponents, on the other hand, frankly, aimed offensive invective and false accusations at the elected senators, crassly accused their fellow students of engaging in hatred, then led a walkout, sabotaging the chances of a civil dialogue on the actual topic at hand, which we had in fact witnessed during student government hearings in past years.
We also call to your attention that in far too many past instances at UCD and even more at other campuses around the country, it has been the critics of Israeli policy who have been unduly scrutinized, condemned and even punished by university authorities for exercising their rights to speak out. In an atmosphere where Arabs regardless of their religious identity, Muslims of all ethnicities and supporters of Palestinian rights, including Jews, Christians and people of other beliefs are often the objects of harassment and hate speech that sweepingly associate them with “terrorism,” such double standards in treatment have a strongly chilling effect on the rights of students and faculty associated with unpopular identities or views. We have heard from numerous such targeted students at UCD, as well as some faculty, that they are afraid to speak out and become active in causes dear to them out of fear for their academic standing or future employment possibilities.
Unfortunately, we must also mention the swastikas painted on a Jewish fraternity in Davis the day after the divestment vote. This hate crime should be denounced, as you appropriately have done in your letter on the subject, independently of any other debate or event. Along with you, we hope the perpetrators are found and punished. But two related phenomena disturb us:
First, while swastikas are symbols that epitomize evil in our society’s consciousness, other instances of defacement and hate graffiti can be as hurtful, especially when the targets are members of particularly vulnerable communities, such as those who identify as Arabs/Arab Americans, Palestinians or Muslims. Bigotry-tinged invective is frequently directed at them, orally and in writing; disgusting hate speech has been posted on the public UCD Facebook page this week. These should be dealt with as forcefully as spray-painted swastikas.
Second, fierce opponents of the divestment campaign on campus and in much of the media have attributed the swastika incident to the “atmosphere” created by the campaign, some even implying that it was actually committed by pro-divestment activists – who as noted, have been smeared again and again with the false label of anti-Semitism. Social media pages dedicated to defending Israel’s actions, no matter how egregious they have been, such as the attacks last summer on Gaza, have gone berserk, broadcasting, for instance, a partial image of the obviously satirical Facebook post by a UCD senator as if it constitutes support for “Hamas and Sharia law” taking over in Davis. Imagine the abuse and threats to which she is now being subjected.
You may be aware that a long list of student organizations, led by Students for Justice in Palestine, was among the first to strongly condemn the swastika incident in a public letter. We also note with satisfaction the Feb. 3 Sacramento Bee report that a spokesman for the affected fraternity has now backtracked from his initial linking of it to the divestment resolution. Some are wondering out loud whether the spray painting might have been perpetrated in a deliberate, twisted, effort to discredit the student government action. Unfortunately this kind of provocative action has occurred, including at George Washington University when a Jewish student reported swastikas and then was caught drawing them: http://www.gwhatchet.com/2007/11/05/freshman-who-reported-swastikas-drew-them-as-well.
Finally in this context, we urge you again to reconsider your public rejection of the ASUCD Senate resolution. It was clearly foreseeable that its avid opponents would make every effort to discredit the vote and malign its supporters. The university administration should not take sides on a matter of community debate, especially one that is not within its purview, and even more so when many of the students involved are particularly vulnerable due to their ethnicities, religious beliefs or points of view.