In Defense of UCLA Professor David Shorter and All Scholars Who Support the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel

An Open Letter from the

U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI)

May 1, 2012

In March 2012, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin and Leila Beckwith, the co-founders of an anti-Palestinian organization known as the “Amcha Initiative,” emailed a letter to California politicians and administrators of the University of California that accused UCLA Professor David Shorter of misusing campus resources for “the purpose of promoting the academic and cultural boycott of Israel” to students in his course, “Tribal Worldviews”[1]. That course, which was offered in winter 2012, explores indigenous struggles around the world and the use of global media and arts to mobilize for indigenous rights.  Dr. Shorter’s course site included dozens of links to websites, articles, petitions, and videos, as examples of indigenous and activist campaigns, including a link to the website of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI), a campaign which Professor Shorter himself has endorsed along with hundreds of other faculty members from universities across the country [2].

Without directly communicating with Dr. Shorter, or speaking with his students or Teaching Assistants, the chair of UCLA’s Academic Senate,  Dr. Andrew Leuchter, reviewed the course materials at the behest of Amcha. He then conveyed to Prof. Shorter, through his department chair, that he should not repeat the “mistake” of providing the USACBI weblink, making no mention of the other dozens of sources on the course site.  As the sole reviewer of Dr. Shorter’s teaching, Dr. Leuchter did not involve the Academic Senate’s Committee on Academic Freedom, nor did he account for the larger collection of materials on the course site offering a diverse range of perspectives. Among these were United Nations documents that framed the Palestinian struggle as an indigenous struggle, and thus clearly within the scope of the course, as Dr. Shorter explained to his students.  In an informal conversation, Dr. Shorter expressed to his chair that he understood the larger social context of the accusations and that the matter deserved further discussion.

Relying on one sentence from Dr. Shorter’s chair that described him as “understanding the situation,” Dr. Leuchter falsely communicated to Amcha, UC and UCLA administrators, and California politicians that Professor Shorter understood “his serious error in judgment has said that he will not make this mistake again.”  Responding to a subsequent press release from Amcha the next day, newspapers started calling Dr. Shorter asking for a comment on his recent disciplinary action and stance on Israel.  In response to this assault on academic freedom, Dr. Shorter has been joined by departments, colleagues, Deans and California Scholars for Academic Freedom in asking for an official review of the inappropriate way in which this matter was handled at UCLA.

All scholars and people of conscience must stand behind Dr. Shorter’s academic freedom to allow students to know about, and discuss, the Palestinian call for an Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.  USACBI encourages critical analysis of the impact of Israeli occupation and apartheid on Palestinian civil society, including students and educators and its ongoing racist policies against and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian population. To this end, USACBI promotes the global, non-violent campaign of boycott and divestment that has expanded across U.S. college campuses, modeled on the campaign opposing apartheid in South Africa, which was seen as a just struggle on U.S. Campuses.

Yet it is apparent that faculty who allow their students to exercise their academic freedom to learn and think about political movements are being singled out and censored by campaigns of intimidation and harassment that aim to suppress and silence criticism of the Israeli state. The collusion of university administrators with such repressive and biased campaigns sends a chilling message to U.S. scholars that they do not have academic freedom in the case of teaching about Israel-Palestine.

Dr. Shorter and many other university professors have, in the face of political pressure,  taken a principled and courageous stand by endorsing USACBI–a campaign based on recognizing the international rights for the Palestinian people, and holding Israeli institutions accountable for complicity in violations of international law. We uphold the academic freedom of U.S. scholars and students to discuss and debate the Palestine issue freely without threat of censure or reprisals.

We vigorously defend the right to education of Palestinian students and scholars in the face of daily assaults on their academic freedom, not to mention their freedom to live without occupation, violence, racial segregation, displacement, and humiliation.

USACBI encourages all faculty members of conscience to endorse its Mission Statement [2] and to exercise their academic freedom by linking the USACBI web site to their own university homepages.  Doing so demonstrates that we will not be silenced and bullied into self-censorship, and that we support indigenous struggles for freedom and self-determination as well as the right to open academic debate and democratic faculty governance.

[1] Email Letter from AMCHA, http://amchainitiative.org/a-question-about-academic-freedom/

[2] USACBI website: http://www.usacbi.org/

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