Israel advocacy group “Stand With Us” pushes university administrators to investigate sociology professor
May 13, 2009
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. The international pro-Israel organization “Stand With Us” is spearheading an aggressive public campaign to push administrators and faculty at the University of California at Santa Barbara to investigate sociology professor William I. Robinson for “anti-Semitism.”
The organization has set up a Web site to rally other pro-Israel organizations and individuals to pressure UCSB officials through public statements and letters to the chancellor and the Academic Senate. The group has recruited UCSB donors to write letters, some of which threaten to withdraw support for the university.
The Web site and letter campaign comes on top of direct pressure from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), whose national director, Abraham Foxman, met in March with university officials and faculty to demand that administrators censor Robinson for introducing materials critical of state Israeli policies in a course on global affairs in January.
The materials included a photo essay that Robinson forwarded to students from the Internet juxtaposing images of Israeli abuse against Palestinians with Nazi abuses during the holocaust. Two students took offense at the images and withdrew from the course, prompting the ADL to pressure the university to investigate Robinson for “anti-Semitism.”
Given the pressures from Stand With Us and ADL, scholars say the pro-Israel lobby appears to be using the Robinson case to intimidate critics in general and stem rising debate on campuses about Israeli policies in the Middle East.
Richard Falk, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories and a visiting scholar on global studies at UCSB, said it’s part of an emerging pattern by the Israeli lobby nationwide.
“There’s growing division among Jews about how the U.S. should relate to Israel, and that’s intensified this ultra-Zionist campaign to discredit people critical of Israel precisely because Israel’s positions have become much more contested,” Falk said.
“The pressures at UCSB have the appearance of a campaign generated and orchestrated from outside the campus.”
It’s unclear what effect the pressures may have, but one Stand With Us letter — dated March 16 and posted on the organization’s Web site — suggests that Chancellor Henry Yang may have made biased comments against Robinson under pressure.
The letter is directed to Executive Vice Chancellor Gene Lucas and was written by Stand With Us International Director Roz Rothstein, board member Howard Waldow, and sociology student Leah Yadegar. It states that Waldow, a UCSB donor, had presented a letter of concern about Robinson to Yang at a reception, and in response, the chancellor suggested that the group write to Lucas.
“Chancellor Yang directed us to you, and raised the issue of possible violations of the Faculty Code of Conduct,” reads the letter to the vice chancellor.
About a week later, the Academic Senate opened a formal investigation of Robinson.
Although the letter has been posted for weeks on the Stand With Us blog, the university has made no official statement about the chancellor’s alleged suggestion that Robinson violated the Faculty Code of Conduct.
The university’s silence prompted Mark Levine, a Jewish professor of Middle Eastern studies at UC-Irvine and a member of the California Scholars for Academic Freedom, to call for an investigation of the chancellor’s interaction with Stand With Us.
“If the letter hasn’t been refuted, then one assumes the chancellor did say those things,” Levine said. “If so, he should be investigated for violation of university procedure and academic freedom, if not removed from office.”
Others want an investigation of the ADL’s March 9 meeting on campus with UCSB officials and faculty.
The Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) sent a letter on May 8 to Academic Senate Chair Joel Michelson requesting an investigation.
“Discussing the case with ADL representatives in any manner constituted a violation of Robinson’s right to confidentiality, and opened the door to the appearance of outside influence in the adjudicatory process,” MESA wrote.
Falk said the real danger is that, even if the charges against Robinson are dismissed, the pressures by pro-Israel organizations will still have a lasting effect.
“It’s an extremely unhealthy situation for the university, which depends on an atmosphere of academic freedom to perform effectively,” Falk said. “Even if Robinson is exonerated, it will continue to intimidate people against criticizing Israel, because nobody wants to face these kinds of situations.”
For detailed information about the Robinson case, visit the Committee to Defend Academic Freedom Web site at http://www.sb4af.wordpress.com.
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