UCSB investigation a test case for pro-Israel campaigns

Israel advocacy group “Stand With Us” says pressure against sociology professor sets a precedent for action on campuses worldwide

Date: June 16, 2009
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Contact: cdaf.ucsb@gmail.com

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Roz Rothstein, international director for Stand With Us, told the University of California at Santa Barbara’s student newspaper, The Daily Nexus, that the investigation against sociology professor William I. Robinson could set a precedent for more action against Israel critics at other universities.

In a June 4 article, the Nexus reported that Stand With Us sees the Robinson case as a potential model for the future.

“Her organization is particularly interested, Rothstein said, because this could be a major building point for academic freedom cases around the world,” wrote staff writer Elliott Rosenfeld.

Rothstein told the paper: “This could be a precedent setting case for other universities.”

The comments may shed light on why pro-Israel groups have taken such an active stance in the Robinson case.

Stand With Us and the Anti-Defamation League have spearheaded an aggressive campaign to push UCSB to investigate the professor for “anti-Semitism” after he introduced materials critical of Israeli state policies in a class on global affairs last 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 pro-Israel groups to demand that the university censor the professor.

Richard Falk, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories and a visiting scholar on global studies at UCSB, said Rothstein’s candid remarks indicate a “disturbing“ escalation in pro-Israel pressure on college campuses in general, and at UCSB in particular.

“Apparently, they have decided enough vulnerability exists in the university community for them to mobilize pressure campaigns,” Falk said. “They’re making this (the Robinson case) into a litmus test to silence criticism of Israel.”

Stand With Us set up a Web site to rally pro-Israel organizations and individuals to pressure UCSB officials. It launched a massive letter writing campaign, that includes threats by UCSB donors to withdraw support for the university.

Such efforts reflect Stand With Us’s founding mission to counter criticism of Israel on university campuses worldwide. Created in 2001, the group is headquartered in Los Angeles and maintains offices and chapters throughout the U.S., Canada, Israel, the UK and Australia.

It’s Web site openly calls college campuses a “modern-day battlefront” for Israel.

“Today Israel faces a new global threat, one that is fought in the media, on university campuses, and in the court of public opinion,” reads the Stand With Us home page.

The Web site for the Bay Area chapter of Stand With Us is even more candid: “Our mission is to stand up to anti-Israel speech wherever it may surface,” reads the site. “We are (unofficially) representing the state of Israel.”

It’s unclear if the pressure has affected university officials, but in late March the Academic Senate launched a formal investigation to determine if Robinson violated the Faculty Code of Conduct.

The Senate action generated an angry backlash on campus. In April, students formed a Committee to Defend Academic Freedom (CDAF), and in May, more than 100 professors and 20 department heads signed a petition demanding that the Senate cease its investigation. In fact, the petition led to a faculty vote on June 4 to form an ad hoc committee in the Senate to investigate the apparent mishandling of the Robinson case.

Nevertheless, university officials refuse to drop the investigation against Robinson.

Falk said the outcome of this case may directly impact future debate about Israel on college campuses.

“The stakes are high,” Falk said. “We need to keep open the discussion of American policy toward Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and not let it be affected by externally generated pressures. That’s of fundamental interest to the American public and U.S. scholars.”

For detailed information about the Robinson case, visit the CDAF Web site at http://www.sb4af.wordpress.com.

For media inquiries, email cdaf.ucsb@gmail.com.

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