FAQ

What follows below is a list of questions that were frequently asked about the Robinson case before it was resolved.

Q: Is the Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UC Santa Barbara a group of “anti-Israel” faculty and students?
A: Absolutely not. We are a non-partisan group of graduate and undergraduate students without any unifying political affiliation or beliefs beyond a commitment to the free exchange of ideas on our campus. The State of Israel and its policies have never been subject to discussion within our organization, and have absolutely no bearing on, or relation to, our mission to preserve academic freedom at UCSB.

Q:  Did Prof. William Robinson’s email attack the founding of Israel and the history of Israel’s foreign policy?

A:  You can read Prof. Robinson’s original email (as well as Judith Stone’s Kansas City Jewish Chronicle article and Norman Finkelstein’s photo essay contained within) here.

It is our position that a class designed “with a focus on economic, political, and cultural transnational processes, gender/race/class and globalization, transnational social movements, and local-global linkage”  (2008-2009 course description) has a responsibility to include both historical and current perspectives on nation-states and their actions, regardless of if those states happen to be the State of Israel, or any other.  The claim that Prof. Robinson has selectively attacked the founding of Israel and its foreign policy is without context, without merit, and without interest in the free and open exchange of ideas and debate within academic settings.  Given the regularity with which the Israeli/Palestinian conflict appeared in the news in January 2009, we would be more surprised if current events in the Middle East had not been addressed in a course on globalization and global issues.

Q: Did Judith Stone’s Kansas City Jewish Chronicle article delegitimize Israel’s existence and demand a right of return for Palestinians?

A: You can read Judith Stone’s article here.

It is our position that academic courses about global processes and conflicts can be expected to include both academic work and perspectives from the mainstream media. This is a common teaching technique (usually referred to as “good teaching”) that is used across the social sciences. It is our position that Judith Stone’s published article is a good teaching tool primarily because it promotes discussion and debate about ideas with which students may or may not agree. Likewise, the firing of Debbie Ducro from the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle for publishing the piece provided additional context and merit for discussion on the active debates about global issues. The outside attempts to silence this debate at UCSB by unaffiliated partisan interest groups goes strictly against the academic mission to present a range of ideas for discussion, and seems to be particularly tone-deaf to the free exchange of ideas on which university teaching and academic work depends.

Q: Did Prof. Robinson tell students that his email was unrelated to the material for the course?

A: Absolutely not. No documents have ever been provided verifying this claim. The emails were not required readings.

Q: How do you respond to the Anti-Defamation League’s claim that Prof. Robinson’s course material “crossed the line well beyond legitimate criticism of Israel?”

A:  The ADL is unjustified in its selective targeting of small portions of course material within academic classes for attack, is unjustified in demanding to meet with university officials in order to exert outside influence on academic processes, and irrelevant to internal university discussion about what constitutes topics worthy of academic debate.  While we respect the ADL’s right to its stated opinion, it is primarily the free voicing of these opinions within the academic setting (and without outside partisan influence) which we hope to preserve.  As such, we neither take a stance on the ADL’s denial of the Armenian Genocide, nor on any other “hot button” topics which may be freely discussed within globalization and global issue courses across the country. Instead, we hope to preserve the Academic tradition of free discussion and debate.

Q: Was Prof. Robinson’s email anti-Semitic because of the State Department’s 2004 definition of “ant-Semitism?”

A: No, this claim is false for two reasons, which can be seen by reading the report in question here.

1)    The definition of anti-Semitism contained in the State Department’s 2004 report is only intended to be used “for the purposes of this report” and in no way was intended to create a new, sundry definition for anti-Semitism to supersede existing and commonly used definitions for the term. Applying this definition beyond the specific content of the report goes expressly against its stated intention.

2)    While the definition within this report differs from all commonly used and mainstream definitions of anti-Semitism by including “strong anti-Israel sentiment that crosses the line between objective criticism of Israeli policies” as a possible sign of “anti-Semitic bias,” the report does not include any specific definition about where this “line” is drawn for use within the report. While we understand that this definition was celebrated by some political organizations for its unusual inclusion of anti-Israeli sentiment within a term commonly used to describe religious or cultural bias, we argue that the actual line drawn by the report is unclear, and not applicable to the free academic exchange of ideas in this context, by the reports own admission.

It is also worth noting that as an organization with Jewish membership which is currently defending the academic freedom of a Jewish professor who has included questioned course material from a Jewish author and a Jewish photo essayist, we strongly reject the claim that the inclusion of course material pertaining to the State of Israel in a course on global issues shows signs of anti-Semitism at any level or by any stretch of the imagination.

Q: Did the Charges Officer act beyond the boundaries and protocol of his position in this case, and does the Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UC Santa Barbara hope to “render students powerless?”

A:  To see the many ways in which the Charges Officer acted beyond the boundaries and protocols of his position, please see Prof. Geoffrey Raymond’s summary here.

With regards to accusations that we hope to “render students powerless,” we strongly reject this claim, and instead propose that as a group of students, by definition, the reverse is true. We support the right of any student to file a complaint regardless of personal opinion or belief, and recognize the value and necessity of the complaint process to any university. Instead, we reject:

  1. The repeated break from procedure by the Charge Officer which invalidates the process in this case.
  2. The attempts by outside partisan organizations to insert themselves into internal university process.

As a group of concerned students who found out that lobbying groups were demanding meetings with our administration in an effort to insert themselves into internal university processes, we called for a dismissal of the two claims in question because they clearly lacked merit, as seen here.

Unlike our detractors whose fleeting interest in our campus community does not extend past their politicized involvement in this case, our direct involvement and continued education as students at UCSB causes us to be concerned about the free exchange of ideas and the goals of education beyond a single  issue.

Q: Is Prof. Robinson guilty of restricting academic freedom?

A: This claim is patently false. Please read the American Association of University Professors report on academic freedom here.

Q: Was Prof. Robinson imposing his personal political views on topics unrelated to the course?

A: Prof. Robinson was in no way introducing topics unrelated to the topic of the course. Please see the course description here.

In regards to Prof. Robinson’s personal political views, we respond to this claim in two ways:

  1. The Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UC Santa Barbara has had no discussion with Prof. Robinson about his personal political views, and feels they are immaterial to this case as educators routinely present arguments both in-line and vehemently opposed to their personal beliefs.
  2. Prof. Robinson has never been accused of reprimanding, silencing, or unfairly grading students because of their political views.  We support all students’ rights to add or a drop a course for any reason they may choose, but this personal decision should have no bearing on the inclusion or exclusion of “hot button” issues as the subject for academic discussion. This is at the core of academic freedom.

Q: Have government and international bodies regularly argued that critique of Israel should be viewed as anti-Semitic?

A: No. Firstly, in regards to the bodies and reports cited by Standwithus.com when making this claim:

1)    Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Berlin Declaration, April 29, 2004. Please read the report here.

At no point in this report is the claim made that critique of Israel should be viewed as anti-Semitic, despite false citation to the contrary.

2)     Report of the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism, Sept. 2006.  Please read the report here.

The report expressly states that “The committee unanimously recognized that criticism of Israel should not, in itself, be regarded as anti-Semitic” despite its inclusion by standwithus.com for supposedly taking the exact opposite stance.  While the report does state that “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” may be anti-Semitic, this is qualified by the claim that this labeling must “tak[e] into account the overall context” of the comparison and that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti Semitic.”

Overall Context:  Applying this label to the academic setting is inaccurate. The academic setting – and the sociological examination of global issues in particular – is predicated on the analytic examination of a wide range of texts pertaining to the course in question. While Birth of a Nation may be viewed as a racist film, its regular showing and discussions around it in Film Studies courses or courses on Media and Race are commonplace, and surely not expressly racist by any stretch of the imagination. Likewise, the commonplace reading of the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament in Literature or Religious Studies courses is in no way a promotion of specific religious doctrine, and must be viewed in context as well. Within Sociology, the reading of Herrnstein and Murray’s (1994) The Bell Curve  or Humphrey’s (1970) Tearoom Trade surely doesn’t signal a support of findings in the former case or methods in the later, and in fact, the opposite is regularly true.

Isolated criticism of Israel:  We strongly reject the notion that by self-selecting .01% of the total course material that an isolated critique of the State of Israel has occurred in any place beyond the minds of those who choose to disregard over 99% of the reading material for the course.

3)     United States Commission on Civil Rights, April 3, 2006.  Please read the report here.

The report expressly states that anti-Semitism may take the form of anti-Israeli or anti-Zionist sentiment only in cases “including age-old anti-Jewish stereotypes and defamation,” none of which occurred in the course material included. In fact, the only mention of the Jewish faith in the course material in question was Judith Stone’s positive assertion of her own Jewish faith in her article. As in the above cited examples, Standwithus.com’s claim that this report supports the application of the anti-Semitism label as relevant to the present discussion is patently absurd.

4)    The London Declaration against anti-Semitism, Feb. 19, 2009. Please read the report here.

The report expressly states that it sees anti-Semitism only in instances which “target the State of Israel as a Jewish collectivity” or “singl[e] out…Israel for discriminatory treatment.” In the first order, the course material in question only makes positive mention of the Jewish faith in a self-directed appeal to the Jewish collectivity regarding polices taken by the Israeli government. The claim does not hold here. Likewise, it is absurd to claim that the State of Israel has been “singled out” for criticism within a course on global issues and conflict when less than 1/10th of 1% of the reading material assigned in a single week of a 10 week course is under accusation.

In regards to these citations in their entirety, in the best cases they are woefully inapplicable, and in the worst case they make no mention of the claim they’ve been cited as being evidentiary of.

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Finally, we wish to reiterate that the Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UC Santa Barbara takes no position on the political policies of the State of Israel, and finds any discussion of the State of Israel as immaterial to the issue at hand.

With regards to the claim that exceedingly brief and isolated elements of course material which may critique the State of Israel should be viewed as anti-Semitic, we find this claim to be without merit, and to stand in direct contrast to the principles of academic freedom and the free expression of ideas and debate within a course with the express purpose of discussing global issues.  This is akin to arguing that the mere mention in course material of the conflict in the Swat Valley of Pakistan is anti-Islamic, or that the discussion in course material of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is by definition racist.

Despite the partisan interests of outside organizations who wish to briefly use our community as a staging ground for their own agendas, as students and members of the UCSB community, we stand for the free and intellectual discussion of global affairs in courses designed for this express purpose, and at our university at large. It is in this spirit that we invite all members of the UCSB community to our forum on academic freedom as it relates to the Robinson case on May 21.

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