In response to TSL’s article, “Pomona, CMC release plan to address antisemitism on campus,” which reported on a “community message” signed by President Gabrielle Starr and Vice-Presidents Avis Hinkson and Yuqing Wu, Pitzer Professor Daniel Segal penned the following letter to the three Pomona administrators and sent it to TSL for publication.
Dear President Starr and Vice Presidents Hinkson and Wu:
Your “community message” of March 27, 2023, “regarding recent campus incidents and rising antisemitism in the US” raises several serious concerns.
A consistent harm of that email is that it conflates antisemitism and protest against the Israeli state, the latter of which is fully protected speech. That conflation serves to inhibit criticisms of the state and its relentless oppression of Palestinians — criticisms that are ethically urgent as well as protected speech. This conflation is, moreover, a mainstay of Israeli hasbara; and too, it is a clear attack on both academic freedom and Palestinian freedom.
This harm runs through your email. To start, it occurs by your email choosing to bring together, into close rhetorical association, the noxious antisemitic flyers that were distributed several months ago in Claremont and recent acts of protest on the Pomona College campus directed at the Israeli state. Your email continues in this vein when it speaks of the acts of protest against Israel at Pomona as occurring in the context of “rising antisemitism in the nation.” Here let us also note that you provide no source for your claim about “rising antisemitism.” And yet, when we try to track down the source for this meme in news accounts and so on, we find that the source is, consistently, the “annual audits” of “antisemitic incidents” compiled by the ADL.The problem, however, is that the ADL audits are malicious nonsense, as they persistently conflate antisemitism and support for Palestinian freedom — much as your own email does. Here, however, is a source on this: The ADL is Not an Ally.
Furthermore, when we consider the actual antisemitism that has been unleashed in the US by Trumpism and Trumpism’s white supremacism (an antisemitism of which the flyers were clearly an instance), we find that that this antisemitism is tied not to criticisms of Israel and Zionism, but regularly to just the opposite: to support for Israel and Zionism. Consider, for instance, Evangelical Minister Robert Jeffress who attended the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem in 2018 when Trump relocated the embassy. Like Trump, Jeffress celebrates Israel; but he also has preached that Jews cannot be saved because they do not accept Christ Jesus. He is, in short, an antisemite and a Zionist: a “Christian Zionist.” By contrast, in all my years (decades, now) working with anti-Zionist organizations, I have never encountered antisemitism.
Here it should seem obvious that conflating anti-Zionism and antisemitism — and the consequent “crying wolf” allegations and insinuations of antisemitism lodged at pro-Palestinian speech — also undermines the struggle against the very real antisemitism of the right, embrangled as it is today in Zionism.
All of this shows how mistaken and harmful is your email’s conflation of antisemitism and protest against the Israeli state.
Let me also address your expressed concern with the “destruction of property.” Destroying property as political protest is not something I have ever done myself, but I can see arguments that there are contexts where destroying a physical sign expressing, or a monument celebrating, hate — a statue honoring a Confederate general, say — would be an ethical act. For me, in short, this is a complicated matter, not one reducible to a categorical rule. But if the destruction of property is something the Pomona administration deplores, how is it that Vice President Hinkson, in 2019, failed to make a public statement condemning the destruction of property in the context of the trampling of constitutionally protected speech rights and academic freedom, after she had watched a security camera video of a Pomona student (now a Pomona alum) ripping down and destroying pro-Palestinian posters from my office door in Bernard Hall? Why did that “destruction of property” — why did that trampling of pro-Palestinian speech — not merit public condemnation by the Pomona administration?
Finally, your email speaks of a commitment to dialogue and announces the founding of a new Sustained Dialogue Institute. But does dialogue really need a new Institute? Why do you not just engage in dialogue? Why not just talk to faculty and students with whom you disagree? Here recall that in 2021, President Starr, Vice President Hinkson, and seven other Pomona administrators signed an earlier attack — also insinuating antisemitism — on Pomona students who had acted in support of Palestinian freedom. And yet, when I sent and published an open letter disagreeing with that attack on your own students, none of the nine ever responded to me. Let me put it this way: all you have to do to dialogue is dialogue; you do not need an Institute; and if you are not willing to dialogue with faculty and students who disagree with you, an Institute isn’t going to help.
If you are genuinely interested in dialogue, let’s have lunch. On me!
But for now, let me say that as your faculty colleague, as a proud Jew, and as a supporter of Palestinian freedom, I find your “community message” of March 27 to be harmful to both the struggle for Palestinian freedom and the struggle against actually existing antisemitism. I thus urge you to publicly retract it, to begin the remediation of its several serious harms.
Jean M. Pitzer Professor of Anthropology and Professor of History
Coordinating Committee, Jewish Voice for Peace-Los Angeles
Past Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences
Past Secretary, American Anthropological Association
Professor Oona Eisenstadt