Vice Chancellor Jerry Kang
Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
University of California, Los Angeles
2147 Murphy Hall, Box 951405
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1405
Dear Vice Chancellor Kang,
I am the Executive Director of the Los Angeles Office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Los Angeles Office (“CAIR-LA”). CAIR-LA’s mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.
I write to express CAIR-LA’s ardent support for Professor Rabab Abdulhadi following her May 14th lecture on “Islamophobia and the attacks against Palestine organizing and scholarship” during Professor Kyeyoung Park’s course “Constructing Race,” and the incident that transpired between her and a handful of students during the Q&A session. We commend Professor Abdulhadi for the respect and courtesy she maintained towards the students who responded to her lecture and scholarship with disdain and vexation. We praise her response in the face of irreverent and disrespectful behavior and her courageous resolve to ensure her voice, her beliefs, and her scholarship be heard and not silenced by adversity. Finally, we commend Professor Abdulhadi on her ability to cope with this unfortunate and exacerbating situation to engage students in a meaningful dialogue concerning Islamophobia, Zionism, and white supremacy.
We also wish to express our grave concerns regarding the manner in which students communicated their discomfort and disagreement with Professor Abdulhadi’s arguments and scholarship. The two students conducted themselves in a blatantly disrespectful manner. The combative and unproductive nature of their attacks should not be permitted in an academic environment under any circumstances, nor should UCLA’s administration excuse their conduct through inaction. It is clear these students intended to silence Professor Abdulhadi, figuratively and literally, by using misplaced emotion and anger to invalidate her arguments and critiques concerning Zionism as it relates to Islamophobia and the Palestinian struggle.
Unfortunately, this phenomenon is commonplace in academic and political environments. There is a coordinated attempt to stifle, invalidate, and extinguish opinions, scholarship, and activism that oppose and critique the Israeli government and/or Zionist ideology. Activism and protests regarding the persecution, subjugation, and exploitation of Palestinians are constitutionally protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech. However, there is a concerted effort to undermine this right as applied to individuals who support the Palestinian cause. Those who express support for Palestine and/or Palestinian rights are routinely labeled hatemongers, anti-Semites, and terrorists. These tactics purposefully, and unconstitutionally, aim to chill the speech of those who would stand up for Palestinian rights, in order to protect the Israeli government’s apartheid over Palestine and quash valid and important opposition.
CAIR-LA’s position is clear; it is not anti-Semitic to criticize and critique Israeli policies and the demonization of the Palestinian people. Individuals voicing dissent and seeking action against Israel’s persecution of Palestinians should not be silenced in the academic sphere, or any other place. Scholarship, analysis, and discussion of the plight of Palestinians must be protected. These discussions are not only legitimate but are necessary in order to stop the current humanitarian crisis that is occurring at the hands of the Israeli government.
We urge you to support Professor Abdulhadi, as well as Professor Kyeyoung Park, against accusations that they are culpable or blameworthy for any wrongdoing pertaining to the May 14th incident. We urge you to continue to allow meaningful dialogue and scholarship to flow in and throughout the UCLA campus. We urge you to protect and validate the voices of those who seek justice for Palestine and to defend and support them following illegitimate cries of anti-Semitism and wrongful denunciation.
Please do not hesitate to reach out to our office, should you have further questions. We look forward to seeing the conclusion of your investigation, and to an ongoing conversation regarding protecting academic freedom, and the freedom of speech, at UCLA.
Council on American-Islamic Relations, California
Greater Los Angeles Area Office