What we have below is a prime example of what a University should not be doing: issuing official statements on strong political, ideological, or moral issues. In this absurd statement, the Asian American Studies Department at UCLA issued a strong attack on Israel and a defense of Palestine—as an official department statement on the department’s website. The only signer is “The Department of Asian American Studies, University of California, Los Angeles,” so I guess it gives the view of every faculty member in Asian American Studies.
There are so many things wrong with it that I barely want to bother. Here are a few:
a.) It’s a statement from a public university that is bound to honor the First Amendment. Issuing statements like this may not violate that Amendment, but (see “b”). . .
b.) “Official” statements that come down hard on one side of a debatable issue—and this one is surely debatable—are liable to chill the speech of other people who adhere to the other side, or don’t agree completely with the statement. After you read it (it’s not long; click on the screenshot), imagine being a graduate student or untenured professor in that department who is Jewish, or who just doesn’t see Israel as the oppressor of Palestinians the way this department does. Would you talk about your opposition, or even write a critique of it on your own social media site? I don’t think so: you’d lose respect, collegiality, and maybe even promotion or tenure.
This is why the University of Chicago has the Kalven Report, a principle that I’ve discussed in detail. It prohibits departments, administrators, or units of the University from making official statements about politics, ideology, or morality—unless those statements directly involve the mission of the University: freely teaching and learning. Do read the short report; it’s one of the two pillars of academic freedom at the University of Chicago. (The other and better-known of our two free-speech principle are the famous Chicago Principles of Free Expression, now been adopted by over 80 American colleges, both public and private.)
c.) The statement is misleading, tendentious, and biased, neglecting the “settler colonialism” that’s happened all over the world (uniquely singling out Israel in this respect is a sign of anti-Semitism), and completely ignoring the hatred and terrorism that comes from Palestine—an apartheid state that treats gays, apostates, non-Muslims, and women as second-class citizens. It ignores the firing of rockets and killing of innocent Israeli civilians by Palestinian terrorists. It ignores the Palestinians’ repeated refusal to accept or discuss Israel’s offer of a two-state solution.
It is in fact a statement with no purpose other than to demonstrate that the Asian American Studies Department is virtuous in its support of Palestine and hatred of Israel. It is an act of Performative Wokeness. And believe me, I’d be just as opposed to UCLA if they issued a statement demonizing Palestine instead of Israel. It’s the principle I oppose, though I freely admit that I think this statement is grossly biased against Israel and verges on official anti-Semitism.
I’ll give just two paragraphs of the statement, and urge you to read it for yourself (my bolding). The second paragraph below is particularly ironic, while the first shows multiple but different academic units of UCLA also violating our Kalven Principles. There is no mention of Palestinian perfidy; one would think that that territory has a spotless record of human rights.
The Department of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles stands in solidarity with the Palestinian people as they continue to fight for the right to land, life, dignity, and freedom. We mourn the staggering loss of life, in which over 200 Palestinians have been killed in one week alone, including 64 children and 38 women at the time of this statement. The latest upsurge in violence has taken the form of deadly airstrikes, unauthorized evictions, beatings and imprisonments intended to terrorize and displace Palestinians. Media distortion and censorship has further suppressed Palestinian narratives, and threatened freedom of speech and academic freedom. With our colleagues from the Palestinian Feminist Collective, Palestine and Praxis: Scholars for Palestinian Freedom, National Women’s Studies Association, Association of Asian American Studies, Middle East Studies Association, Gender Studies Departments in Solidarity with Palestinian Feminist Collective, UCSC Feminist Studies, UCSC Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, UIC Global Asian Studies, UCSD AAPI Studies Program, UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies, UC Davis, UIUC Asian American Studies Department, Princeton University, and Yale Ethnicity, Rights, and Migration, we understand that such violence and intimidation are but the latest manifestation of seventy-three years of settler colonialism, racial apartheid, and occupation.
As an academic department situated on the ancestral and unceded territory of the Gabrielino/Tongva peoples, we oppose settler-colonialism in all its forms, from Tovaangar to Palestine. We condemn the exploitation, theft, and colonization of land and labor and we strive for freedom and justice for all peoples. Asian American Studies, which traces our history to the Third World Liberation Front Strike of 1968, has long advanced a critique of imperialism, militarism, and settler colonialism in the United States, Asia, Oceania, and elsewhere. We condemn the exchange of military tactics and financial support between the United States and Israel, noting how U.S. counterinsurgency techniques and military equipment used during the Vietnam War were then extrapolated to the Occupied Territories; how the Israeli military’s policing of the apartheid wall dividing Jerusalem and isolating the West Bank has influenced the U.S.’s own brutal border security policies along the U.S.-Mexico border; and how Israel has too often upheld its support of Asian and Asian American individuals as proof of multicultural democracy, over and against the ethnic cleansing of Palestine via a process of “yellow-washing.”
. . .In solidarity,
The Department of Asian American Studies, University of California, Los Angeles
Well, if you’re situated on stolen land and oppose that, why doesn’t UCLA or the Department give the land back or pay reparations? At least there’s a building housing this department that could be given to the Gabrielini/Tongva people, or reimburse them for the cost of both the L.A. land and the building on it. Of course they won’t, for this is a performative act not meant to accomplish anything beyond saying: “Hey, look! We’re ideologically correct.”
Two of my colleagues had the following reaction to the land-claim bit of the statement that went:
As an academic department situated on the ancestral and unceded territory of the Gabrielino/Tongva peoples, we oppose settler-colonialism in all its forms, from Tovaangar to Palestine.
First response, noting that it’s an Asian-American Studies Department:
I’d like their position on Han colonization of the Yangtze and Pearl valleys and the concomitant colonialist suppression of Yue, Min, Hmong, and other indigenous peoples (to say nothing of Uygers and Tibetans).
If more historical knowledge were available, it would surely reveal that the “Gabrielino/Tongva peoples” had colonized the LA region from whoever lived there before too. The natives weren’t sitting around singing Kumbaya before the white man arrived!
Again, although the department says it opposes settler-colonialism in all its forms, the statement is about the “settler-colonialism” of Israel alone. And yet China is one of the biggest settler-colonialist nations going. What, do you suppose, explains the unique demonization of Israel?