by Native American and Indigenous Studies Scholars, Mondoweiss May 4, 2012
An Open Letter from Native American and Indigenous Studies Scholars in defense of UCLA Professor David Shorter and other scholars who support the academic and cultural boycott of Israel
April 30, 2012
As Native American and Indigenous Studies scholars who endorse the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI), we write in defense of our colleague Professor David Shorter. Shorter has been accused by representatives from the “AMCHA Initiative” of misusing campus resources for “the purpose of promoting the academic and cultural boycott of Israel” to students in his Winter 2012 course, “Tribal Worldviews” at UCLA. In its rhetoric, AMCHA equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, a spurious equation wielded by those who seek to suppress open discussion of Israel and its state policies.
The course focused on examining indigenous peoples’ struggles around the world and the use of global media and arts to politically mobilize communities. The course site included dozens of links to websites, articles, petitions, and videos, as examples of indigenous and activist campaigns. Shorter included a link to the website of the USACBI (a campaign which Shorter himself has endorsed along with hundreds of other faculty members from universities across the country). Additionally, he included United Nations documents that framed the Palestinian struggle as an indigenous struggle.
In an email message on March 29, 2012, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin and Leila Beckwith, the co-founders of AMCHA, wrote a complaint to administrators of the University of California that was also copied to select California politicians. In response to their message, Professor Andrew Leuchter, the chair of UCLA’s Academic Senate, reviewed Shorter’s course materials without ever directly communicating with him or speaking with his students or teaching assistants. Leuchter then conveyed to Shorter, through Shorter’s department chair, that he should not repeat the “mistake” of providing the USACBI weblink, while making no mention of the other dozens of sources on the course site. Shorter expressed to his chair that he understood the larger social context of the accusations – namely the policing of academic viewpoints critical of Israel – and that the matter deserved further discussion before the course would be taught again. No discussion of the issues took place; Leuchter acted as the sole reviewer of the complaint and did not involve the Academic Senate’s Committee on Academic Freedom. And yet, he falsely reported to AMCHA, UC and UCLA administrators, as well as CA politicians, that Shorter understood “his serious error in judgment” and “said that he will not make this mistake again.”
In response to these multiple violations of academic freedom, we join the California Scholars for Academic Freedom in insisting upon an official review of the inappropriate way in which UCLA’s academic leaders handled this matter. We reject the singling out and censoring of criticism of the Israeli state by AMCHA as well as the collusion of university administrators with this position. We strongly support Shorter’s academic freedom and support all scholarly efforts that enable critical analysis of every sort, including consideration of the Palestinian people’s resistance to Israeli occupation, settler colonialism, and apartheid.
The attack on Shorter is not an isolated incident; faculty and students on campuses across the country have been attacked for supporting the rights of Palestinian people and for providing a critical analysis of Israeli policies. By persistently labeling all scholars, non-Jewish and Jewish alike, who provide information about Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights as anti-Semitic purveyors of “hate speech,” the pro-Israel lobby has sought to stifle public debate on campuses and in the media across the country. It is essential to prevent reactionary groups from using tactics of intimidation to silence the vitality and possibility for critical discussions on the policies of Israel.
In this attempt to control what can and cannot be taught within a university classroom AMCHA has demonstrated its adherents’ lack of respect for free academic inquiry, and UCLA’s leaders have demonstrated their willingness to sacrifice that same freedom for the sake of political expediency.
As academics who believe that the right to open academic debate and democratic faculty governance is crucial to the ethical production of scholarship and knowledge, we strongly support Professor David Shorter and call upon all scholars to resist the silencing and censorship of debate in the academy and public sphere.
Hoku Aikau, University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa
Joanne Barker, San Francisco State University
Kevin Bruyneel, Babson College
Eric Cheyfitz, Cornell University
Vicente M. Diaz, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Maria Elena Garcia, University of Washington
Alyosha Goldstein, University of New Mexico
Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻopua, University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa
Lisa Kahaleole Hall, Wells College
LeAnne Howe, University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign
J Kēhaulani Kauanui, Wesleyan University
José Antonio Lucero, University of Washington
Dawn Peterson, Smith College
Jacki Thompson Rand, University of Iowa
Steven Salaita, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Kathryn Shanley, University of Montana
Noenoe Silva, University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa
Circe Sturm, University of Texas at Austin
Kim TallBear, University of California, Berkeley
Robert Warrior, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Note: institutional names are for identification purposes only.
3. A copy of the letter was provided to us by Professor Shorter who eventually received a copy from the Chair of his department once he asked for a copy of all documents pertaining to his case generated by the administration.