When campus climate is used as a political weapon, it degrades the concept and hurts all students. That’s what happened last Friday when the California Assembly’s Select Committee on Campus Climate held a hearing at UCLA’s James West Alumni Center to discuss campus climate issues throughout the state of California. If you didn’t hear about this hearing, it’s probably not a coincidence; the meeting was not publicized, and it seems to have been thrown together at the last minute.
Even more distressing than the timing and publicity, however, is the issue of representation. The meeting purported to deal with campus climate, yet it did not discuss most of the major issues facing students from a variety of backgrounds on campus. Although the hearing did touch on deplorable instances of anti-Semitism, much of the discussion was focused on bashing pro-Palestinian speech and actions. Shockingly, despite being scheduled shortly after the latest round of David Horowitz posters directly attacking pro-Palestine students and faculty, the committee opted not to include any Palestinians on the student panel, and only directly addressed Palestine and Israel by asking pro-Israel students questions about their feelings of personal well-being and safety.
This bias is particularly alarming given that Horowitz’s actions are a perfect demonstration of how pro-Palestine students and faculty, particularly students and faculty of color, are the ones facing intense, defamatory blowback for what ought to be protected political speech and beliefs. And while the eventual inclusion of Tahira Kazmi, a member of the Muslim Student Association, or MSA, and Eitan Peled, of Jewish Voice for Peace, or JVP, and Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA, on the student panel was a positive development – albeit one that took significant pressure to achieve – it remains problematic, perhaps tellingly so, that those managing a hearing about student well-being that took place so close in time to instances of anti-Palestinian animus on university campuses saw no issue with omitting Palestinian students.
This partiality is perhaps best put into perspective by the political agenda being advanced by one of the assembly members at the hearing, Richard Bloom. Bloom recently introduced AB 2844 in the California Assembly. This is a McCarthyist bill that would prevent state contracts with any companies that choose to discontinue business operations in Israel and the occupied territories that further the violation of Palestinian rights.
This ideological partiality even seems to have played out in the assembly members’ own questions. After Tina Aoun, the director of the Middle Eastern Student Center at the University of California, Riverside, mentioned both an incident that is currently being investigated as a hate crime by UCR officials that was partially motivated by anti-Palestinian sentiment as well the experiences of a Palestinian UCR student who received death threats and hate mail for teaching a class on Palestine, Assembly member Jose Medina only questioned Aoun to follow up on whether a class with a pro-Israel perspective had also been offered. Furthermore, although David Horowitz’s defamatory posters had been directly referenced at least four times by students and commenters, neither Bloom nor Medina saw it fit to follow up about this incident, a strange oversight given that the hearing was allegedly dedicated to student welfare in relation to freedom of expression.
By their unwillingness to engage with hate crimes and hate speech against Palestinians in the University of California system, assembly members Bloom and Medina demonstrated that they don’t really care about campus climate at all. The hearing seems to have been a hollow gesture that would allow for squarely pro-Israel state politicians to reinforce their ideological biases while pretending to objectively cater to the feelings and experiences of marginalized student voices.
It is unclear what, if anything, will come out of this hearing. But, as the Joint Council for UAW 2865, the union representing over 14,000 student workers across the UC system, recently expressed in a statement responding to the latest batch of Horowitz posters, until the UC Regents and university officials can put aside their relentless pro-Israel agenda enough to genuinely address student welfare and concerns, they are just as complicit in creating a hostile campus climate for students as the individuals who put up the latest round of Horowitz posters. We can say exactly the same for state politicians. Is a relentless focus on Israel really worth ignoring the harassment, intimidation and marginalization that students continue to face? We hope not, and this should be just as true for Palestinian students as for any other.
Kurwa is a graduate student in sociology. Zahzah is a graduate student in comparative literature. Both are members of Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA.