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Submission: University irresponsible for inviting controversial speaker to campus

By Natalie Charney

Nov. 5, 2014 10:12 a.m.

Editor’s Note: The following submission contains strong language. We feel its inclusion is necessary to provide full context about the controversy surrounding Steven Salaita’s appearance at UCLA.

Steven Salaita, the recently disgraced professor who was denied tenure at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in part due to his racist and inflammatory public statements, will be speaking at our campus today at the invitation of the Center for Near Eastern Studies, the Department of English and the Department of French and Francophone Studies. This invitation is irresponsible and offensive.

Salaita, a notable activist in the anti-Israel movement, came under fire after a series of outrageous and hateful tweets surfaced from his Twitter account this summer: “Zionists: transforming ‘antisemitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948. #Gaza #FreePalestine.” The week after three Jews were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank, he tweeted: “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.” Salaita has yet to apologize for his remarks.

As the president of a pluralistic Jewish organization that represents more than 2,000 Jewish students here at UCLA, I am proud to be a part of a community that values debate, dialogue and free speech. But when bigots hide behind the principle of free speech as a tool to laud bigoted rhetoric, I must stand to denounce these actions.

Let me be clear: this is not about Israel. Criticizing Israeli government policies is certainly within the purview of reasonable speech on campus. But Salaita crosses the bounds of reasonable dissent, deliberately conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, going so far as to call the latter something “honorable.” Moreover, this man represents a chilling example of the pressing dangers of anti-Semites masquerading as anti-Zionists.

On campus, Jewish students must tolerate the anonymous anti-Semite who stands next to Powell Library, holding flimsy paper signs decrying the Jews and the Jewish State. But as attendees of a public institution, we understand that there is little the university can do about a nameless man who walks on to a public campus. With that being said, as students who pay tuition to this university, we must speak out and condemn the actions of the three academic departments that give a hero’s welcome to a man who openly calls for violence against Jewish people.

Outright hate speech and the incitement to violence against innocents have no right to exist within the free marketplace of ideas that our university seeks to foster. The U.S. Supreme Court has a long history of distinguishing between legitimate dissent and hate-filled incitement to violence. Our campus community cannot be silent and cannot pretend no difference exists between the two. I charge the Chancellor, UCLA Student Affairs, student organizations and my student body government with the unequivocal duty to unabashedly and unapologetically condemn the event, this hate speech and those who employ it.

Charney is a fourth-year global studies student and the student board president of Hillel at UCLA.

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