The University of Southern California campus
The University of Southern California campusISTOCK

A group of faculty from the University of California (USC) penned an open letter on Sunday denouncing an “inflammatory and misleading” online statement highly critical of Israel officially endorsed by the university’s Department of Gender Studies.

“The Statement contains numerous distortions of vital factual information concerning the historical and contemporary reality in Israel/Palestine. Although, as a group, we hold wide and diverse perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and related issues, we all believe that the errors and polemic tone of this statement are cruelly alienating to many students, staff, and faculty, who are members of the USC community,” said the letter, signed by 53 USC faculty members.

They added that it was “particularly troubling” that the online statement was “endorsed by a USC department on behalf of all its constituents.”

The statement, titled “Gender Studies Departments In Solidarity With Palestinians Feminist Collective,” was signed by the USC Department of Gender Studies and 120 other international faculties in the wake of the May conflict between Israel and Hamas. It claimed “Israeli policies and practices towards Palestinians amount to apartheid” and accused Israel of “settler colonialism” and “right wing, ethnonationalist violence.”

The faculty group’s letter stated that they “do not know whether such departmental declarations of political support are legal, but they are certainly unethical because they appear to speak on behalf of all members of the department (e.g. faculty, staff, and students), many of whom are untenured or supervised by more senior members and thus not in a position to openly disagree.”

“Most concerning, this signing implies endorsement by USC itself,” they wrote. “Thus, we call on USC leadership to publicly rebuke the practice of USC departments (or units) making statements for specific political agendas that have nothing to do with the university’s educational and research missions. The statement above contains extreme, indeed fabricated, claims that criminalize the very creation of the State of Israel and, by implication, indict all its citizens and supporters, including us.”

The letter, addressed to USC President Carol Folt, Provost Charles Zukoski, and Chairman Rick Caruso, went on to say that the statement was “particularly troubling” because “political disagreement is entangled with ethnic and religious identity.”

“Jewish students and anyone who supports the right of the State of Israel to exist and are enrolled in one of the endorsing department's classes might now expect, quite reasonably, that they are not welcome as peers and that their academic careers will be harmed because of their beliefs or identity,” they wrote.

They added that in the aftermath of the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Jewish undergraduate student Rose Ritch from her position as USC student government vice president over being harassed for her support for Israel, they had been assured that a series of initiatives would be implemented to make the campus safe for Jewish students.

One year later, they are still waiting for change to take place.

“We were hoping to see educational activities that aim to combat zionophobia and anti-Semitism, as well as other forms of hate and discrimination, to reaffirm our commitment to tolerance and inclusion, and to enable discussion of controversial issues in a respectful environment. We are still waiting for concrete actions from the administration,” they said.