Open Letter of California Scholar for Academic Freedom (Israel/Palestine)

22 Jul

[Prefatory Note: Below is an Open Letter prepared under the direction of Vida Samiian of State University of California at Fresno on behalf of California scholars defending against any effort to abridge academic freedom anywhere in the world, but particularly in California and the United States. The group has been recently sensitive to issues surrounding Israel/Palestine, Zionism, and alleged Anti-Semitism, but it also references attacks elsewhere in the world that encroach upon academic freedom.

The Open Letter references a defamatory article about me that recycles the by now familiar litany of mistakes, distortions, smears, and array of cherrypicking (mis)interpretations to create a false impression as to my actual views on controversial current issues. The evidentiary background of the article relies on the work of UN Watch, a supposed NGO that takes on all critics of Israel, especially at the UN, and made a habit of regularly launching harassing attacks on me during my six years as UN Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine. Their efforts included writing long derogatory letters to UN diplomats and public officials in goverments complaining about my views, and urging my dismissal by the UN Secretary General. On this occasion as discussed in the Open Letter the attacks on me were contained in an article in the current issue of the conservative magazine written by intern, National Review, and can be found at <>

Such an attack is part of the concerted Zionist pushback against its critics, what I call ‘the Zionist War of Cultural Aggression,’ with the main current battlefields being university campus venues that host events or speakers critical of Israel or give aid and support to the BDS campaign. Unlike the South African anti-apartheid movement that relied on similar tactics to those relied upon by supporters of the Palestinian national struggle where apologists for apartheid were hostile to the movement, there was never an attempt as here, to take punitive action against those who expressed their hostility to apartheid by advocating various forms of militant nonviolence as expressive of global solidarity. Here the focus is on the role of the right-wing media in creating a climate of opinion that supports frantic Zionist efforts to intimidate and punish vocal critics of Israel, creating a crisis of confidence with regard to the exercise of academic freedom.]










                     The Extremist Zionist Media Campaign Gone Too Far


As recently as five years ago Zionist extremists would engage campus speakers or events perceived as pro-Palestinian with substantive questions. Sometimes it was obvious that these questions were prepared in advance by some lobbying group as the student who spoke had a list of questions, was surrounded by several supporters, and usually left the conference hall without even waiting for a response. It was a disconcerting abuse of the discussion dimension of campus treatment of a controversial issue of great importance to the society as a whole.


This pattern of involvement has been abandoned in recent years by Zionist extremists. Instead a more insidious set of tactics has been adopted. Substantive engagement, even of a purely argumentative kind, is no longer even attempted, likely reflecting the reality that both the law and the moral dimensions of the Israel/Palestine relationship overwhelmingly support Palestinian grievances if fairly considered and give almost no aid and comfort to Israeli claims.


Instead of substantive engagement, the most ardent Israeli supporters smear critics of Israeli government policies, contending that criticism of Israel is ‘the new anti-Semitism,’ a position sadly endorsed by the Obama State Department and the Republican Congress, as well as several state legislatures. From such a standpoint, Palestinian supporters and their undertakings are demeaned and smeared while engaging in highly legitimate political discourse. Even the most qualified speakers are attacked before their scheduled appearances, often reinforced by back channel efforts. Usually stimulated and facilitated by more extremist national Zionist organizations, pressures are exerted on university administrations to cancel events. Additionally, local media is alerted so as to shift the focus of public interest as much as possible from message to messenger. The whole idea is to wound the messenger badly, and by so doing, create enough noise to drown out the message, a technique that often engages a compliant local media.


These tactics also seek a punitive backlash directed at Palestinian solidarity initiatives, especially the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Campaign, a nonviolent approach to ending abuses of the Palestinian people, which organizes advocacy of economic disengagement from commercial relationships with unlawful Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as academic, economic, and cultural boycott of Israeli institutions that serve to prolong the occupation and otherwise defy international law. Such tactics resemble the anti-apartheid campaign of the 1980s that proved so effective in bringing about the collapse of the racist regime in South Africa. What is most relevant to notice is that even those who opposed the South African BDS campaign never sought to ban its demonstrations or degrade and punish its leaders, which is what opponents of the Israel BDS campaign are intent on doing.


What we are describing amounts to a Zionist cultural war of aggression against academic freedom in the United States, but also in Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It targets professors, student activists, and campus activities, which has an overall chilling effect1. For every speaker or event that is cancelled, many more are not undertaken for fear of the backlash. These wider, largely invisible repercussions are rarely discussed, but their impact is significant. More junior colleagues are advised to avoid such zones of potentially toxic consequences that could cast a dark shadow over an entire career as has been the case with even such a notable established scholar as Norman Finkelstein, as well as disrupting the academic future of promising junior scholars such as Steven Salaita.


We also take note of the wider reach of these efforts to discredit scholars who undertake public service beyond the confines of the academic community. The National Review in its issue of July 1, 2017 devotes an entire article to showing what a bad organization the United Nations has become because it had appointed an allegedly notorious anti-Semite, Richard Falk, to assess the Israeli treatment of Palestinians living under occupation. In fact, Richard Falk is one of the most highly respected and recognized international scholars of human rights law. He is the Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law Emeritus at Princeton University and has been a Visiting Distinguished Professor and Research Fellow at the University of California, Santa Barbara since 2002. He taught international law and politics at Princeton University for forty years.  He has served the United Nations in several capacities, including acting as a formally designated advisor to the President of the General Assembly in 2009. He has been a vice president of the American Society of International Law and currently serves as Senior Vice President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s Board of Directors.

The fact that an established conservative magazine would publish an article filled with smears, distortions, mistakes, and malicious cherry picking is of a piece with this concerted wider effort to discredit those who speak truth to power, while warning others to maintain silence or face the consequences.


Under these conditions two things seem imperative. First, calling attention to and seeking to counteract the alarming magnitude and insidiousness of this assault on academic freedom. Secondly, organizing support for and solidarity with those who are victimized, both directly and indirectly, by these Zionist tactics detrimental to academic freedom.







Contact persons for Cs4af:


Sondra Hale, Research Professor

University of California, Los Angeles


Manzar Foroohar, Professor of History

CSU San Luis Obispo


Claudio Fogu

Associate Professor Italian Studies

University of California Santa Barbara


Nancy Gallagher, Research Professor
Department of History
University of California, Santa Barbara


Katherine King, Professor of Comparative Literature

University of California Los Angeles


Dennis Kortheuer

History, Emeritus

California State University Long Beach


David Lloyd, Distinguished Professor of English

University of California, Riverside


Lisa Rofel, Professor of Anthropology

University of California, Santa Cruz


Vida Samiian

Professor of Linguistics & Dean Emerita

California State University, Fresno



**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM (cs4af) is a group of over 200 scholars who defend academic freedom, the right of shared governance, and the First Amendment rights of faculty and students in the academy and beyond. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere. California Scholars for Academic Freedom investigates legislative and administrative infringements on freedom of speech and assembly, and it raises the consciousness of politicians, university regents and administrators, faculty, students and the public at large through open letters, press releases, petitions, statements, and articles.

18 Responses to “Open Letter of California Scholar for Academic Freedom (Israel/Palestine)”

  1. seelistenunderstand July 22, 2017 at 4:08 am #

    Dear coleagues professors.
    Let me, please, make it clear, in 2 sentances, that your claim is simply unfair. Both sides, Israel and Pal must get the opportunity/time to explain their positions. The matter the fact is that the Pal. get it while Israel not. And, if Israel get, officialy, the time to present its stand, the Israeli, what you call Zionist, speaker is disturbed by Pal. students and can’t express his points. So, in order to be fair, please make sure that Israel will get the same time, undisturbed, like the Pal. to be able to present the Israeli side. I am certain that after you hear just one lecture of mine, no matter what position you take, yoiu will learn much more about this endless and bloodfull conflict. Just makesure tyhat Israelis can speak freely like its opponents.
    In friuendship

    • Laurie Knightly July 22, 2017 at 11:55 am #

      Don’t think I understand your position here. Are you saying that pro Israel speakers/advocates/authors/professors/donors at public universities in California cannot express themselves? Where? When? Who? Why? And the history of Palestine can be freely taught/discussed
      etc? Same questions. Please elaborate………

    • Gene Schulman July 24, 2017 at 4:55 am #

      I would like very much to learn more about this “endless and bloodfull conflict”. Where, prithee, can one hear your lectures? Are you an academic, teaching in a university? Or just a free lancer on a street corner? From your post, one might think you are not a native English speaker. From where are you writing? Israel? And why do you write under a pseudonym? Do you have something to hide? Please clarify.

  2. Sean Breathnach July 22, 2017 at 4:34 am #

    The views put forward in this open letter, are late, but better late than never. Prof Falk, thank you for your support for the people of this world who are treated inhumanely by governments using state terror and other means.

  3. Paul Wapner July 22, 2017 at 6:54 am #

    Despite its many distortions, the National Review article actually depicts an intellectually courageous scholar willing to ask uncomfortable questions and to say what he thinks. Hindsight is 20/20. Khomeini did appear a transformative figure at the time, especially in light of US imperial practice. On 9/11, you always have insisted that there are disturbing parts of the conventional narrative deserving of scrutiny-not that 9/11 was definitively an inside job. As for your criticisms of Israel, they are based on exhaustive research and intellectual honesty. Sadly, many will never see what their ideological commitments prevent them from seeing. It is sad that UN Watch continues its smear campaign on you and others. I guess in the Trump world, conservatives are running out of material. Thanks for holding your head (and heart) up high in the midst of these continuous attacks. It would be a different world if those who attack you would read a fraction of what you read (or at least read your reports!) and engage at all with the most vulnerable. The world looks different when one takes suffering seriously and when one cares enough to seek a more just world.

    • Richard Falk July 23, 2017 at 2:55 am #

      Hi Paul: Of course, I like your reading of the NR article, and it does capture my real view of these controversial
      issue areas. I appreciate your willingness to interpret my political views through such a generous optic, and even
      more your friendship through the years.

      Here in Turkey we have so far survived a major earthquake nearby, and a confusing, not encouraging, political tableau.
      We were in Istanbul for the well orchestrated demonstrations celebrating the outcome of the coup attempt of a year ago.

      Hope you are being self-indulgent wherever you are!


  4. Beau Oolayforos July 22, 2017 at 9:32 am #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    It’s not only academic freedom that’s at stake. When we read that legislation is being considered in Congress to criminalize any association with BDS, and that this legislation enjoys “wide bipartisan support”, then we realize that AIPAC money has had the desired effect, and that the only remaining question is whether our Bill of Rights, starting with the First, is to be repealed at Tel Aviv’s behest.

    Ain’t gonna happen. As the Police sang –

    “Our so-called leaders speak –
    With words they try to jail ya –
    To subjugate the meek –
    But it’s a rhetoric of fail-ya…”

  5. Gene Schulman July 22, 2017 at 9:37 am #

    With US lawmakers attempting to criminalize political speech and activism, and where France and the UK already have passed such legislation, it looks like this is going to be an uphill battle. See this recent piece by Glen Greenwald:

  6. Laurie Knightly July 23, 2017 at 2:19 pm #

    The current subscription numbers to National Review don’t seem to be available but the Nation, at 160,000 is reported to now exceed them. Their harsh criticism, of Trump as a candidate, and signed by 20+ prominent conservative leaders, caused them considerable loss in subscribers. Also, the defamation lawsuit by Michael Mann, regarding climate change, appears to be still unresolved.Mann seems to have lost on the emotional distress aspect but other charges are not yet resolved. The suit is against both NR and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Admittedly, the public is not purchasing news magazines these days. A look at the top 100 magazines are about fashion, entertainment, crafts etc.
    NR has gone non profit and is now reported to be in serious financial trouble.

    Can’t imagine why people who dissent aren’t able to do so in a creditable manner. I don’t suggest this, because it’s ‘nicer’ but more effective – eventually. Why stoop to that level? If Prof Falk feels some discomfort at the National Review smear, what would his feelings be if he met with their approval? Ugh!

    • Richard Falk July 23, 2017 at 11:57 pm #

      Of course, I see your point, Laurie, but my issue is that I am associated with views
      that are not mine, and such formulations are used by Zionist elements to challenge my
      activities, such as lectures, reports, and so forth, and by being repeated over and over
      again, infiltrate mainstream media and official circles. At the same time, objections
      maybe counterproductive. I know this, and usually exercise greater self-discipline.

      • seelistenunderstand July 24, 2017 at 6:58 am #

        Dear Prof./Coleague

        When I read your writhing excuses, to the comment that you get, I see your difficulties. in explaining your theory. i feel that something is missing in your explanation. This something is the update. I am sorry but these are the facts that in this region things are changing every hour. It is related/explain also the past. so, I suggest that you get updated, from my updates or from different source in order to improve your point of view and understand that the zionism that you know is not today’s one. The task of the zionism has changed during the years and you can’t blame Israel.Zionism for every clash that happens between Muslims and Jews. Do you realy think that Israel is not doing its utmost and beyond get peace all over?
        In friendship

      • Laurie Knightly July 24, 2017 at 5:43 pm #

        Richard, Perhaps my comment wasn’t clear. I meant why can’t commenters/journalists/authors who disagree or have other or additional viewpoints, just express/support them. If, as the NR article states, that you did not consider Khomeini to be a fanatic, meaning a person who is excessive, often misguided, in beliefs that are beyond reason, one could argue that position. I would do so. NR writer then states that the later Iranian hostage taking [described in a vacuum] proves his point. It does not.

        And you defended Vietnam War resisters. There were quite a number of us and history/facts agree. Wrote a forward to Gilad Atzmon’s book, did you? A document on which to reflect/discuss widely, you said. The word holocaust [small h] is a ‘case of large scale destruction esp by fire or nuclear war.’ The origin of the word in Old French/Greek is ‘burnt’. It is not a Jewish franchise. You had the audacity to suggest that war drums around us could be leading thus.

        The article is not only a smear, it’s devoid of any meaningful content – even if the words ascribed to you are accurate. There is nothing in it. Nothing. But it suggests/hints otherwise. We do need to object and my plan is to reduce it to the absurdity that is glaringly apparent.

      • Richard Falk July 25, 2017 at 8:10 am #

        As you can imagine, Laurie, I agree completely with your deconstruction of the NR approach to critique, which as
        incisively demonstrate, is a good deal more damaging to political discourse, than defamation and smears.

        For the sake of clarification, I only wrote a blurb for Gilad’s book; as with Gene, I recommend strongly his
        latest book, BEING IN TIME.

      • Gene Schulman July 25, 2017 at 12:29 am #

        Amir doesn’t seem to follow the requests in his own pseudonym: “seelistenunderstand”. If he did, he might understand Prof. Falk’s explanations a bit better. As it is, he comes across as just another insulting hasbara monger.

        Let us hear one of your lectures, Amir. And respond to those who wish to engage you: Laurie, Gene.

      • Gene Schulman July 26, 2017 at 1:18 am #

        I had promised to review Atzmon’s book, Being in Time, so I re-read it again last night (for the umpteenth time). The more I read it, the more I am convinced it is a work of genius. Among the reasons I have not yet reviewed it is the question over his explanation of Jewish achievement! I cannot agree with him on this point. So, for the time being (pun intended), I am trying to decide whether to address the subject at all. For the rest, I regard him as a prophet, and hope to explain why.

      • Richard Falk July 26, 2017 at 2:02 am #


        I look forward very much to your review. I also find many brilliant provocations and important moral challenges, in some ways along
        the lines of John Gray’s STRAW DOGS, but more philosophical and better contextualized in the traumas of the time. I find Gilad’s preoccupation
        with the role of Jews in shaping our world to be insightful, but in some ways symptomatic of the cultural disease he is addressing.

        Best, Richard

  7. inquiry_01 July 25, 2017 at 5:06 am #

    Seems to me Amir’s point that Zionism has changed may be incorrect? Globalism might be a cover-up word, convenient to hide the true meaning of Zionism? Globalism is a convenient substitute because global is not burdened by culture, history, language, race, religion or place (CHLRRP). Zionism seems to be a word adopted to describe a dominate and control philosophy, one to be achieved by networking. One cannot be born into Zionism; because Zionism (Globalism) is a subscription only philosophy; maintained by a network of power and capital. The underlying objects have not changed: whether Global or Zional: they bring power and capital to take advantage of everyone and everything. Israel seems to be a local project of global Zionism, while Muslim vs Jew seems to be a divide, supported by propaganda, contrived to weaken the collective power. Zionism, like a military, demands allegiance from expendable individuals. Crowd-funding [global networking] has long served a globalist purpose: means to acquire local access, assets, or prominence and means to stay in touch..
    The time-to-time goals may have changed, but power and capital networking, focused to “dictate and dominate”, has at times, threatened the entire world.


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