To the editor: Academic leaders have an instrument for setting norms of discourse without violating free speech. It is called “selective denunciation,” and it was used effectively by UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block when Milo Yiannopoulos came to speak on campus last February.
Yiannopoulos’ views were denounced explicitly on moral grounds, and the cultural contributions of Latinos to our city and country were highlighted proudly. Block should use the same instrument against the anti-Israel conference about to convene at UCLA and tell the campus community how central Zionism is to the collective identity of many Bruins and how inspirational it is to us.
Most importantly, he should tell Zionist students that they are welcome on this campus.
An environment in which most students learn about Israel from the megaphones of anti-Zionist speakers cannot sustain a climate of respectful discourse.
Judea Pearl, Encino
The writer is a professor of computer science and director of the Cognitive Systems Laboratory at UCLA.
To the editor: As an Israeli citizen whose family played a role in founding Israel, I applaud Block for refusing to cancel the upcoming Students for Justice in Palestine conference. However, his defense of a modern state that regularly commits human rights violations while demonizing the call for equal rights by Palestinians is problematic.
Boycotts are a time-honored tactic many progressive movements use to effect change. Our movement is no exception, with situations as dire as hundreds of Palestinian children in Israeli military prisons who were tried in a military court with a 99% conviction rate.
While at UCLA, I and other SJP members had the chance to meet with school administrators, and I appreciated their willingness to express how this issue impacts their work. I understand the position in which they find themselves and thank Block for his decision.
I hope the chancellor understands that SJP will continue fighting bigotry and injustice in all its forms, regardless of how misinformed he and other administrators are regarding the nonviolent Palestinian resistance to Israel’s violent crimes.
Eitan Peled, Brooklyn, N.Y.
To the editor: Block is someone for whom I have great respect. But I strongly disagree with his handling of the national SJP conference at UCLA.
Block notes that the Los Angeles City Council is among the groups expressing concern about anti-Semitic statements by SJP members around the country, especially after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. Of course we’re concerned.
This is not a simple issue of free speech. The Jewish community in Los Angeles is looking at how to increase security at Jewish institutions. At such a time, bringing a group of unidentified people who support a virulently anti-Zionist organization is deeply concerning to those fearful about the safety of the Jewish community in Los Angeles.
The chancellor espouses the values of inclusion and the need for mutual respect. However, this conference is a closed one, meaning only those who have been “verified and vouched for” can attend. A public university should not allow any group to implement a litmus test for event participation on its campus based on an attendee’s beliefs, religion, or national origin.
The perception of institutional endorsement by UCLA was exacerbated when the university backed down on SJP’s use of what seemed like a UCLA Bruin bear holding a terrorist attack kite on the group’s event flier. It did not look exactly like the Bruin bear, but the message was clear.
The timing of this conference is both potentially dangerous and sends a terrible message. At least postponing it until a more appropriate time seems eminently reasonable.
Paul Koretz, Los Angeles
The writer is a member of the Los Angeles City Council.
To the editor: Block missed the mark when describing SJP, the group under attack for organizing a national conference at UCLA.
Block grudgingly agreed to tolerate us to preserve the marketplace of ideas, even though our message challenges all forms of bigotry, including anti-Semitism, and promotes justice and equality for all, no exceptions. The people attending the conference are social justice-minded students challenging U.S. support for Israeli apartheid.
Students supporting Israel may feel uncomfortable when Israel’s policies are challenged, but should that trump the Palestinians’ right to life, clean water, electricity and an education? SJP is already attacked and misrepresented, so instead of denouncing us in the L.A. Times, Block should try to better understand what our work is all about: building a world in which all people are free.
Ayesha Khan, Houston
The writer is a steering committee member of National Students for Justice in Palestine and a 2015 graduate of UCLA.
To the editor: As a resident of Westwood, a 1st Amendment lawyer, an American citizen and a Jew, I applaud UCLA’s decision not to cancel the upcoming Students for Justice in Palestine conference. Block’s heartfelt explanation in The Times clearly articulates why the principles of free speech and academic freedom compel this decision.
College students do not need to be sheltered from ideas they may find offensive; they need to equip themselves to confront such ideas and address them with counterarguments.
Justice Louis Brandeis, the first Jew on the Supreme Court, advocated that the answer to the expression of hateful and objectionable ideas was more speech, not less.
Stephen F. Rohde, Westwood