What follows is a call for letters, and my own letter regarding this situation.
The Letter from Students for Change:
San Jose State University is censoring the tunnel of oppression and students
for change needs your help! We were selected, by application, to construct
a room themed Occupation Palestine at this year’s tunnel of oppression
After complaints from Zionists on campus, we have been told that unless we
compromise our room we cannot participate. We are not being allowed to
present the Israeli occupation from a Palestinian perspective unless we
present how Israel suffers as well. Our argument is that this room focuses
on the oppression that is occurring within the occupied territories but the
university maintains that this is going to make Israeli/Jewish students feel
persecuted. I further argue that, when dealing with oppression, you are
always going to have someone who says there is “another side” and if this
were to stop this room, it should then stop the entire event. I am asking
that you contact the university and tell them you support the room
Occupation Palestine AS IT IS and that any attempt to prevent this room from
proceeding as planned should be deemed CENSORSHIP. Please contact Debra
Griffith, the director of Student Conduct & Ethical development at
and please share your thoughts/suggestions with Sarah Morris as well, at
Dear Ms. Griffith,
I am a Jewish human rights activist, writing to you regarding the controversy surrounding the upcoming “Tunnel of Oppression” program and am writing in support of Students for Change’s effort to bring into public dialogue the experience of the Palestinian people. In identifying myself as Jewish, I do so with the intent of presenting myself as a small representation of the vast diversity of thought within the Jewish community on this subject; a diversity obscured and denied by those groups, who, while claiming to protect and defend my interests would limit such discourse.
How you choose to respond to local pressure groups cuts to the very core of academic freedom and the free discourse that is essential to every college campus and the learning process. It is a debate that is playing itself out on campuses and other public venues throughout this country and is essentially a battle of the control of narrative. Zionist groups have, for many years controlled that narrative, limiting debate, attacking individuals and groups who dare to contradict the official line of the Israeli government. Many of these groups claim to represent all Jews or insist that any critique of Israeli policy is anti-Semitic. They insist that those critics provide “balance” in their programs, while providing little or no balance in their own representations of the issues. In this case, I understand that Students for Change is being told to modify its content to reflect the “Israeli perspective” (as if there were one monolithic Israeli position) because otherwise Jewish students will “feel persecuted.” When the Jewish Student Union at your campus recently hosted the Israeli Consul, was there any attempt at balance in that program? Are there not Arab and Palestinian students on your campus who might likewise “feel persecuted” by such an event?
The attempt by Zionist groups to impose some arbitrary concept of “balance” serves as its own form of persecution. The organizations claiming to represent all Jews, in truth, represent only those Jews who fund their efforts. The rest of us go unrepresented. Furthermore, as we attempt to infuse our own narrative into the debate, a narrative of solidarity with Palestinians, recognizing Palestinian human rights, and social justice and human rights as universal, we find ourselves often persecuted by those very Zionist groups that claim to be opposed to our persecution. I have found myself silenced, as a Jew, by these very groups. They have wrapped themselves in the language of human rights, while promoting an agenda that would negate the humanity of an entire people and a voice to anyone (Jewish or otherwise) who would speak in support of that humanity.
The correct response is not to limit debate, nor to insist that any individual or group be forced to present a position that is not their own, nor to dictate the scope of the debate or the content of a presentation; nor is it appropriate to bow to the influence of any one interest group over another, but rather to allow for the broadest dialogue, so that all individuals are free to express, explore and present their own scholarly, creative and moral perspectives within the context of the larger academic community.
To force Students for Change to present an opposing perspective would set a dangerous precedent. Dictating the content or the scope of their presentation is the antithesis of academic freedom and free speech. What’s next: Requiring that women’s studies programs present anti-gay or anti-abortion positions? (or right wing Christian groups having to present pro-gay, pro-choice positions?) or forcing biology classes to present creationist theories (so that fundamentalist Christians not “feel persecuted”) or, insisting that Judaic studies classes and Holocaust Remembrance programs entertain the positions of those that would deny that history?
Balance in academia is not achieved by forcing individual academics to provide some distorted and imposed ideal of balance, but rather by fostering an environment that is tolerant of a diversity of opinions, narratives and perspectives.
I urge you, please impose no restrictions on this upcoming program, and avoid that slippery slope that, if applied universally could impact every course outline, student paper and presentation on your campus.
Los Angeles, CA