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September 2, 2016 4:05 pm

Major Jewish Groups Bitterly Rebuke UCLA Over Departure of Student Leader Due to BDS Harassment

avatar by Lea Speyer

University of California, Los Angeles campus. Photo: UCLA.

University of California, Los Angeles campus. Photo: UCLA.

The heads of major Jewish groups told The Algemeiner on Friday that they were outraged over the handling by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) of the harassment and relentless attacks against a former student leader by anti-Israel activists.

Earlier this week, now former UCLA Graduate Student Association (GSA) President Milan Chatterjee announced that he was leaving the university over the “hostile and unsafe campus climate” fostered by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) groups and the UCLA administration.

Kenneth Marcus — president and general counsel of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law who provided legal aid to Chatterjee — told The Algemeiner, “This is a very dark day for the University of California, and a bad day for America.”

He continued: “The Milan Chatterjee affair reflects the insidiousness of the anti-Israel movement’s new strategy, which is to suppress pro-Israel advocacy and intimidate not only Jewish pro-Israel students but also anyone who even remains neutral. Good, conscientious students will be driven away from student government and replaced by extremists of the sort who victimized Mr. Chatterjee.”

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Aron Hier, director of Campus Outreach for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, criticized UCLA for what he described as its “implacable and unethical approach” to the situation. “It is one thing to have the BDS movement tar and smear you,” Hier said, “But once the university chose to side against Chatterjee, it becomes too much to ask of any student to bear this responsibility. UCLA has doubled down on its wrongdoing and continues to dig the pit even deeper.” 

Hier, whose organization acted as a mediator at times between Chatterjee and UC administration, also told The Algemeiner that when raising the issue of campus antisemitism and anti-Zionism in general with UCLA, he was told by the university, “Let this be a teaching moment.”

“I ask the public at large: would any other minority group accept this answer from a university? This ethos is everything that is wrong with how the UCLA administration tackles campus antisemitism,” Hier said.

On Friday, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) issued a statement calling on the US Department of Education (DOE) to “conduct a thorough investigation” of UCLA’s conduct regarding Chatterjee.

AJC General Counsel Marc D. Stern wrote in a letter to the DOE that the leaking of a confidential university report on Chatterjee and UCLA’s subsequent actions constituted “a blatant violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).” Should UCLA be found to have violated FERPA, the university could lose federal funding.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) — and a former instructor at UCLA’s business school — said in a statement that regardless of one’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “no student should have to endure the kind of bullying and vitriol [Chatterjee] describes.”

“If the allegations are true,” he said, “it is troubling that anti-Israel student activists are creating an environment where students do not feel safe.”

As reported by The Algemeiner on Thursday, Chatterjee — a third-year law student — said he had “no choice” but to leave UCLA due to the harassment he suffered at the hands of BDS groups and activists.

“It is very scary how BDS activists will go to any measure to destroy people’s reputations and careers,” Chatterjee told The Algemeiner in an interview. “UCLA should be ashamed of themselves for refusing to take action, and rather joining in the harassment I endured by BDS groups. I am not the first student nor will I be the last.”

Chatterjee — who is Indian-American and a Hindu — became the focus of a four-month investigation by the UCLA Discrimination Prevention Office (DPO) for distributing GSA funds for a November 2015 diversity event based on a stipulation that the event not officially associate itself with the BDS movement and the school’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter.

Over the course of the investigation, BDS groups began a “deadly, malicious campaign against me,” Chatterjee told The Algemeiner. “They wrote defamatory articles in the media, circulated petitions and tried to remove me as GSA president three times. A lot of venom was spread around campus against me.”

The DPO investigation concluded that Chatterjee — who said he was maintaining the GSA’s unanimous “zero engagement/endorsement policy” towards supporting any BDS-related organizations — “violated University policy requiring viewpoint neutrality,” and accused him of concocting the “zero engagement” policy.

The result of the investigation, Chatterjee told The Algemeiner, was the “straw that broke the camel’s back, adding that “the report is a clear cover-up by the UCLA administration for its own mishandling of the situation.”

“I am absolutely grateful for the support from groups like the AJC, the Louis D. Brandeis Center, the Israeli-American Council and the Simon Wiesenthal Center,” he said. Since news broke of his exit from UCLA, Chatterjee said he has received a “stream of messages from people around the world expressing their solidarity.”

Chatterjee will complete his final year of law school at New York University. UCLA has yet to respond to The Algemeiner‘s request for comment on his departure. 

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