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April 30, 2019 8:16 pm

80 Groups Applaud UMass for Initial Steps Over Anti-Israel ‘Political Rally,’ but Urge Immediate Action

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A student tour at UMass Amherst. Photo: UMass website.

A group of 80 organizations that called on the University of Massachusetts in Amherst to refrain from sponsoring a political event featuring supporters of Israel boycotts has applauded the school’s chancellor on Tuesday for his initial response, but urged him to take further, immediate action.

The coalition first raised objections last week in a letter to UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, denouncing the sponsorship by three university departments of the May 4th event, “Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech, & the Battle for Palestinian Rights.”

The panel discussion — which will feature supporters of the controversial boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel — is being organized by a foundation led by Sut Jhally, a UMass professor and chair of the school’s Department of Communication.

Speakers will include former Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters, Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, and Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill. The three are “outspoken anti-Israel activists who have engaged in antisemitic expressions including charges that Jewish Americans are more loyal to Israel than America, calls for the elimination of the Jewish state, comparisons of Israelis to Nazis, and other false and defamatory accusations,” the groups charged in their first letter.

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They urged the chancellor to rescind university sponsorship of the event and commit to not allow such a “political rally” in the future.

Subbaswamy, the groups said, has since told the academic sponsors that they have a “special obligation” to present opposing views at the event, to prevent it from becoming an “echo chamber” that “simply affirms preconceived notions.”

The coalition on Tuesday said it was “pleased to learn” of the chancellor’s statement, but reiterated their demands after noting that the three academic departments remain listed as sponsors.

“Renting space to a private group for a political event is one thing; official departmental sponsorship of such an event is something altogether different,” they wrote. “It is reprehensible that faculty are attempting to brazenly exploit their academic positions and the reputation of the University of Massachusetts to promote their own politics.

“And in ‘today’s hyperpolarized environment,’ where hatred can easily erupt into violence — as we tragically saw in San Diego this past weekend — the academic legitimization of this event provided by the named sponsorship of three UMass academic units is a fundamental breach of the public trust in your university to both carry out its academic mission and to protect the safety and well-being of your students,” they added.

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