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November 5, 2019 4:36 pm

Jewish, Pro-Israel Groups Raise Alarm Over Upcoming Anti-Israel Event at University of Massachusetts

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

An advertisement for the anti-Israel event “Criminalizing Dissent.” Photo: screenshot.

Eighty-four Jewish and pro-Israel groups signed an open letter to Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Kumble Subbaswamy raising alarm over an upcoming anti-Israel event that the letter charges will be a purely political and extremist gathering that should not have UMass sponsorship.

The missive addresses an event called “Criminalizing Dissent: The Attack on BDS & American Democracy.” The organizers say it will “address accelerating efforts by US political leaders, pro-Israel lobbying groups, and college and university administrators to silence, smear, and criminalize supporters of BDS, a nonviolent movement that aims to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing human rights abuses and its illegal 50-year occupation of Palestinian land.”

Among the slated speakers are political activist Linda Sarsour, academic Cornel West and BDS movement leader Omar Barghouti, all known for their vehement anti-Israel views.

The letter notes that a previous such petition was sent to Chancellor Subbaswamy regarding a similar event in May called, “Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech, & the Battle for Palestinian Rights,” to which the upcoming event bills itself as a “follow up.”

The May event featured Sarsour, along with other prominent anti-Israel figures Roger Waters and Marc Lamont Hill.

The letter said that past statements of these activists “draw on classic antisemitic tropes.”

Waters will appear at the “Criminalizing Dissent” event in a video message.

The letter does note some improvements in administrative attitudes toward the issue, with an ad hoc committee formed to assess university sponsorship of such events, and Subbaswamy himself expressing concern about the “one-dimensional, polarizing” nature of the upcoming anti-Israel event.

However, the letter points out, 120 members of the UMass faculty, many of whom are part of the Faculty Senate, condemned Subbaswamy’s statement and endorsed the use of university facilities for political activities — and specifically advocacy for boycotts of Israel.

“We therefore urge you to ask the Faculty Senate, as they are considering the issue of departmentally-sponsored events, to forthrightly address the question of whether UMass faculty and departments should be permitted to use the name and resources of the university to promote an activist political agenda,” the letter says. “Specifically, is this a legitimate use of academic freedom, or an abuse of it?”

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