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August 9, 2021 4:49 pm
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USC Faculty Group Decries ‘Cruelly Alienating’ Statement on Israel Endorsed by Department

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

The University of Southern California campus. Photo: Padsquad19 via Wikimedia Commons.

On Sunday, 53 University of Southern California (USC) faculty issued an open letter objecting to a “cruelly alienating” statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shared by the schools’ Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies.

The statement — “Gender Studies Departments In Solidarity With Palestinian Feminist Collective” — was signed by the USC Gender Studies department, along with over 120 other faculties from around the world, following the May conflict between Israel and Hamas. It accused Israel of apartheid and ethnic cleansing, and called for “the end of Israel’s military occupation of Palestine.”

Sunday’s faculty letter called it “inflammatory and misleading,” alleging “numerous distortions of vital factual information concerning the historical and contemporary reality in Israel/Palestine.”

“Although, as a group, we hold wide and diverse perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and related issues, we all believe that the errors and polemic tone of this Statement are cruelly alienating to many students, staff, and faculty, who are members of the USC community,” the letter said. “It is also particularly troubling that the Statement was endorsed by a USC department on behalf of all its constituents.”

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Addressed to USC President Carol Folt, Provost Charles Zukoski, and Chairman Rick Caruso, the letter also said that as a departmental declaration of political support, the Gender Studies Department’s endorsement was “unethical” — arguing that it appeared to speak on behalf of students, faculty and staff at the department, even those who might disagree with its content.

“Most concerning, this signing implies endorsement by USC itself,” it said. “We call on USC leadership to publicly rebuke the practice of USC departments (or units) making statements for specific political agendas that have nothing to do with the University’s educational and research missions.”

The signatories also noted the case of Rose Ritch, an undergraduate who resigned in 2020 as USC student government vice president due to what she cited as harassment over her pro-Israel views.

They said they had hoped the incident would inspire “educational activities that aim to combat zionophobia and antisemitism, as well as other forms of hate and discrimination” — but that they are “”still waiting for concrete actions from the administration.”

USC’s Office of the President did not immediately respond to an Algemeiner request for comment.

In recent weeks, faculty at UCLA and UC Davis have also raised concerns over statements critical of Israel that had been promoted by entire departments, not simply by those who voluntarily signed on to their content.

Speaking to The Algemeiner on Monday, Miriam Elman, Executive Director of the Academic Engagement Network, said that USC should draw a clear line before such pronouncements.

“This is a statement on a university channel and department website. It can be inferred by many that the university supports this statement because it’s on an official channel,” Elman argued. “The university has to make it clear, which other universities have done, that the statement goes against its values and mission of creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for all.”

“These faculty are standing up for Jewish students on the campus,” she said. “It’s important that the students, alumni, and parents, and Jewish community outside of USC know that.”

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