In support of academic freedom & antiracist scholarship

Letters & statements

Jewish Voice for Peace to UC Santa Cruz administrators

Oct. 10, 2023
Read the full letter: “In the context of grieving all the lives lost this weekend and in remaining committed to a future where all people live in freedom and safety, we note that, while Israel has declared war on Gaza, its war on Palestinians started over 75 years ago. As we write elsewhere, Israeli apartheid and occupation — and United States complicity in that oppression — are the source of all this violence. We have come to this position through study; we therefore uphold the ICSZ’s right to study Zionism and insist that it is not antisemitic to do so.”

UC Santa Cruz Critical Race & Ethnic Studies Department

Oct. 11, 2023

Read the full letter: “As an educational institution, UCSC must ensure that all of its community members, including those who advocate for Palestinian rights, are able to engage in community dialogue and the production of knowledge without interference. For this reason, we call on UCSC to retract its public statement and, instead, replace it with a statement committing not to discriminate against Palestinians or those who advocate for their equality. A revised statement must guarantee academic freedom to all of our community members at UCSC. Faculty and students who challenge systemic forms of injustice and domination must be assured that their intellectual work is supported and that they can proceed without fear of retribution, censorship, slander, or policing.”

Legal & academic organizations defend the Institute for the Critical Study of Zionism from right-wing attacks

Institute for the Critical Study of Zionism
Sept. 22, 2023

The Institute for the Critical Study of Zionism is organizing the first-ever conference examining the politics and impacts of calls to adopt the “IHRA definition of antisemitism.” Campaigns for the IHRA definition are a relatively new, potent form of cultural politics, and they call for scholarly research. IHRA campaigns take a form closely tied to developments in the U.S. political landscape: they emanate from the right, often funded by megadonors seeking to curtail criticism of the Israeli state and Zionist political claims, while also making use of anti-discrimination policies perceived as liberal or progressive and grassroots-driven. Research is particularly needed because IHRA campaigns do not simply call for expressions of sympathy, but materially impact the flow and expression of ideas, resources, rights, and the conditions of life. They determine whether, for instance, Palestinians and progressive Jewish communities can be heard in political discussions and scholarly fora, and whether academic research will be funded or defunded. A significant body of research and reporting on IHRA’s impacts shows it is used primarily to silence, threaten, smear, and deny public resources to researchers in academic fields including American studies, Palestine studies, settler colonial studies, and critical race and ethnic studies, as well as community-based researchers and people who are themselves subjected to state violence.

While communities, academics, and legal advocates have opposed IHRA campaigns’ repressive impacts since 2016, researchers have more recently begun to turn a scholarly lens on IHRA. The October 2023 conference, “Battling the ‘IHRA definition’: Theory & Activism”, is the first to bring together the burgeoning movement to critically examine IHRA campaigns and clarify the cultural and political conditions in which they are situated. This conference, sponsored by academic programs on both U.S. coasts, applies the standard tools of critical study. Scheduled talks at the convening consider topics such as the history of definitions of Zionism, antisemitism, and protection; how IHRA campaigns have employed Cold War concepts to oppose antiracist political movements, and how key ideas in political culture like racial justice and safety are employed and shaped by IHRA campaigns.

The Institute for the Critical Study of Zionism and our conference have been attacked by right-wing organizations who are engaged in IHRA campaigns. They have used the same false charges of antisemitism, exclusion, and “viewpoint discrimination” to try to curtail our academic freedom and deny space and funding to research on IHRA campaigns. Taking a page from white nationalist attacks on education, our attackers have attempted to smear the idea of critical study as “Soviet”; drawing on Islamophobic post-9/11 fears they have called us “terrorist”; and merging these smears with the weaponization of antisemitism, they have defamed our work as “Nazi.” In keeping with the despicable nature of these institutional attacks on our research, scholars and Institute staff have been targeted with individual racist and misogynistic abuse, including pornographic messages, attacks on the Jewish identity of scholars in the Institute, and a smear article targeting an Asian American scholar in the Institute published with a photo of a different Asian woman. The attacks have fallen most heavily on Institute members who are leaders in the field of Ethnic Studies, who were already being targeted and smeared by conservative, anti-critical race theory groups.

Setting an ominous precedent, the two universities where the conference is organized, NYU and UC Santa Cruz, have not defended academic freedom and research against these attacks. Although the universities have not banned the conference, they have acceded to right-wing demands to misuse anti-discrimination policy to chill research on racism and political power. They have made faculty and students – particularly people of color and queer people in academia – even more vulnerable than usual. We note that similar attacks have targeted the upcoming Palestine Writes conference at the University of Pennsylvania, and that Penn has similarly failed to defend that conference, its writers and scholars, and expressions of Palestinian experience. The failure of academic institutions to hold space for this work makes clear that the conference, and the Institute for the Critical Study of Zionism, are crucial supports for academic freedom.

We are incredibly honored that legal advocates, academic organizations, Jewish scholars and educators, and other research communities are standing with us against efforts to stifle critical study and research on the IHRA definition and Zionism. We share these letters of support with admiration for those who, under difficult conditions, insist on making space for these conversations.


Letters supporting ICSZ against right-wing attack:

UAW 2865 Santa Cruz

Solidarity with ICSZ
“We will defend the right of workers on our campus to participate in advocating for Palestinian liberation, and we stand in solidarity with the organizers of ICSZ.”

The Council of UC Faculty Associations

Letter to Chancellor Larive and VC Kletzer about UCSC admin response to ICSZ conference
“We remind you that it is a misappropriation of university resources to use campus legal counsel funds to curtail faculty members’ academic freedom and First Amendment rights. To the contrary, it is campus legal counsel’s responsibility to ensure that the university protects faculty members’ freedom of thought, expression, and speech… Issuing a statement of ‘non-endorsement’ has a chilling effect on the critical study of Zionism at UCSC and on the examination of any subject that administrators deem undesirable.” (9/25/23)

Palestine Legal & the Center for Constitutional Rights

Civil Rights Groups Warn UCSC Attempts to Censor Pro-Palestine Scholarship May Violate Federal Laws (9/20/23)

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Letter to Chancellor Larive and Campus Provost and Vice Chancellor Kletzer of University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC)
Opposing UCSC administrators’ statement maligning and vilifying the Institute for the Critical Study of Zionism’s conference… (9/12/23)


Letters defending antiracist scholarship against the same right-wing organizations

Jewish Studies scholars, Jewish academics, and Jewish educators

Open letter from Jewish Studies scholars, Jewish academics, and Jewish educators on Ethnic Studies (9/13/23)
This letter relates to the weaponization of antisemitism in attacks on Ethnic Studies and critical race theory, including scholars involved in the Institute for the Critical Study of Zionism. It identifies the organizations attacking both ICSZ and Ethnic Studies as right-wing organizations.

University of California Ethnic Studies Council

Letter warning against right-wing efforts to censor Ethnic Studies
This letter describes attacks on Ethnic Studies through vague bans on subject matter and the requirement of loyalty oaths.