he University of California San Diego (UCSD) is the latest campus where false charges have been leveled at Israel defenders in order to advance the genocidal campaign against the Jewish State. A UCSD pro-Muslim student association, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), orchestrated what could be a potentially libelous campaign of false charges against a campus-wide elected member of the student government, Ashton Shahyad Cohen, and pro-Israeli professor, Shlomo Dubnov. What animated the campaign? Despite SJP attempts to obfuscate the issue, both men were targeted because they voted against an SJP-sponsored resolution demanding that UCSD divest itself of holdings in companies that do business with Israel. The resolution was brought before the UCSD Student Council on February 29, 2012. After seven hours of debate, it was defeated 20-13. Shortly after, both men came under attack.
First, professor Dubnov. During the meeting Dubnov, like many others, expressed his opinion against what has become the increasingly familiar issue of divestment. In this particular case, the SJP was attempting to get UCSD to sell its stock holdings in shares of GE and Northrop Grumman, because those corporations manufacture materials used by the Israeli Defense Forces. Two days after the resolution failed, Amal Dalmar, co-chair of the Student Affirmative Action Committee (SAAC), sent an email signed by six other students to the UCSD administration, claiming that as “students of color,” they were “verbally physically and emotionally attacked” during the debate. After saying they were “not going to allow such behavior to continue,” the group demanded the university release $7000 to them so they could bring a pro-divestment speaker to campus.
They then focused their wrath on the professor, whom they accused of racist rhetoric and verbally attacking pro-divestment student Noor El Annan. “University professor Shlomo Dubnov of the Music department followed a student outside of the 4th floor forum to verbally attack her and tell her that her narrative about surviving bombings in Lebanon was ‘cheap and ridiculous,'” the email read. “They ended their diatribe by calling her a disgrace.”
The UCSD Office of Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination (OPHD) initiated an investigation. Fortunately for Dubnov, the debate was recorded on videotape, which can be seen here. It reveals that the accusations were a complete fabrication. The video shows that after Noor El Annan gave her speech — and left the premises — professor Dubnov remained behind for almost eight minutes, part of which included a conversation with Eyal Raz, a Medicine Department professor, at the back of the room. Furthermore, Raz signed a declaration stating that he and Dubnov continued their conversation for several more minutes outside the room and exited the building together. At no time, Raz added, did he see Dubnov harass a student.
When the OPHD investigation was completed, professor Dubnov was fully exonerated.
On to Cohen. Mr. Cohen, a Persian Jew, became the focus of an attack orchestrated in part by the same student activists, Amal Dalmar and Noor El Annan, who targeted professor Dubnov. Cohen’s “crime”? Dressing up in a traditional Arab costume–for a costume party. Cohen, whose own family includes Muslim members, reportedly bought the outfit in Dubai and wore it there when it was hot. At the costume party, Cohen was photographed (seen here) posing with three women, two of whom are Muslim. One of the Muslim women posted the photo on Facebook with the caption “three wives?” The photo was sent to El-Annan, who posted it on her own Facebook profile, claiming she was “offended and disgusted” by the photo because “something that my grandparents would have worn was funny to him.” Cohen denied the accusation, contending that it was nothing more than “an intimidation tactic because of my vote against divestment.”
Had it ended there it, might have remained a relatively insignificant story. Unfortunately for Cohen, El Annan’s baseless accusation was highlighted in a front-page column in The Guardian, a campus newspaper. The article referred to him as both “racist” and “Islamophobic.” Both El Annan and Dalmar piled on. El Annan reiterated her “disgust,” while Dalmar compared the photo to the Compton Cookout, a racially charged incident targeting blacks that initiated an investigation of UCSD by the federal government. Dalmar inadvertently revealed a certain level of hypocrisy. “If we as a student body do not react to events like this, anybody’s culture can be mocked and ridiculed,” she offered.
Why is that statement hypocritical? On April 18, 2012, SJP members dressed up as Israeli soldiers and conducted a mock “Israeli Check Point” in the middle of the UCSD of campus. It was done to “mock and ridicule” the kind of check points used by Israel in the West Bank to prevent terrorist attacks against civilians. Ironically, this demonstration occurred only four days after UCSD reached an agreement with the federal departments of Justice and Education in the aforementioned Compton Cookout investigation, after which the university promised to maintain an Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination that would receive, investigate and resolve such complaints.
As for The Guardian, it not only scrubbed the offending article from its website, it issued a retraction. In that retraction, we get to the gist of the controversy. “Cohen, who is Jewish, voted against the resolution to divest from companies involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; this undoubtedly plays into this issue, as he says that several people have linked the photo to his background and divestment.” The paper also gave Cohen the opportunity to write an editorial rebuttal.
He minced no words in explaining the motivation behind the original article. “This is clearly a politically motivated attack since I voted against divesting from Israel. Many Council Members accusing me of being racist and demanding for me to be ‘held accountable,’ referenced my vote against divestment. Their libelous accusations are meant to silence my voice. I will not be bullied into silence.”
Tellingly, despite both this retraction and the above video evidence demonstrating that accusations against both men were nothing more than trumped up charges, none of the students involved in either incident have been held responsible in any way for their actions. Furthermore, in an ugly display of bias, a letter condemning the actions of “a faculty member” who “verbally harassed a student outside of the 4th floor Forum” remains posted on a website sponsored by the San Diego Faculty Association (SDFA), despite Mr. Dubnov’s exoneration. It is signed by Ivan Evans, President; Luis Martin-Cabrera, Vice-President; Adam Burgasser, Jody Blanco, Yen Le Espiritu, Tara Knight, Jin-Kyung Lee and Rosaura Sanchez.
Furthermore, an email received by Front Page signed by Evans and dated March 10, 2012 reveals that the SDFA “st[ood] behind its statement,” which was released prior to any investigation by the administration. In other words, Evans, and the other SDFA members who signed the letter, were more than willing to accept the now-discredited version of the fairy tale spun by the SJP before the facts were known.
Despite his ordeal, Ashton Shahyad Cohen remains optimistic. The senior, who is headed to law school after graduation, closed his rebuttal editorial with the idea that students and faculty at UCSD, “must all maintain a firm commitment to engage in respectful dialogue and put our cultural differences aside.” That’s a wonderful sentiment. Unfortunately, as long as false accusations made by students and supported by faculty members remain beyond reprisal, respectful dialogue and the commitment to put cultural — or more accurately, ideological — differences aside is likely to remain a pipe dream. As for professor Dubnov, the effort by SJP students to smear his name, as well as the continuing effort by SDFA professors to keep that smear alive, is shameful.
UCSD may have an Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination. But until they address the issues outlined here, it remains one in name only.