An open letter to Cornel West

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Judea Pearl is Chancellor’s Professor of Computer Science and Statistics at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation.

Dear Professor West,

This is a humble request sent to you from a rank-and-file Jewish professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, where you are scheduled to deliver a keynote address in honor of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, titled “Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity.” My request may sound odd, perhaps even audacious, but it needs to be said as we are preparing to commemorate the life and legacy of Rabbi Heschel, his moral grandeur and his spiritual audacity.

I will be as blunt and straightforward as possible: You should excuse yourself from delivering this lecture. My reasons are also blunt and straightforward: No matter how eloquent your speech and how crafty your words, the audience you will face at UCLA will not be able to take them too seriously in light of your recent decision to become a leading propagandist for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. You have to forgive us for being pedantic in these matters, and perhaps not as flexible and nuanced as one might hope, but our history has taught us the importance of devising crisp and visible litmus tests to distinguish friends from foes. It so happened, and you know it as well as we do, that the term BDS has become our most reliable litmus test. In other words, we have come to equate promoters of BDS ideology with those who seek the destruction of Israel, hence the demise of the Jewish people.

Thus, as much as we might try to separate the words you would be saying in honor of Rabbi Heschel from those you uttered in a Feb. 25 interview with David Palumbo-Liu at Stanford (published in Salon), in which you took great pride in promoting cultural and academic boycotts of Israel, our minds will resist the separation. Our minds will be warning us, again and again, that the person speaking before us wants our destruction.

The human mind is a funny machine, Professor West, unlike for politicians and entertainers, our mind seeks consistency and coherence in everything that we see and hear. This stubborn mind will therefore not allow us to forget that in your Aug. 12, 2014, interview with Sean Hannity, you could not find even one historical link between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. None! Nada! Blank! Not one word of empathy for a multiethnic society of immigrants who’ve fought 67 years of besiegement and hostility. None! Nada!Blank! Thus, Professor West, you will have to forgive those stubborn minds if they remind your audience that the keynote speaker at the Heschel memorial conference does not represent the ecumenical legacy of Rabbi Heschel (1907-72), but the moral deformity of BDS.

An open letter to Cornel West

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AUTHOR

Judea Pearl

Judea Pearl was born in Tel Aviv and is a graduate of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. He came to the United States for postgraduate work in 1960, and the following year he received a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Newark College of Engineering, now New Jersey Institute of Technology. In 1965, he simultaneously received a master’s degree in physics from Rutgers University and a PhD from the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, now Polytechnic Institute of New York University. Until 1969, he held research positions at RCA David Sarnoff Research Laboratories in Princeton, New Jersey and Electronic Memories, Inc. Hawthorne, California.

Pearl joined the faculty of UCLA in 1969, where he is currently a professor of computer science and statistics and director of the Cognitive Systems Laboratory. He is known internationally for his contributions to artificial intelligence, human reasoning, and philosophy of science. He is the author of more than 350 scientific papers and three landmark books in his fields of interest: Heuristics (1984), Probabilistic Reasoning (1988), and Causality (2000; 2009).

A member of the National Academy of Engineering and a founding Fellow of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence, Pearl is the recipient of numerous scientific prizes, including three awarded in 2011: the Association for Computing Machinery A.M. Turing Award for his fundamental contributions to artificial intelligence through the development of a calculus for probabilistic and causal reasoning; the David E. Rumelhart Prize for Contributions to the Theoretical Foundations of Human Cognition, and the Harvey Prize in Science and Technology from Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. Other honors include the 2001 London School of Economics Lakatos Award in Philosophy of Science for the best book in the philosophy of science, the 2003 ACM Allen Newell Award for “seminal contributions that extend to philosophy, psychology, medicine, statistics, econometrics, epidemiology and social science”, and the 2008 Benjamin Franklin Medal for Computer and Cognitive Science from the Franklin Institute.

Pearl is the father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, which he co-founded with his family in February 2002 “to continue Daniel’s life-work of dialogue and understanding and to address the root causes of his tragedy.” The Daniel Pearl Foundation sponsors journalism fellowships aimed at promoting honest reporting and East-West understanding, organizes worldwide concerts that promote inter-cultural respect, and sponsors public dialogues between Jews and Muslims to explore common ground and air grievances. The Foundation received Search for Common Ground’s Award For Promoting Cross-Cultural Understanding in 2002 and the 2003 Roger E. Joseph Prize for its “distinctive contribution to humanity.”

Judea Pearl and his wife Ruth Pearl are co-editors of the book “I am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl,” winner of the 2004 National Jewish Book Award for Anthologies, which provides a panoramic view of how Jews define themselves in the post 9/11 era.

Professors Pearl and Akbar Ahmed (American University), the founders of the Daniel Pearl Dialogue for Muslim-Jewish Understanding, were co-winners in 2006 of the Civic Ventures’ inaugural Purpose Prize, which honors individuals 60 or older who have demonstrated uncommon vision in addressing community and national problems.

Pearl lectures throughout the United States on topics including:

1. I am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl

2. Being Western, American and Jewish in the Post 9/11 Era

3. Creating Dialogue between Muslims and Jews

4. The Ideological War on Terror

5. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The Case for Co-Existence

He has written commentaries about these topics for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The International Herald Tribune, The Daily Star (Beirut), The Saudi Gazette (Jeddah), and the Jerusalem Post. He writes a monthly column for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and is frequently interviewed on major TV and radio stations.


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