SPME Responds to CSUN Provost and Interim President Harry Hellenbrand

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Chancellor Charles B. Reed
California State University Chancellor’s Office
401 Golden Shore
Long Beach, CA 90802-4210

SUBJECT:  Biased actions and writings of CSUN Provost and Interim President Harry Hellenbrand

Dear Chancellor Reed:

We members of the Board of Directors of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) are outraged that a provost and acting president of a CSU institution, Harold Hellenbrand of CSU Northridge, is exploiting his official position to promote anti-Semitic bias on the CSUN campus and to defame, and condone others’ defamation of, Ms. Tammi Benjamin.

We bring to your attention the following particulars:

  • Since November 2011, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin and Leila Beckwith have complained to CSUN administration about anti-Semitic content on a CSUN web page operated by Mathematics professor David Klein, at http://www.csun.edu/~vcmth00m/boycott.html.   Ms. Benjamin is Lecturer in Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the University of California Santa Cruz, and Dr Beckwith is Professor Emeritus in Pediatrics at UCLA.  They are co-founders of the Amcha Initiative, which fights anti-Semitism on California campuses.  Both are also members of the SPME Board.
  • Much of the text on the web page (e.g., “Israel is the most racist country in the world”)  meets the U.S. Department of State’s “Working Definition of Anti-Semitism,” found at http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/fs/2010/122352.htm;  As Ms. Benjamin and Dr. Beckwith state in their letter of November 22:  “The pictures of mutilated dead babies that appear on this page, with the clear implication that the babies have been brutally murdered by Israeli soldiers, are perfect examples of the classic anti-Semitic ‘blood libel’ …an accusation that has been used throughout Jewish history for the purpose of inciting hatred and violence against Jews.”
  • In its Policies and Procedures for CSUN Internet Sites, CSUN “reserves the right to remove “defamatory, offensive, infringing, or illegal materials”—see http://www-admn.csun.edu/vp/policies/900_oversight/900-12.pdf). 
  • Professor Klein’s CSUN-hosted website contains an article likening Ms. Benjamin to “the court academics who prostituted themselves in 1933 when the Nazis came to power. They advanced all sorts of rationalisations and justifications for the Nazi regime.”  The insinuation that Ms. Benjamin would prostitute herself to Nazis is vulgar, defamatory, and offensive.  It clearly calls for removal from the CSUN website.
  • The article also refers to Ms. Benjamin as a “police state academic” (absurdly comparing her to Hubert Humphrey).  In addition to applying the Jew-is-Nazi slur to Ms. Benjamin, the article refers to Israelis as “Judeo Nazis.”  The “Working Definition of Anti-Semitism” (see above) includes comparing or identifying Jews, Israelis, or their supporters with Nazis.
  •  Spokespersons for the CSUN have claimed that academic freedom requires the university to allow professors to publish extreme content.  However, in a letter to CSUN and CSU administration of December 12, 2011, Ms. Benjamin and Dr. Beckwith point out that then-CSUN Provost Harold Hellenbrand had previously condemned other postings as offensive.  According to their letter, in April 2010, CSUN received complaints about an economics professor who was allegedly using a non-university website to promote sexual tourism in Thailand. The university then received emails and a petition for the professor’s firing if he did not remove the site.  The CSUN president’s office announced that it would not intervene or discipline the professor “as long as his extracurricular activities did not involve public resources such as university equipment, and neither CSUN nor the professor was named on the site.” In effect, the statement reserved the university’s right to regulate offensive speech.  Then-CSUN Provost Harold Hellenbrand published a statement denouncing the professor’s off-campus, non-academic speech, stating that the website had a “deleterious effect” on the university’s reputation. He also distributed a statement asserting that “Our commitment to gender equity compels us to see the site as offensive.”  In short, although condemning one professor’s private actions, he now refuses to condemn another professor’s use of the CSUN’s own server and good name to post anti-Semitic material and to promote an anti-Semitic political campaign.  In Benjamin and Beckwith’s words, Hellenbrand’s behavior reveals “an egregious double standard when it comes to anti-Jewish bigotry.”
  • Provost Hellenbrand’s field is English and American literature and education; Professor David Klein’s is mathematics.  Neither has an academic background in Middle East affairs. According to Professor Klein, in 2007 they campaigned to have CSUN hire Norman Finkelstein, a political scientist who had just been denied tenure at DePaul University and previously been dismissed from three other institutions. Finkelstein is well known for his use of the

    Jew-is-Nazi slur and for demonizing Israel.  He has asserted that some 2000 books about the Holocaust were written at the instigation of the “Jewish leadership” to excuse the oppression of Palestinians. Finkelstein also ridicules those who memorialize the Holocaust, including Elie Weisel, and organizations such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center, claiming (in the grand anti-Semitic tradition) that they do it for financial gain; he has authored a book titled The Holocaust Industry. (See the following at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/jun/14/finkelsteinthecaseagainst )

  • According to Professor Klein, Provost Hellenbrand invited Finkelstein to give a series of lectures at CSUN over a five-day visit, in order to “kindle greater interest among faculty and lead to an appointment.” Thereafter, Klein and Hellenbrand lobbied department heads and elicited support from external (virulently anti-Israel) scholars to promote Finkelstein’s appointment.  The Political Science Department ultimately declined to hire Finkelstein. 
  •  Last year, then-Provost Hellenbrand was the only high administrative official in the CSU system to sign a petition denouncing your decision to restart a CSU study abroad program in Israel. The petition included a collection of slanderous accusations against Israel, including some by Richard Falk, a 9/11 conspiracy theorist and “Special  Rapporteur on human rights on Palestinian territories occupied since 1967” for the UN Commission on Human Rights.   The Middle East despots who dominate the Commission include representatives of Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and other countries well known for their human rights abuses and the oppression of their populations.  In aligning themselves with the UN Commission, the CSU signatories joined the ranks of those who scapegoat Jews and violate human rights.
  • In February 2012, after being appointed Interim President, Hellenbrand used his position as supervisor of the Office of Academic Affairs to authorize university funds for a lecture on campus by Ilan Pappe, proposed by Professor David Klein.  As the Amcha Initiative has written to you, “Pappe has publicly called for the elimination of the Jewish state, promotes the campaign to boycott Israeli academics, and openly supports the terrorist organization, Hamas.”  Hamas’s official charter advocates the extermination of the Jews.  Pappe is well known for spreading the malicious allegations that Israelis commit genocide and ethnic cleansing and behave like Nazis.  By providing university financial support for Pappe’s visit, Interim President Hellenbrand in effect abused his office to promote an anti-Semitic crusade.
  •  Then in April 2012, Acting-President Hellenbrand posted a letter as an official university document on his web site as Provost (http://www.csun.edu/academic.affairs/ ). Entitled “J’Accuse: The New Anti-Anti-Semitism,” it alludes to an 1898 letter by French author Emile Zola, condemning French authorities for the false imprisonment of Alfred Dreyfus, an act of anti-Semitic  scapegoating.  Interim President Hellenbrand’s letter insinuates that he himself, or Klein (it is hard to tell which), has been, as a result of the Amcha Initiative’s complaints, undergoing an experience similar to that of Dreyfus, who was condemned to solitary confinement on Devil’s Island.
  • The letter tendentiously soft-pedals Klein’s views, characterizing them as mere disagreement with Israel policy, or opposition to settlements on the West Bank, or ordinary dissent.  It ignores Klein’s pervasive use of the Jew-is-Nazi trope. 
  •  Hellenbrand writes: “Many of Klein’s critics implicitly fuse the elected policy of  the Israeli government with God’s covenant with the Jews as a spiritual people and/or ethnic tribe.  This consolidation empowers them to denounce, with the s fury of Jeremiah, dissent to policy as if it were apostasy.  The apostate is censured, not stoned.” He seems to be alleging that critics of Klein’s site are motivated by a belief in Jewish tribal supremacy.  That allegation is another anti-Semitic cliche.  He also implies, falsely, that Jews condone stoning and punish apostates.
  •  Hellenbrand claims that Klein’s critics’ reasoning “falls short,” while “Klein extracts vignettes from the public record that, placed side by side, become an unbroken epic of apartheid.”   By “vignettes from the public record,” he means claims drawn from anti-Israel web sites.  He seems unaware that Israel has by far the best record in the Middle East for political freedom, religious freedom, democracy, and equitable application of the laws.  In short, the Acting President of CSUN has lent his support to vicious and unsubstantiated charges and seems not to understand that scholarly argument requires evidence.
  •  Hellenbrand also claims that the Amcha Initiative, “fantasizes its inception as a Golden State recapitulation of the in-gathering of the Jews under the Word.”   He seems to be implying that Ms. Benjamin and Dr. Beckwith and their fellow members have some sort of messianic purpose.  He also claims that Amcha would “violate the separation of church and state, sacrificing secular debate—the marketplace of ideas—to self-appointed sectarian panels, who pronounce upon political correctness according to conformity with the covenant.”  He cites no evidence whatsoever for these assertions.
  •  Hellenbrand reports that “the courts have signaled to public universities that they have a special responsibility to harbor even extreme speech.”  If so, then federal Title VI restrictions should be abolished, and racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and other bigoted speech should be unhampered on campuses.  The lesson to students is that offensive speech is prohibited on campus unless it is against Jews, in which case even academic administrators are free to join in disseminating the hatred.

Klein’s and Hellenbrand’s lecture sponsorships and postings on the CSUN server have made CSUN an exemplar of the degradation of scholarship and the abandonment of academic integrity, the abuses SPME was established to oppose. 

On behalf of SPME, we urge you to act immediately to ensure that Hellenbrand, whether as Provost or as Acting President, is removed from decision-making relating to Jews, academic relations with Israel, or Middle East affairs, subjects on which he is demonstrably incapable of exercising impartial, or even rational, judgment.  We trust that you, and incoming CSUN President Dianne Harrison, will also deliberate on whether Professor Hellenbrand has the temperament, judgment, or ability to act responsibly as a university Provost.

We also urge removal of the offensive material we reviewed above, which was the subject of Ms Benjamin’s and Dr Beckwith’s earlier correspondence.

And finally, we request that you post on your Chancellor’s website and circulate widely among all CSU faculty and administrators a statement articulating the state and federal laws and University policies prohibiting the use of University resources for partisan or political purposes, and insist on the proper enforcement of these laws and policies by all CSU employees.

Sincerely yours, 

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East Board of Directors

Richard Cravatts, Ph.D.
Simmons College, USA 
Judith S. Jacobson, Dr.P.H. 
Columbia University, USA
Co-Founder and Vice-President for Internal Relations
Stanley Dubinsky, Ph.D.
University of South Carolina, USA
Vice President for External Relations
Ruth Lichtenberg-Contreras, Ph.D.
Secretary, Austria 
Shlomo Dubnov, Ph.D.
University of California – San Diego, USA
Philip Carl Salzman, Ph.D. 
McGill University, Canada
SPME Conference Coordinator
Jonathan Adelman, Ph.D. 
University of Denver, USA 
Steven Albert, Ph.D., MPH 
University of Pittsburgh, USA 
Leila Beckwith, Ph.D.
University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), USA
John R. Cohn, MD 
Thomas Jefferson University, USA 
Awi Federgruen, DSc 
Columbia University, USA
Joel Fishman, Ph.D.
Jerusalem Institute for Public Affairs, Israel
Rev. India E. Garnett, M.Div 
United Church of Christ, PA, USA
Rabbi Peter Haas, Ph.D. 
Case Western Reserve University, USA 
Richard Landes, Ph.D.
Boston University, USA 
Kenneth L. Marcus, JD
Baruch College of the City University of New York, USA
David Menashri, Ph.D. 
Tel Aviv University, Israel
G.S. Don Morris Ph.D. 
Wingate Institute – IL, California Polytechnic Institute-Pomona, USA 
Donna Robinson Divine, Ph.D. 
Smith College, USA 
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin
University of California at Santa Cruz, USA
Barry Rubin, Ph.D.
Interdisciplinary Center and GLORIA Center, Israel
Ralf Schumann, MD
Charité Berlin, Germany 
Ernest Sternberg, Ph.D. 
University at Buffalo, State University of New York, USA

SPME Responds to CSUN Provost and Interim President Harry Hellenbrand

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Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) is not-for-profit [501 (C) (3)], grass-roots community of scholars who have united to promote honest, fact-based, and civil discourse, especially in regard to Middle East issues. We believe that ethnic, national, and religious hatreds, including anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, have no place in our institutions, disciplines, and communities. We employ academic means to address these issues.

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