The UC’s new dilemma: to name or not to name

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Dozens of speakers representing a variety of views testified last week at UCLA before a university committee tasked with crafting a University of California systemwide policy to combat anti-Semitism on campuses.

Many of the speakers favored adoption of the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, which includes the demonizing of Israel and denial of its right to exist. They argued that, because the ultimate goal of anti-Jewish assaults on campus is to intimidate Israel’s supporters into silence, adopting the State Department’s definition would somehow temper the venom of those assaults.

Opponents, mostly from the anti-Israel camp, cited “freedom of speech” as a reason for ambiguity over clarity. I believe both camps are missing the point.

The issue is not how to define anti-Semitism, but whether to name the problem at hand, thus contributing to its solution, or to let the problem linger in ambiguity until incitements and hostilities get out of hand. As I have argued previously in these pages, among the phobias that currently drive campus racism, Zionophobia trumps anti-Semitism, and therefore, treating anti-Zionism as the lesser of the two evils gives racist forces the legitimacy to continue their assaults unabated, under the cover of a “political debate,” exempt from norms of discourse that protect other campus groups from similar attacks.

I believe not only UCLA, but also the University of California Regents, must explicitly name “anti-Zionism” as a major contributor to campus intolerance, and a major threat to the academic climate. When my turn came to speak before the committee, I said the following in an attempt to make this clear:

My name is Judea Pearl; I am a professor of engineering and applied science at UCLA, and I have served on the faculty since fall of 1969.

I came to speak here today because, after laboring my entire career to make this campus a center of academic excellence, I find that I am not exactly welcome here. I was awakened one day to discover that the university I knew was hijacked by proxies of a racist movement called BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions], who turned our public square and many of our classrooms into a stage for incriminating me, my colleagues, my students, my scientific collaboration with Israel, and my identity as a Jew with one fabricated crime after another.

It has been part of their relentless and obsessive crusade to defame Israel, deny her right to exist, intimidate her supporters, and thus weaken her chances for survival. As a Jew, I am one with my people through the bonds of common history. Israel, the culmination of that history, is the central symbol of our identity as a people.

I submit to you that campus events such as “The World Without Israel,” “Anti-Zionist Week” or “Israel Apartheid Week,” organized by publicly funded student organizations and tolerated by the administration, are direct assaults on the identity of every Jew on this campus.

If you are serious about restoring academic reputation to this university, you must be EXPLICIT about the root cause of campus intolerance, which is not classical anti-Semitism but anti-Zionism, anti-Israelism or Zionophobia. I prefer the term Zionophobia because it rhymes with Islamophobia, and thus reminds us that all forms of racism should be equally deplored and all identity-forming symbols should be equally respected. 

Religion has no monopoly on human sensitivity.

Two words about free speech:

First, you will not be curtailing anyone’s right to free speech by recognizing “the denial of a Jewish homeland” as an unacceptable topic for public discourse on campus, no less unacceptable than “the denial of human rights to Blacks, women or Arabs.” Rather, you will be merely affirming the right of the Jewish people to a homeland — which is what Zionism is all about — no more, no less.

Second, no one expects the regents to police speech on campus. We ask only that you set the norms of civil discourse. This, I believe, is both your charter and responsibility: EXPLICITLY labeling anti-Zionism speeches as obstacles to a respectful academic climate is a necessary first step toward that goal. Not to silence such speeches, but to mark them as unbecoming.

Thank you.

Readers may ask why I emphasize the word “explicit” when it comes to Zionism or Zionophobia. The reason is obvious. The UC Regents know that Zionophobia is the main source of campus intolerance and hostility, and yet the word “Zionism” — a people’s quest for self determination — has never been identified as a moral imperative by those in charge of campus climate. You can’t cure a problem unless you name it! The effectiveness of any recommendation or report summing up the regents’ deliberations hinges upon one simple word: Zionism. Any attempt to circumvent this word through ambiguous, roundabout surrogates would mean abandoning the campus to amplified BDS megaphones and intensified anti-Jewish hostilities.

Judea Pearl is the Chancellor Professor of Computer Science at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (, named after his son. He is a co-editor of “I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl” (Jewish Lights, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award.

The UC’s new dilemma: to name or not to name

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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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