CFA-SFSU Executive Board Statement on the Campus Climate Statement

Posted March 6, 2023

The Executive Board of the California Faculty Association seeks to weigh in on the recent SFSU decision to embrace an earlier study of the “climate” on our campus for Jewish students. That report stated that for many Jewish people on our campus, any criticism of Zionism was perceived as a form of anti-Semitism with the implication that it was not appropriate to critique either Zionism or the state of Israel and its policies insofar as such statements contribute to a climate of hostility to Jewish people more generally. The CFA-SFSU executive board takes exception to this report for several reasons.  

First, we believe that this report implicitly seeks to limit academic freedom for our faculty. We do not believe that critiquing Zionism is inherently anti-Semitic and indeed many Jewish people on our campus, as is true of the US Jewish population more generally, are themselves non or anti-Zionist. Critiques of Israel and its policy towards Palestinians is a legitimate and important part of academic discourse. To attempt to chill any speech of that nature by equating it to anti-Semitism amounts to using a claim of anti-Semitism to legitimize the occupation of Palestine, the unchecked settler’s movement on in Palestinian lands allocated to Palestinians and other infringements of Palestinian rights.  

Second, we believe that to make this claim also implicitly fosters Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism in the guise of fighting anti-Semitism. The requirement to suppress statements against Zionism does not fall equally on our campus. Those faculty who are themselves Palestinian, Arab, or Muslim are much more often the targets of these kinds of demands and the charge of anti-Semitism is often used to silence these faculty more generally. We support the right of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) Studies, to exist freely and independently at SFSU and to hire faculty as its right as per the Faculty Hearing Panel’s unanimous decision of February 18, 2021. Higher education groups should collaborate as fully as possible with each other to advance the interests of the entire academic community in addressing academic freedom issues. 

Finally, we are concerned with the implication that somehow if a Jewish faculty member is not a Zionist they are labeled as not being a really a Jewish person (or at least “self hating”). That is another  implication of this study insofar as if every instance of anti-Zionism is always an instance of anti-Semitism, then Jewish people who do not themselves support Zionism are either self-hating or deluded or not really Jewish at all.

For all of these reasons we call for an alternative, transparent and inclusive assessment of campus climate, one where both anti-Semitism, anti-Palestinian racism and Islamophobia are denounced in equal measure and also one in which ideological geopolitical questions like Zionism are separated from fundamental questions of identity and belonging.

Speech that questions Zionism is another matter and this, we believe, is a legitimate area of academic expression, even if it remains controversial in some quarters. As a union and representatives of SFSU faculty, we believe in peace, freedom, and coexistence and the indivisibility of justice. We believe in an SFSU climate that welcomes academic freedom, as unanimously affirmed by two faculty hearing panels on October 14, 2021 and April 26, 2022 and the principles of free expression and communication on which we collectively depend.  We support AMED, calling for its full function as an academic discipline and department, and its equal treatment as such before the SFSU community. Our fundamental commitment to academic freedom drives this statement as well as our larger support for open expression on this campus. 

In solidarity,

The CFA-SFSU executive board

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