Letter to the Editor: “FAU is a University for Engagement–Except if You Speak Up for Human Rights”

Renata Glebocki

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Dennis J. Crudele, Florida Atlantic University’s interim President has referred to FAU as a “market place of ideas.” Mr. Crudele has made similar statements in attempting to counter claims that FAU restricts freedom of speech. In response to events held by Students for Justice in Palestine, Crudele issued an implicitly anti-Palestinian statement that recognizes SJP’s right to free speech, overtly disagrees with SJP’s concerns about Israeli policy, asserts a strong relationship with the State of Israel, mentions support for Jewish culture, declares FAU is not anti-Semitic, and claims Israel is a “robust democracy” in an unconvincing effort to belittle SJP’s advocacy for Palestinian rights and freedom.

Mr. Crudele has made clear that he and other members of FAU’s administration fully support Israel and will never be heard criticizing Israeli crimes, no matter how egregious. He is entitled to his position. Talking up how much FAU cares about Jewish students and Israel while saying nothing about support for Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students and their allies gives the distinct impression of favoring one group over another. If everyone is welcomed on campus then why didn’t Mr. Crudele say so? Instead, his statement suggests that Jewish students are more welcome than non-Jewish students. With anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment rife in parts of Florida it would be helpful if he spoke in support of their rights too–this was a missed opportunity that he should not miss in future.

Crudele claims, “While FAU allows students to lawfully express their opinions and beliefs, that does not mean that FAU agrees with those opinions or beliefs.” We wouldn’t expect his endorsement in the current Florida climate that disparages Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations, though it’s striking he cannot even bring himself to say that in theory he supports Palestinian freedom and equal rights. Crudele leans so far in the other direction, however, he seems to need a reminder that he is not a mouthpiece for the Israeli government.

The next paragraph is the most troubling. It reads:

“FAU deeply values its relationships with the State of Israel and with our many Jewish students, faculty, staff, neighbors, and friends around the world. Our Hillel Center and Chabad Student Center are large and thriving. We have student exchange programs with universities in Israel, and FAU students, scholars, and officials regularly travel to Israel for academic or other purposes. We have proudly hosted many Israeli officials and visitors on our campuses over the years”

Mr. Crudele seems astonishingly unaware that FAU’s relationship with Israel alienates Palestinians who have family members who were ethnically cleansed in 1948 when the state of Israel was created. Some students have family members living under the occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, or living under the siege and blockade in the Gaza Strip. The international community recognizes Israeli war crimes and the United Nations and European Union condemn the illegal settlements in the West Bank as well as the Apartheid Wall. Mr.

Crudele’s statement of FAU’s strong relationship with Israel creates a platform that endorses Israel’s abysmal human rights record and incessant international law violations. This position marginalizes members of the FAU community who respect international law and human rights, including the rights of Palestinians. FAU has hosted alleged war criminals. The issue runs deep for students who have family members killed, injured, or dispossessed by these war criminals and the military they represent.

For the rest of the paragraph Crudele emphasizes FAU’s commitment to Jewish Studies. At no point has SJP disparaged the Jewish faith. It is unclear why Crudele feels the need to address followers the Jewish faith in a show of protection, as though SJP is hostile toward the faith. Such sentiment is misdirected, as SJP is a diverse organization open to all religious and ethnic groups.

Crudele is right, however, to denounce anti-Semitism and right to say that our group does not engage in anything more than criticism of Israeli policies. Too often, criticism of Israeli policy is conflated with anti-Semitism. Mr. Crudele at least seemed to understand this.

There is no anti-Semitism at FAU and it is not a hostile environment for members of the Jewish faith. The fact that Crudele feels the need to address a nonexistent threat to members of FAU’s community is a problem for Crudele, SJP, and FAU as a whole. There are agitators outside of FAU who have accused FAU of tolerating anti-Semitism. Instead of protecting the students that these false allegations target, FAU’s administration has frequently made attempts to pander to outside organizations that do not have FAU’s best interests at heart.

One of Crudele’s most outlandish statements is that Israel is a “robust democracy.” This simply is not possible when the Israeli government discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel, maintains a system of separation and superiority for Jewish Israelis, and supports the occupation of the Palestinian Territories. The United States was “democratic” for whites under Jim Crow and “democratic” for white men prior to the 19th Amendment. Crudele’s statements, of course, suggests a very limited understanding of democracy.

Similarly, Israel is “democratic” for Jewish citizens. Mr. Crudele clearly is unaware that Human Rights Watch has criticized Israel for its “two-tier” system of law in the West Bank and of Adalah’s identification of some 50 Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinians. The fact that Mr. Crudele can make such a statement and face enormous criticism shows how little is understood in our state, and in our country, regarding the policies Israel pursues. If he were to make a similar statement about America’s “robust democracy” during the Jim Crow era he would surely be severely criticized – and rightly so.

SJP at FAU may be a small, student-run, student-funded organization in an area that is overwhelmingly pro-Israel, but it should be remembered that it took four African American students in a white majority society to ignite the flame of the Civil Rights Movement. SJP has over 300 chapters on college campuses worldwide, each chapter dedicated to the exposure of Israeli human rights abuses and discrimination committed against the Palestinian people. SJP is a movement that will continue to grow in strength and influence. We will not be stopped. Outside of South Florida most people support equal rights and freedom for Palestinians.

President Crudele would do well to examine his biases and speak out not just for the rights of Jewish students, but for Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students as well as an other minorities at FAU. Then, perhaps, he might find the courage to speak out for Palestinian freedom too. When that day comes, I am certain an SJP student would be happy to host him so he can see the injustices there for himself. That would constitute an education.