By Pardes Seleh
After a long, tedious struggle with anti-Israel harassment from administrators and student members of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), a former graduate student body president has decided to leave his UCLA education behind, in his quest for a less hostile learning environment.
Former UCLA law student and Graduate Student Association (GSA) president Milan Chatterjee has been the object of bullying and framing ever since he refused to allocate campus funding to an event that either promoted or rejected support for the State of Israel. Chatterjee’s “viewpoint neutrality” policy stated that topics surrounding Israel were irrelevant to the nature of campus politics and thus, campus funding should not be directed to taking sides on such measures.
The Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), an anti-Israel hate group responsible for leading the smear campaign against Chatterjee, responded with a plethora of threatening legal documents, administrative pushes, and media allegations painting Chatterjee as a biased student body president and calling for his apology and resignation. SJP leaders Rahim Kurwah and Yacoub Kureh, two UCLA grad students, enlisted the help of Palestine Legal (PL) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to send lawyers after Chatterjee to intimidate him, as well as push UCLA’s figurehead administration to launch a detailed investigation into his actions.
These allegations were easily debunked time after time, but that did not stop hateful anti-Israel activists from attempting to publish falsehoods and make them a supposed reality. Worse, the UCLA administration did nothing to stand by the GSA neutral policy and defend Chatterjee for doing his job. Instead, Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Jerry Kang aided the SJP by taking part in the investigations and harassment directed at the student president.
Finally, Chatterjee has had enough. Not only was his reputation being constantly tarnished with cruddy lies and hateful spews; he was fighting to not fall behind in his schoolwork, his health, and his sanity. In a letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, Chatterjee revealed his decision to complete his final year of law school at New York University (NYU) in Manhattan. He wrote:
Dear Chancellor Block,
I write to inform you that I have decided to complete the final year of my UCLA School of Law program at a different institution. The hostile and unsafe campus environment I am facing at UCLA has left me with no choice but to move away from this university at great additional expense to me and my family.
Since November 2015, I have been relentlessly attacked, bullied and harassed by BDS-affiliated organizations and students. The smear and harassment campaign started with the false accusation that I (an Indian-American Hindu) was not “viewpoint neutral” when allocating funds, in my capacity as Graduate Student Body President, to a diversity event. What really occurred is that my administration and I abstained from supporting either a pro- or anti- BDS agenda. This condition was explicitly approved by a UCLA administrator. The event took place on November 5, 2015 and a variety of campus viewpoints were actively represented, including both sides of the issues raised by the BDS movement. Dean Erwin Chemerinsky– one of America’s leading constitutional law scholars– and four legal organizations concluded that my administration and I acted in a viewpoint neutral manner.
Subsequently, BDS activists wrote defamatory articles about me and led a grassroots campaign against me on the UCLA campus. They even tried, on multiple occasions, to remove me as Graduate Student Body President. I reached out to senior members of your administration– many times– for guidance and support to defuse this situation. Furthermore, I believed that these administrators would be especially sensitive given the public outcry caused by similar BDS-led efforts against UCLA students Rachel Beyda, Avi Oved, Lauren Rogers, and Sunny Singh. I could not have been more mistaken. Your administrators were non-responsive and unhelpful.
In fact, when Palestine Legal and the ACLU circulated a legal letter defaming me on the Internet, had their attorneys write a libelous article about me in the Daily Bruin, and sent lawyers to Graduate Student Association meetings to attack me personally, I contacted the Interim Vice Chancellor of Legal Affairs many times for help. Not only did she decline to provide me with the necessary legal support, but she told me that I needed to get my own attorney. Finally, I was connected to the American Jewish Committee, who found the situation serious enough to refer me to a pro-bono counsel.
In late February 2016, my new attorney, Peter M. Weil, of Glaser Weil LLP, sent you and several senior members of your administration, a lengthy letter detailing the constant bullying harassment and attacks to which I was being subjected. Your administrators chose to not take any action or even investigate this matter.
To make matters worse, at the behest of pro-BDS organizations, the Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) launched a three-month-long investigation of me. His office wrote a defamatory, 27-page report which has been heavily condemned by seven major organizations.
In reality, this report was an attempt by your administration to publicly scapegoat me for their systematic failure to adopt and implement University of California policies, and provide the necessary guidance to me and other student organizations when we approached them for help. Your administrators fell asleep on the job and decided to blame me– a student– for it.
But the desire to vilify me did not stop there. Although the Report was designated as “Confidential,” no reasonable safeguards were adopted to preserve the report’s confidentiality. It was readily forseeable that pro-BDS organizations– whom your administration freely made this “Confidential Report” available to– could and would leak it. No efforts were made to prevent this and, of course, this is precisely what occurred.
In violation of confidentiality and retaliation policies, Students for Justice in Palestine openly and unlawfully leaked the EDI report onto the Internet. When I filed a complaint about this violation, your administration declined to investigate it. Worse yet, the Vice Chancellor of EDI, on his blog, urged the public to read this leaked confidential report, and gave them access to it. As recent as August 22, 2016, there was a scurrilous op-ed piece in the Daily Bruin attacking me and relying extensively on the so-called Confidential Report.
UCLA is one of the finest universities in the world. It is unfortunate, indeed that your administration has not only allowed BDS organizations and student activists to freely engage in discriminatory practices of its own against those same students. Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, the fact is that the UCLA campus has become a hostile and unsafe environment for students, Jewish and non-Jewish, who choose not to support the BDS movement, let alone support the State of Israel.
I implore you to acknowledge the reality of this regrettable situation and take corrective action that not only remedies my grievances but addresses the current hostile and unsafe campus climate generally so that other students are not forced to leave UCLA. It is too late for me, but I sincerely hope that it will not be too late for those students who follow me.
I will be returning to Los Angeles as often as necessary in order to pursue the discrimination grievance that I filed pursuant to UCLA Procedure 230.1