Plague-on-both-your-houses-Dept.: UC Hastings Law School

This seems to me to be a pretty blatant attack on academic freedom.  George Bisharat, a professor at the UC Hastings School of Law, organized a conference entitled “Litigating Palestine: Can Courts Secure Palestinian Rights?”  It’s pretty much what you’d expect: lots of speakers decrying Israel, advocating BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) against Israel, and detailing how to sue Israel in a variety of fora.  Nothing to waste your time on, but pretty standard fare.

But then the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Committee kicked up a fuss by protesting, not outside the conference, but the Hastings’ Board of Directors, who are appointed by California’s Governor.  They demanded that the school remove its official sponsorship of the conference and that the board forbid the Dean from giving a welcoming speech.  And that’s exactly what the Board did.

Look: a full-time member of the Hastings faculty, with nearly-unanimous approval of that faculty, decided to put on the conference. That’s the way these things are supposed to be done.  Then a politically-appointed board tells the Dean that he can’t speak there, and removes the school’s name from it (the article doesn’t say anything about funding).  That’s not the way these things are supposed to be done.  A faculty needs to make the relevant intellectual decisions for a school.  It’s not clear to me what sorts of rights the Dean has in terms of convening the conference, but this is really a bad sign.  Politically-appointed boards are supposed to provide general direction, raise money, and make overall policy decisions.  They aren’t supposed to be telling faculty what is good or not good to say (although of course individual boardmembers can express their opinions in their personal capacity).  A number of UCLA Law School faculty are circulating a letter of support for the determinations of the Hastings faculty, and I was happy to sign it.

That said, Professor Bisharat hasn’t helped his cause much with statements like this.  One of the Jewish Community Relations Committee’s complaints was that everyone at the conference was anti-Israel and that no one speaking offered the pro-Israeli perspective, which is essentially true.  Bisharat’s response?

If you had a conference on Holocaust reparation cases, you wouldn’t include Holocaust deniers.
Well, that’s just lovely: comparing supporters of Israel to Holocaust deniers, and thereby suggesting that Israel’s policies regarding the Palestinians are like what the Nazis did to the Jews.  It certainly gives creedence to the JCRC’s claim that the conference has little intellectual or moral merit.
I’ve met Bisharat before: he’s not a bomb thrower, and for the most part is a pretty careful lawyer and serious scholar.  But as his CV and writings make clear, he has devoted large portions of his career to undermining Israel.  He is a firm believer in the “one-state solution” for Israel and Palestine, and he is smart enough to know that such a “solution” essentially means the exile of hundreds of thousands of Jews and death of hundreds of thousands more.  He’s certainly entitled to advocate for that.  But no one should be fooled about the meaning and nature of the conference, or even briefly entertain the notion that it will advance Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

25 thoughts on “Plague-on-both-your-houses-Dept.: UC Hastings Law School”

  1. Is it okay to call someone else a bomb-thrower just prior to saying that the same person “knows” that his “solution” will cause the “death of hundreds of thousands” of Jews? Isn’t it perhaps possible that Prof. Bisharat genuinely believes that such a solution would be just and workable, rather than using his intellect only as a front-cover to give credence and legitimacy to his murderous and fanatical support of a solution that he knows will cause genocide? One of these explanations for his views seems more plausible than the other.

  2. Well, I wouldn’t know, since I specifically said he’s NOT a bomb thrower. But thanks for playing.

  3. Holocaust deniers is a pretty crappy comparison, but on the other hand, the underlying point Bisharat was trying to make is valid: if you’re holding a conference which is intended to foster and develop ideas for activism for a particular cause — ending the death penalty, holding the govt accountable for torture, closing Guantanamo, defending what’s left of abortion rights, or whatever other cause a law school might hold a conference about — there’s no reason to invite speakers who oppose that cause.

  4. Jonathan Zasloff says:
    April 21, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    “Well, I wouldn’t know, since I specifically said he’s NOT a bomb thrower. But thanks for playing.”

    Thanks for not reading the comment, Jonathan. You said ‘…and he is smart enough to know that such a “solution” essentially means the exile of hundreds of thousands of Jews and death of hundreds of thousands more. ‘

    That’s a rather severe accusation.

  5. Sean, Barry: We have a case study, in the form of Lebanon, of how peace can be maintained (or not) among ethnic groups in a trinational Sunni/Shi`ite/Christian state. We also have multiple case studies, across two thousand years of Jewish history, of what happens when the majority in control of a state decides it doesn’t want to tolerate its resident Jewish minority. Among advocates of “one-state solutions” on the Palestinian side, the commonly-held opinion seems to be that the whole enterprise of Zionism is an illegitimate expropriation of Arab land by European Jews. (See, for example, Helen Thomas’s remark that Jews in Israel should “go home” to such havens as Germany and Poland.) A Palestinian national-liberation movement that hoped to maintain good relationships with Jews in the post-liberation settlement would not be aiming its bombs at Jewish civilians. (Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing ot the African National Congress, did not have entirely clean hands in the human-rights department, but it at least made an effort to target agents of the apartheid regime, rather than white South Africans as a class.)

    So I think Jonathan’s pessimism about the prospects for a binational Jewish-Arab Palestinian state, with an Arab majority, is well-founded.

  6. You claim that Prof. Bisharat “has devoted large portions of his career to undermining Israel”. If that means undermining the current Israeli regime, you may well be right. But if “Israel” means more than the current regime … if it means the people who live there … then your claim is less less obvious. Perhaps a “one-state solution” is their best hope for a normal peaceful life over the long term.

    You also claim that “such a ‘solution’ essentially means the exile of hundreds of thousands of Jews and death of hundreds of thousands more”. Some years back, we heard similar claims about South Africa–that ending the apartheid regime would lead to mass death/exile for the white population. That turned out to be rubbish, since the new regime recognized that driving out the skilled white population would immiserate their society. Maybe you have reasons … even good reasons … why expect you’d expect a different outcome in a “one state” Israel/Palestine. If so, bring them on. But as your post stands, you come across as a ranting racist reactionary, unable to envision a viable society where your ethnic group isn’t on top.

    For what it’s worth, the most-thoughtful people I know who live in Tel Aviv regard a “one state solution” as the Jewish population’s best long-term hope of avoiding mass death and exile. Since they and their children have more skin in the game than I do, I tend to buy my opinions on the matter from them.

  7. Passing By: The stated goal of the African National Congress, going back to the 1955 Freedom Charter, was to turn South Africa into a multiethnic democracy in which black and white citizens had equal rights. The same cannot be said of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas.

  8. It’s hard to understand how the one-state solution is obviously and undebatably anti-peace, but the military occupation of Palestine is not.

  9. The military occupation of Palestine isn’t anti-peace, so much as it’s anti-missiles being fired into Israel. Which, I suppose, might make it anti-anti-peace…

  10. Brett, I get the claimed military justification for the occupation. But it’s clearly not the answer to the question “how do we get to peace?” unless you consider that permanent war and peace are indistinguishable.

  11. Brett might be almost precisely wrong, which is quite an achievement. Fatah doesn’t want to fire missiles into Israel, and has pretty good security cooperation with Israel. But it is the West Bank that is occupied. Hamas does want to fire missiles into Israel. But Gaza is unoccupied by Israel.

  12. if you’re holding a conference which is intended to foster and develop ideas for activism for a particular cause

    And here I guess is my problem. What is “academic” about that? I thought the university was about inquiry and debate.

    I know we are used to accepting otherwise; a feminist conference wouldn’t invite Harvey Mansfield. But then, one would hope the feminist conference would be about discussion and understanding, not about “activism for a political cause,” except in some indirect sense. (Yes, again I realize that “activism” is what often happens. But should it?)

  13. Epistomology, whatever its form, is activism for a political cause. To the naive, evolutionary biology doesn’t look political, but creationists know better.

  14. Whenever someone objects to “the occupation”, I wish he or she would clarify: the occupation that began in 1967, or the one that began in 1948?

  15. @ Political Football

    Evolutionary biology is only political to the extent that creationists have made it political. It is unfortunate that creationists have made it very political indeed.

  16. Seth, since you ask, I meant the occupation since 1967. I’d be interested to hear the other point of view though.

  17. Jonathan- You posted a link to Bisharat’s UC Hasting Law School page which seems to show he has spent over 20 years since writing his dissertation exactly on this issue of Palestinian attorneys under the occupation on those issues of litigation- that seems like an academic career not a raw political attack (is the problem that he is a law professor rather than in an Anthropology or Middle East Studies Dept.?).
    What you did not post was a link to the speakers and topics at the conference so we could consider how one-sided it was.

    I agree Bisharat’s use of the Holocaust Denier comment was quite poor but when one tries to make a point by an example that you think will be especially clear to the other person, it sometimes is exactly wrong. I do not see it as a Israelis as Nazis comment.

    Seth, you totally turned By the Way’s South Africa comment on its head and I hope it was a misunderstanding rather than purposeful. So Jonathan I hope you are as openly rejecting of Dershowitz’s ad hominem and classically Revisionist attacks on his academic opponents on Israel as you are in this attack on Bisharat by imputing to him butchery as necessary consequence of his political speech.

  18. @Dennis:
    I am afraid I must disagree with you. If you view evolutionary biology as inherently nonpolitical, you must view fundamentalist religion–whose tenets include equating the natural and social worlds–as inherently illegitimate. I don’t mind this position (I even adhere to it on alternate weekends), but it is a very political stance. The Enlightenment worldview permits a lot of disagreement, but even it has its limits of tolerance. And this, again, is a political stance.

  19. To Jonathan:

    You’re right, I badly misread that line – I think I unconsciously read, “he’s not [usually] a bomb thrower,” to agree with the tone of the second clause, “for the most part.” My mistake, and I apologize for misrepresenting your claim. However, I think my general point stands: You criticize Prof. Bisharat for, in this instance, using unreasonably overheated rhetoric (and I agree with you on that point), but then you yourself use what I would characterize as “unreasonably overheated rhetoric” by saying that he “knows” his “solution” will lead to mass murder. That’s the point that I would ask you to respond to, and I am genuinely asking this in full good faith (I regularly comment here and much, much more often than not agree strongly with you – in fact, this is the first negative comment I’ve made on one of your posts).

    For my part, I advocate for a two-state solution with a return to either the 1967 or 1947 borders.

  20. Seth Gordon – “The same cannot be said of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas.”

    Professor Zasloff slagged off the “one state solution” not the PLO or Hamas.

  21. ‘He is a firm believer in the “one-state solution” for Israel and Palestine, and he is smart enough to know that such a “solution” essentially means the exile of hundreds of thousands of Jews and death of hundreds of thousands more.’ I find this comment deeply appalling and shameful.

  22. @Sean — Thanks, much appreciated, and I take your point. I’m trying to work up something on it now. J

  23. Holocaust deniers should be in reparations debates. Their bigoted arguments would be easily contrasted against the horrors that gave rise to the need for the reparations. Prof. Bisharat’s conference should also include a mock trial on the legal authority for Black September to kill Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972; the international legal principles supporting the invasion of Israel by Egypt in 1973 and the rights of Israeli citizens to sue Hamas for propelling deadly rockets from Gaza. When I am confident Hamas will convene a fair trial, I will appear as counsel. Did Prof. Bisharat cover those legal issues?

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