Here is a little story: Claremont McKenna College is a private institution near Los Angeles. On March 4, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) held a “West Bank checkpoint simulation,” for which they had written permission from the Dean of Students, Mary Spellman.
The simulation consisted of blocking the entrance to the college dining hall and rudely demanding that students show their IDs in order to enter. One wonders what went through the mind of the dean — did she see educational value in this activity?
In any event, a student was distressed by the event and called an Israeli Economics professor, Yaron Raviv, who went to the dining hall.
He reported he arrived to find students blocking the entrance, so he asked the dining hall manager to move them away from the door.
Soon after, the verbal altercation took place, as reports indicate [SJP member Najib] Hamideh – upset [that] Raviv aimed to move them – said, “Oh, you are faculty? I will hunt you down!” The professor responded: “What? You will hunt me down? You’re a fucking little cockroach.”
Exactly what was said remains unclear, but campus officials’ probe into the incident – during which nearly a dozen witnesses were interviewed – indicates that’s roughly the exchange between the two.
Raviv told administrators the “hunt you down” comment was particularly offensive because of his Jewish heritage, according to the review. Hamideh, for his part, denies saying it.
Students for Justice in Palestine also filed a bias complaint against the professor, stating “the term ‘cockroach’ must be taken in its specific historical context as hateful, racist, enemy imagery.”
The first thing that I want to say about this is that when I went to college in the early 1960’s, such a demonstration would not have been permitted, because the administrators would quite correctly assume that it would have turned into a brawl. Jewish students would have found it offensive enough to push back physically, right away.
The second thing is that it is interesting how the incident immediately became a contest about who made the most ethnically offensive remark. Is it worse to tell a Jew that you will ‘hunt him down’ or to call a Palestinian a ‘cockroach’? In his defense, Raviv argued that Israelis don’t call Palestinians ‘cockroaches’, and anyway he had no way of knowing Hamideh was Palestinian (he had grown up in the US and had no accent). On the other hand, said Raviv, it was obvious that he was Israeli and likely Jewish.
Everyone involved knew that there is no greater sin in their world than making an ethnic/racial slur. Even a physical threat.
Hamideh filed an ‘informal written grievance’ against Raviv, and the administration performed a ‘review’ of the incident, which involved the dean, the president of the college, etc. I’m sure that quite a bit of very expensive administrative time was consumed.
Note that nobody seems to have objected to the fact that the ‘street theater’ was essentially mendacious, since it portrayed an Israeli ‘checkpoint’ without including the Arab terrorism that makes such checkpoints necessary. There is also the unspoken fact that this kind of ‘theater’ is intended to intimidate the other side. Neither the ‘actors’ nor pro-Israel students will admit it (for different reasons) but the objective is that the ‘audience’ will become afraid of confronting the ‘actors’ in other contexts.
Raviv may or may not have escaped from the confrontation unscathed, at least from the standpoint of disciplinary action. From the college’s review:
The faculty member’s statements to the student were not in compliance with the expectations set forth in the College’s Statement on Professional Ethics, but these statements, when viewed in context, were not sufficiently severe or pervasive as to constitute a violation of the College’s Harassment Policy. The faculty member has acknowledged that his statements were inappropriate and unprofessional, and has apologized for his statements. Any additional personnel-related actions that may be appropriate will be confidentially addressed by the Dean of the Faculty’s Office.
Although Hamideh denied threatening Raviv, another student reported that Hamideh later used the expression again, saying that he would ‘hunt down’ the faculty member. The review of the incident does not mention that any action is contemplated against Hamideh, but it seems to me that he may have committed the crime of “making a criminal threat” (CA Penal Code 422 – 422.4). One hopes that a police report was made.
Raviv gave an interview to the Claremont Independent, which is worth reading. It describes the incident from his point of view, including mentioning that Hamideh said “now I’ve got you” after the professor’s intemperate remark! Compare this to Arab/leftist demonstrations at Israel’s security barrier, where they deliberately try to provoke IDF soldiers.
It also includes some examples of hate mail he received afterwards:
Raviv: So, this is an email, for example, from “Juice2”: “Hitler had the right idea, he was just an underachiever. I thought you might enjoy that since you seem to be such a huge supporter of genocide. Cheers.”
I got several like this: “I am one of your students. What right do you have to call one of my colleagues a ‘cockroach,’ you filthy Israeli cunt? Please, could I ask you to leave the U.S. and return to the land of Zion-Nazis where you can slaughter innocent cockroaches at whim? See you in class you wasted inbred.”
Raviv’s account is apologetic, and he is clearly hurt and worried:
Raviv: I poorly chose my words. I regret using bad language. We should all aspire to higher standards and not chaos. That’s not appropriate, so I’m sorry for that. But we need to understand what provoked this kind of language. What the student did to me, there’s no equivalence. Worst case scenario, I curse at somebody. But he has caused me real damage. …
[Student newspapers that published his name] really damaged my reputation. I have some Arab students in the class, I have some Palestinian students in the class, and they accused me of being a racist.
This has never happened in the college, this kind of persecution just because of political views. And you try to ask yourself, if I was an Irish-American, would they accuse me of being a racist? Or are they accusing me only because I’m an Israeli-Jew? So now, I ask you, where is the bias-related behavior? If I was an American and I said, “Fucking little cockroach,” would they accuse me of being racist?
Update [30 Apr 1255 PDT]: The Campus Safety Officer, Mario Trinidad, who overheard the conversation “corroborated certain aspects of each individual’s description of this interaction, but did not fully corroborate either individual’s description,” according to Dean Spellman. A March 15 article in a student newspaper includes this quotation from the report:
I arrived at 1738 hours and noticed the performers standing near the doorway of Collins Dinning [sic] … As I walked towards the group a male adult approached me and stated he did not want the demonstrators blocking the entrance to the dining hall,” Trinidad wrote in the incident report. “At this time a white male, a member of the performance group, approached the male adult and asked him for identification and who he was. The male identified himself as a professor and told the white male to ‘fuck off.’ The performer replied[,] ‘[W]hat did you say?’ and followed up by asking, ‘Do you have permission to be on campus?’ The professor quickly flashed his CMC identification card and told the white male that he was a cockroach and to mind his own business. The professor then left the area. The performer was angry but in control of his emotions.
Now compare this to Raviv’s account of the interaction:
The [Campus Safety] officer arrived and he parked his car 30-40 feet south of the entrance in front of Story House. I saw the guy and wanted to go talk to him to explain what was going on. I started to walk toward his direction, and a [student from the demonstration approached me] and told me to my face, “Who are you? Show me your ID! Are you faculty or a visitor? If you are a visitor, you cannot be on campus after 5:00 p.m. Show me your campus pass!” I told him, “I will never show you my ID. It’s not your business who I am. I can be a faculty or a visitor; it’s not your business.” I kept walking toward the officer and this guy is in my face, you know, like overly aggressively. I started to talk with the [Campus Safety] officer and I said, “Listen, this student event has been approved for this demonstration, but they cannot block the entrance, you need to move them 10 feet aside.” To give [the Campus Safety officer] some validity to what I was saying, I pulled out my faculty ID. The [student] who was in my face basically said, “Oh, you are faculty! I will hunt you down!” And I said, “What? You will hunt me down? You’re a fucking, little cockroach.”
So [the student] heard that and said, “Oh! Now I’ve got you!” The moment he said that, I was really concerned—not because of the “cockroach,” I was concerned because of the f-word. I immediately disentangled because I didn’t want there to be a physical [altercation], so I went back to the Pitzer student who had asked for my help. I told him, “Listen, campus safety is here. They will take it from there.” And I left.
Do we have Trinidad’s complete report? Keep in mind that it is in the interest of the college to make this whole thing go away. They would prefer not to discipline Raviv — not that I think he deserves disciplining — and even more, not to have a student arrested for threatening a professor.