Blind Spot on Palestine and Palestinians at UCLA: An Open Letter

By Saree MakdisiJune 2, 2021

    Blind Spot on Palestine and Palestinians at UCLA: An Open Letter

    The recent increase in violence between the Israeli state and Palestinians, triggered by ongoing Israeli attempts to expel Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah area of East Jerusalem and culminating in the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, was felt locally as well as globally. An uptick in incidents of antisemitism led to a May 26 letter to the UCLA community by Chancellor Gene D. Block and Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Anna Spain Bradley to express the university’s stance against antisemitism both in Los Angeles and across the US. By contrast, the comparative silence of the office of the Chancellor on anti-Arab and especially anti-Palestinian racism, both this time and in the past, has elicited a response from UCLA faculty members, convened by Professor Saree Makdisi, who wish to express concern over what seems to be a blind spot in the university’s claim to embrace diversity, equity, and the inclusion of all communities.


    Dear Chancellor Block (and Vice Chancellor Bradley),

    We are writing in response to your letter to the campus community, in which you expressed the university’s stance against violence and hatred.

    We are, of course, opposed to violence and hatred, and it is important for the university to declare its opposition to them as well. Your letter addressed itself, however, to violence and hatred directed against one community in particular, not to all communities on campus, including at least one community that is still mourning and counting its dead.

    Arab and Palestinian faculty, staff and students are only just beginning to heal from the extraordinary intensification of racial violence directed against Palestinians by the state of Israel, which led to the killing or maiming of hundreds of people (including, quite literally, the extirpation of 19 entire families from the Gaza population registry) and the widespread destruction of homes, schools, a university, bookshops, libraries, medical centers and places of worship. During the indiscriminate bombardment of Gaza, Israeli forces also raided the Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, violently prevented Palestinian Christians from reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and fatally shot numerous protestors in the West Bank. Meanwhile, gangs of Jewish supremacists conducted vigilante attacks on Palestinian citizens of the state, in some cases with direct assistance from the security apparatus.Members of the campus Palestinian community, particularly those who have family living in various parts of Palestine, felt the sting of those attacks at an emotional and psychical level, even if they did not experience them physically.

    At no time, however, did your office take note of this extraordinary violence directed against a civilian population. There was no condemnation of the destruction of educational institutions. There was no expression of outrage at the killing of almost seventy children in just a few days. There was no attempt to reach out to Arab or Palestinian members of the campus community to express support or sympathy. There was silence.

    And yet an apparent uptick in antisemitic abuse — none of it, thankfully, lethal — was enough to trigger an immediate declaration from your office against violence and hatred.

    Such a juxtaposition of silence and outrage is telling. What it indicates is that some forms of violence, hatred or racism are worthy of condemnation, but not others: that some pain counts, and some doesn’t.

    Your office has over the past several months taken admirable positions on antisemitism and on racism directed against Black Americans and other communities of color here, but never, as far as we are aware, against anti-Arab and specifically anti-Palestinian violence and racism — including anti-Arab racism on our own campus and in the broader community. Indeed, when Students for Justice in Palestine held a national meeting on our campus in 2018, you (Chancellor Block) used a very clear set of binaries to distinguish a tolerant, civil, principled “us” from an intolerant, biased, unprincipled “them,” in a piece you published in The Los Angeles Times. Such racial binaries have a complex and troubling genealogy in the wider history of colonial thought.

    Arab and Palestinian students, faculty and staff at UCLA experience alienation, if not outright hostility, on this campus; it connects to their experience of racism in post-9/11 America, and of course to their experience as the members of a global diaspora tied to a broader history of racism, violence and colonial dispossession, of which the recent violence is only one manifestation.

    And the more loudly they hear the university protest its commitment to “equity, diversity and inclusion,” the more keenly they feel their own marginalization and exclusion.


    E. Tendayi Achiume, Professor of Law, UCLA, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance
    Blake Allmendinger, Professor of English, UCLA

    Josh Armstrong, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, UCLA

    Hannah Chaydeayne Appel, Associate Professor of Anthropology & Global Studies, UCLA

    Asli Ü Bâli, Professor of Law, Faculty Director of the Promise Institute for Human Rights, UCLA

    Ali Behdad, John Charles Hillis Professor of English and Comparative Literature, UCLA

    King-Kok Cheung, Professor of English and Asian American Studies, UCLA

    Christine Chism, Professor of English, UCLA

    Zirwat Chowdhury, Assistant Professor of Art History, UCLA

    Michael Cohen, Associate Professor of English, UCLA

    Michael Cooperson, Professor of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures, UCLA

    Fred D’Aguiar, Professor of English, UCLA

    Elizabeth DeLoughrey, Professor of English, UCLA

    Helen Deutsch, Professor of English, UCLA

    Matthew Fisher, Associate Professor of English, UCLA

    Nouri Gana, Professor of Comparative Literature, UCLA

    Laura E. Gómez, Professor of Law and Rachel F. Moran Endowed Chair in Law, UCLA

    Yogita Goyal, Professor of English and African American Studies, UCLA

    Jonathan Grossman, Professor of English, UCLA

    Joshua Javier Guzmán, Assistant Professor of Gender Studies, UCLA

    Sondra Hale, Professor Emerita of Anthropology and Gender Studies, UCLA

    Cheryl Harris, Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Professor in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, UCLA

    Grace Kyungwon Hong, Professor of Asian American and Gender Studies, UCLA

    Louise Hornby, Associate Professor of English, UCLA

    Peter James Hudson, Associate Professor of History and African American Studies, UCLA

    Sarah Kareem, Associate Professor of English, UCLA

    Robin DG Kelley, Distinguished Professor and Gary B. Nashe Chair in US History, UCLA

    Jasleen Kohli, Director, Critical Race Studies Program, UCLA

    Rachel Lee, Professor of English and Gender Studies, UCLA

    Saree Makdisi, Professor of English & Comparative Literature, UCLA

    Purnima Mankekar, Professor of Anthropology & Gender Studies, UCLA

    Saloni Mathur, Professor of Art History, UCLA

    Kathleen McHugh, Professor of English, Film, Television and Digital Media, UCLA

    Aamir Mufti, Professor of Comparative Literature, UCLA

    Anahid Nersessian, Associate Professor of English, UCLA

    Jemima Pierre, Associate Professor of Anthropology & African American Studies, UCLA

    Ismail K. Poonawala, Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures, UCLA

    Loubna Qutami, Assistant Professor of Asian American Studies, UCLA

    Sherene Razack, Distinguished Professor of Gender Studies, Penney Kanner Chair of Women’s Studies, UCLA

    Shana L. Redmond, Professor of Musicology, Global Jazz Studies & African American Studies, UCLA

    Michael Rothberg, Professor of English & Comparative Literature, 1939 Society Goetz Chair of Holocaust Studies, UCLA

    Ananya Roy, Professor of Urban Planning, Social Welfare and Geography, UCLA

    Jenny Sharpe, Professor of English & Associate Dean for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in the Humanities, UCLA

Susan Slyomovics, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology & Near Eastern Languages & Cultures, UCLA

    SA Smythe, Assistant Professor of Gender Studies & African American Studies, UCLA

    Shannon Speed, Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies, Director of American Indian Studies Center, UCLA

    Zrinka Stahuljak, Professor of French & Comparative Literature, UCLA

    Justin Torres, Assistant Professor of English, UCLA

    Richard A. Yarborough, Professor of English & African American Literature, UCLA

    Luke Yarbrough, Associate Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, UCLA


    Photograph of Royce Hall, UCLA, by Alton.

    LARB Contributor

    Saree Makdisi teaches English and comparative literature at UCLA. His books include Reading William Blake (2015) and Tolerance Is a Wasteland: Palestine and the Culture of Denial (2022).


    Did you know LARB is a reader-supported nonprofit?

    LARB publishes daily without a paywall as part of our mission to make rigorous, incisive, and engaging writing on every aspect of literature, culture, and the arts freely accessible to the public. Help us continue this work with your tax-deductible donation today!