(photo credit: REUTERS)
NEW YORK – The former president of the Graduate Students Association at the University of California in Los Angeles recently left the school after he faced continued harassment from Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activists. Milan Chatterjee told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday that officials at UCLA failed to support him because they are intimidated by BDS agitators.
Last November Chatterjee, who is Hindu, threatened to rescind funding for a student town hall if pro-Palestinian groups used the occasion to promote divestment from Israel. His stated intention at the time was to maintain the graduate student association’s political neutrality.
But pro-Palestinian groups on campus lobbied the university, and Chatterjee was reprimanded by officials who said that by blocking BDS, he was the one who violated the university’s viewpoint neutrality policy and acted outside his authority.
“The BDS folks are very rowdy, disruptive. They are intimidating people all the time, they have lawyers who are intimidating people,” Chatterjee said. “I think UCLA is very intimidated by that and is bending over backwards to cater to their interests.”
“I do think that there is an element of double standards,” he added. “When BDS has an issue and files a complaint, they are very attentive and responsive. But if it’s someone who is pro-Israel or even neutral on the matter, they don’t care.”
According to Chatterjee, the university scapegoated him in order to cover their own weakness regarding the BDS movement.
“They knew the complaint was frivolous,” he said. “This policy they say I violated, UCLA has been required to implement for the past nine years. They never did, and their administration has even gone on the record saying so. It’s really strange UCLA is accusing me of violating a policy they have not even implemented.”
On August 24, Chatterjee sent a letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block informing the university he was leaving in the wake of bullying and harassment by students and organizations promoting BDS.
Chatterjee told the Post
that so far he has not received any reply.
He called Chancellor Block’s administration very insensitive toward the Jewish student body in general, something he hopes changes following his dealings with the university.
“It’s really unfortunate that UCLA has become such a hostile school for Jewish and pro-Israel students.” he said.
“You know, I can take on BDS activists, I did it for nine month, and I had the courage and motivation to keep at it, but when you have the university colluding with them, it’s just impossible to stay there.”
Chatterjee will complete his third year of law school at New York University’s School of Law, an environment which he says has thus far been very welcoming.
When NYU’s student union voted in favor of joining the BDS movement earlier this year, the University president took steps against the initiative, calling it “antithetical to the free exchange of ideas” and said the institution would continue working with Israeli counterparts.
“I came with the intention to start on a clean slate, but some students reached out to me and said they read the stories and welcomed me to NYU with open arms.”
StandWithUS, an organization that educates about issues concerning Israel, supported Chatterjee from the controversy’s start. The group commended Chatterjee for “standing up for his beliefs in the face of intimidation,” adding their “hope that the attacks he has faced from anti-Israel extremists are taken as a testament to his principles, rather than a stain on his reputation.”
“No student anywhere deserves to be harassed in this manner,” they said, “and especially not when striving for neutrality rather than staking out a partisan position on a controversial topic.”
Other Jewish organizations have also come out in support of the former UCLA student leader. Earlier this year he received the American Jewish Committee’s inaugural Campus Courage Award.