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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A Jewish professor at University of California, Santa Barbara is under academic investigation and has been accused of being anti-Semitic for sending students an e-mail comparing Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip with the Holocaust.
Sociology professor William I. Robinson denied the claims on Thursday and portrayed the furor as a threat by Israel's supporters to academic freedom. Two prominent Jewish groups continued to demand that he apologize.
On Jan. 19 Robinson, sent an e-mail to 80 students in his "Sociology of Globalization" class entitled: "parallel images of Nazis and Israelis."
"Gaza is Israel's Warsaw - a vast concentration camp that confined and blockaded Palestinians, subjecting them to the slow death of malnutrition, disease and despair, nearly two years before their subjection to the quick death of Israeli bombs," Robinson wrote. "We are witness to a slow-motion process of genocide...."
Robinson's e-mail included a forwarded e-mail featuring juxtaposed photos from the Nazi era and the Gaza offensive with similar subjects, including grisly photos of children's corpses.
The e-mail set off a furor on the campus. Two Jewish students dropped Robinson's class and filed grievance letters with the university, claiming they felt intimidated by his strong and unsolicited opinion and the graphic images.
The university's Academic Senate, comprised of faculty members, has created an ad hoc committee to review claims that Robinson violated university policy that bars professors from intimidating students and using campus resources for personal, political reasons unrelated to their classes.
That committee will decide whether the case should proceed to a standing Academic Senate committee, which in turn could make discipline recommendations to the school administration.
"There is a process and it does have history and integrity and I think faculty members should have some confidence in the judgment of their peers," UCSB spokesman Paul Desruisseaux said.
Robinson said he has hired an attorney and called the investigation a "violation of academic freedom."
"I expect to be totally vindicated," he added.
Some UCSB students have formed a support committee and outside academics, including famed philosopher-activist Noam Chomsky and other outside academics have publicly sided with Robinson. The student group plans a campus forum on the matter.
Jewish leaders on Thursday reiterated demands that Robinson apologize to the students he offended and to the Jewish community. They contended that Robinson crossed the line by using language from the Nazis' calculated genocide of Jews in relation to the deaths of Palestinians in Gaza as Israel was attempting to stop rocket attacks into its territory.
"It is anti-Semitism," Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a telephone interview from Jerusalem.
"What you really have is a hate spam," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.
Both men also argued that Robinson delivered personal opinion without providing context, differing views or an equivalent chance for his students to counter his claims.
"This is not a question of academic freedom, it's a question of intimidation," Foxman said.
Rabbi Aron Hier, the Wiesenthal Center's director of campus outreach, said Robinson's e-mail "demonizes those things that those students care about" and said he should repudiate his remarks.
Robinson said the allegation of anti-Semitism is "absolutely outrageous" and akin to claiming that someone who criticizes the regime of Iran is anti-Muslim.
"This is a course on global affairs. We discuss ... the most pressing," including wars, Robinson said.
Robinson said he has received hundreds of e-mails of support from students and academics but also has been bombarded with obscenity-laden hate mail.