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Prof’s Holocaust-Gaza comparison stirs furor

A Jewish university professor's comparison of Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to the Holocaust has sparked allegations of anti-Semitism from Jewish groups.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Jewish university professor accused of anti-Semitism for comparing Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to the Holocaust says he has received hundreds of messages of support and a bombardment of hate mail.

William I. Robinson, a sociology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said Thursday that accusations of anti-Semitism are "absolutely outrageous" and akin to claiming someone who criticizes the regime of Iran is anti-Muslim.

He sent an e-mail Jan. 19 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 message 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.

"This is a course on global affairs. We discuss ... the most pressing," issues, including wars, he wrote.

Students claim intimidation
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.

Two prominent Jewish groups demanded he apologize. The university's Academic Senate, composed 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 or political reasons unrelated to their classes.

The committee will decide whether the case should proceed to a standing Academic Senate committee, which could make discipline recommendations to the 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," school 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 said.

'Baseless argument'
Some students at the school have formed a support committee and some outside academics, including famed philosopher-activist Noam Chomsky, have publicly sided with Robinson. The student group plans a campus forum on the matter.

Jewish leaders demanding an apology said Robinson crossed the line by using language from the Nazis' calculated genocide of Jews in relation to the deaths of Palestinians in Gaza because Israel was attempting to stop rocket attacks into its territory.

Robinson said his criticism of Israeli policies have been confused with anti-Semitism.

"That's like saying if I condemn the U.S. government for the invasion of Iraq, I'm anti-American," he said. "It's the most absurd, baseless argument."

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said 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.

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