After an initial mealy-mouthed statement followed by a spate of bad publicity the University of California at Davis has condemned the professor who threatened violence against “Zionist” journalists and their kids.
But University of California at Davis Chancellor Gary May said the professor’s comments might have been protected by the First Amendment.
And other key donors and University of California Regents are maintaining a cowardly and craven silence about the professor’s call to violence, which was first reported by the California Globe last week.
As the California Globe exclusively reported October 19th, University of California at Davis assistant professor of American Studies Jemma DeCristo tweeted a specific violent threat at Israel supporters and their children on October 10. She wrote “One group of people we have easy access to in the US is all these Zionist journalists who spread propaganda & misinformation. They have houses with addresses, kids in school. They can fear their bosses, but they should fear us more.”
The tweet was accompanied by images of a meat cleaver, an ax and three drops of blood.
Asked for comment, a University of California at Davis spokesperson responded with a series of platitudes that didn’t condemn let alone even address the professor’s comments. “We reject all forms of violence and discrimination, as they are antithetical to the values of our university. We strive to foster a climate of equity and justice built on mutual understanding and respect for all members of the community.”
The Globe story was followed by reports the same day in Mediaite the College Fix and a slew of other local and national publications. After that slew of coverage, the University of California at Davis Chancellor Gary May issued a statement condemning DeCristo specifically, but with some caveats.
“I absolutely condemn the posts attributed to a UC Davis faculty member that recently appeared on the social media platform X,” he said. “ I find the comments revolting in every way, and I disagree wholeheartedly with them.”
“UC Davis rejects all forms of violence and discrimination, as they are antithetical to the values of our university. We strive to foster a climate of equity and justice built on mutual understanding and respect for all members of the community.”
He said DeCristo would be investigated and that “the provost will refer this matter to the appropriate campus departments that investigate harassment, discrimination and faculty conduct, in consultation with legal counsel regarding First Amendment rights.”
“The public expression of opinions, even those opinions considered controversial or abhorrent, enjoy a high level of protection under the First Amendment. We are carefully reviewing this matter to ensure our response is consistent with universitywide policy and state and federal constitutional protections.”
Experts disagreed on whether DeCristo’s broadside against Jews is protected by the First Amendment.
Nadine Strossen, former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the California Globe that the professor’s comments were vile but amounted to protected speech. “No this would not cross the line, reprehensible as it is,” Strossen emailed. “If she has mentioned specific names that would be different.”
But Glenn Ricketts, spokesman for the National Academy of Scholars, which promotes academic freedom on college campuses, told the California Globe that DeCristo’s comments amounted to a specific threat outside the bounds of First Amendment protection.
“The First Amendment protects a great deal, but not incitement to violence,” he explained. “The question is whether that’s what she’s done here, under the relevant precedent of Brandenburg v. Ohio, a 1969 case involving the American Nazi party. Advocating violence in general is protected by the First Amendment; advocating it in specific situations is not. It would be a close call under that case, but I’d say she’s overstepped the line.”
Meanwhile, University of California officials and donors, who are Jewish, are refusing to condemn DeCristo for her remarks.
University of California Regent Michael Cohen, the chief financial officer of CalPERS was asked by the California Globe what he thought of her remarks and whether she should be disciplined. Cohen, who is Jewish, replied via email by passing the buck. “Per Regents policy, all media inquiries go through the Chair of the Regents. I’m cc-ing our Chief of Staff for you.”
Trisha Lyall, the chief of staff, did not reply to a follow-up email asking the same questions. She also did not reply to an email for University of California Regents Chair Rich Leib, who is Jewish and has expressed a desire to have more support for Jewish students at the University of California.
Stewart Resnick, who is also Jewish and recently gave 50 million dollars to the University of California at Davis, did not reply to an email asking if he wished to condemn the professor’s remarks.
Deborah Neff, who earlier this year gave 8 million dollars to the University of California at Davis, also ignored questions.
None of these powerful and entrenched public figures would risk anything by speaking out but they are nonetheless too cowardly to do it.
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