Milan Chatterjee, former UCLA Graduate Student Association president, is leaving the university due to extreme harassment for not caving in to the anti-Israel movement and said that Jewish peers “have a target on their back.”
By: Lea Speyer, The Algemeiner
The capitulation of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has set a “dangerous precedent” for the further harassment of Jewish and pro-Israel students, a former UCLA student leader, who recently left the university due to BDS pressure, told The Algemeiner on Thursday.
Milan Chatterjee, a third-year law student and now former UCLA Graduate Student Association (GSA) president, spoke with The Algemeiner a day after his public announcement that he was leaving the school due to the “hostile and unsafe campus climate” fostered by BDS groups and the UCLA administration.
“It is very scary how BDS activists will go to any measure to destroy people’s reputations and careers,” Chatterjee told The Algemeiner. “UCLA should be ashamed of themselves for refusing to take action, and rather joining in the harassment I endured by BDS groups. I am not the first student nor will I be the last.”
In a sharply worded letter addressed to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block last week, Chatterjee said that he had “no choice” but to leave the school due to the relentless attacks, bullying and harassment he suffered at the hands of BDS groups and activists.
UCLA is one of the finest universities in the world. It is unfortunate, indeed, that your administration has not only allowed BDS organizations and student activists to freely engage in intimidation of students who do not support the BDS agenda, but has decided to affirmatively engage in discriminatory practices of its own against those same students. Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, the fact is that the UCLA campus has become a hostile and unsafe environment for students, Jewish students and non-Jewish, who choose not to support the BDS movement, let alone support the state of Israel.
Chatterjee — who is Indian-American and a Hindu — became the focus of a four-month investigation by the UCLA Discrimination Prevention Office (DPO) for distributing GSA funds for a November 2015 diversity event based on a stipulation that the event not officially associate itself with the BDS movement and the school’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter.
The stipulation, Chatterjee told The Algemeiner, was accepted by all parties involved, including “five administrators who knew before the event and never expressed any problems.”
“Everyone knew about the stipulation from the very beginning,” he said. “I even received explicit approval. Yet, when SJP made it political, they scapegoated me.”
‘A Deadly, Malicious Campaign’
Over the course of the investigation, BDS groups began a “deadly, malicious campaign against me,” Chatterjee said. “They wrote defamatory articles in the media, circulated petitions and tried to remove me as GSA president three times. A lot of venom was spread around campus against me.”
The DPO investigation concluded that Chatterjee — who said he was maintaining the GSA’s unanimous “zero engagement/endorsement policy” towards supporting any BDS-related organizations — “violated University policy requiring viewpoint neutrality,” and accused him of concocting the “zero engagement” policy.
The result of the investigation, Chatterjee told The Algemeiner, was the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“The report is a clear cover-up by the UCLA administration for its own mishandling of the situation. They chose to scapegoat me and it is disappointing that a university would act this way,” he said, adding that he felt “very threatened personally and professionally.”
Making matters worse, the DPO report, which included a confidentiality and retaliation clause, was “ver yopenly leaked by SJP on the internet,” Chatterjee said, attracting even greater harassment from BDS activists.
“I filed a complaint with the office of Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Jerry Kang, who took zero action and refused to investigate,” he explained. “Then, astonishingly, Kang went and wrote on his blog about the report and gave people access to it by redirecting readers. This is very disturbing behavior and shows a double standard at play at UCLA. If SJP files a complaint, they will bend over backwards. If it’s anyone else, they don’t care.”
Chatterjee — who will be completing his final year of law school at New York University (NYU) — said the entire ordeal has been “very stressful” and has taken a “huge toll” on himself and his family.
“I am leaving many close friends behind at UCLA and the LA community, which I formed a very strong connection with, particularly the Jewish community, which has been very supportive,” he said. “I am having to pay a lot of more money to go to NYU Law School and am essentially being forced to pay a financial premium for my education. My parents have been very supportive because they’ve come to realize that UCLA has become an unsafe place. Thankfully, they are willing to help me in taking on a huge financial expense.”
While Chatterjee said he is in the process of pursuing an internal discrimination grievance against UCLA, “it has crossed my mind to go to court,” he said. “I called on UCLA to rescind or, at the very least, amend the report. UCLA has been absolutely non-responsive and if they keep this up, I will have no choice but to consider my legal options. It is very sad that a student needs to use legal options to work with their university.”
While Chatterjee said he was shocked to become a target of the BDS movement, the entire ordeal has “made me sympathize with the Jewish student body and how unsafe the campus climate is towards them, especially at UCLA,” he stated.
“The Jewish students I know are some of the nicest, hardworking, most cultured people I’ve ever met,” he said. “They come to college to celebrate their heritage and are instead targeted because of their faith and culture, which is ridiculous. The fact that the UCLA administration joins them [the instigators] is even more shameful.”
Chatterjee also expressed his thanks to the Jewish community for the support he has received. “I am absolutely grateful for the support from groups like the American Jewish Committee, the Louis D. Brandeis Center, the Israeli-American Council and the Simon Wiesenthal Center,” he said, adding that over the past 24 hours, since news broke of his exit from UCLA, he has received a “stream of messages from people around the world expressing their solidarity.”
UCLA did not immediately respond to The Algemeiner’s request for comment on Chatterjee’s decision.
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