After the October 7th massacre in Israel and before Israeli Defense Forces had a chance to respond, massive throngs supporting Hamas rallied around the world. Israelis and Jews in the diaspora had barely begun to process the magnitude of the horrors, account for the dead, and identify the hostages. Here in the United States, we witnessed university campuses and urban centers utilized for antisemitic rallies calling for the destruction of Israel “from the river to the sea” and “death to the Jews”. Oh how quickly criticism of Israel turns into standard antisemitism.
Cornell, Harvard, Penn, and MIT have gotten a lot of attention. But around the country, many other colleges, high schools, and even elementary school classrooms have been co-opted by pro-Palestinian student, faculty, and administrative activists to advocate for the end of the Jewish state and worse.
A lesser-known but prominent art school in San Francisco, California College of the Arts (CCA), is no different. One week after the massacre in Israel. CCA’s Critical Ethnic Studies department posted on Instagram their unwavering support for “resistance” against Israel’s “colonial” legacy. The image included in the post is of a protest sign that reads, “DECOLONIZATION IS NOT A DINNER PARTY”. In other words, the October 7th massacre that included beheadings, rapes, and the taking of civilian hostages was justified. Get over it!
As horrifying as that sounds, these positions are fashionable and shared among a particular set of progressives. But this post came from an official Instagram account RUN BY THE SCHOOL, not from a professor’s personal account. Adding insult to injury, it is “liked” by other CCA departments, including the Wattis Institute and the MFA Writing Department. See for yourself. It remains public here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CyYkCFzIjHI/.
Over the last few decades, my family has held a prominent position in supporting the growth of CCA. This has included funding a furniture department, annual merit scholarships, a visiting professorship, a lecture, all bearing our family name. Further, a large bequest will be paid when our matriarch passes.
We never expected to be singled out as Jews by an art school we have so lovingly and generously supported. We expected that when we brought this post to the attention of CCA’s president, Stephen Beal, he would immediately have the post removed and the offending faculty, at the very least, reprimanded. No. Promises were made that he’d investigate it. Nothing happened. It didn’t help that it was his last week on the job. Subsequent conversations with the provost/interim president, head of HR, and president of the board of trustees, though cordial, also went nowhere.
After two months of back and forth and delay, I finally had a Zoom call last week with CCA’s new president, David Howse.
At this point, our position had been expressed in no uncertain terms. We wanted the post taken down, a public apology issued, the responsible faculty fired or at least reprimanded, and further, we wanted a third party to review the critical ethnic studies department’s curriculum for antisemitism since every student is required to take two ethnic studies courses to graduate. This is especially important since the head of the critical ethnic studies department, Shylah Pacheco Hamilton, is a proud anti-Israel activist who supports the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel. She posted her personal support on X (formally Twitter) on October 11th. She has excellent timing.
Speaking for CCA, President Howse was clear. The school will NOT remove the Instagram post. They will NOT publicly acknowledge any pain caused to the Jewish students/faculty/staff on campus, nor to its donors. NO apology. NO reprimand of those responsible. They wouldn’t even share who specifically WAS responsible. He argued that this was a matter of free speech. There would be NO action to offer support to the Jewish student body or their allies. He offered an opaque plan to create a task force at a future date. He couldn’t provide a single detail of its purpose, and we were not invited to participate.
Let’s be clear. Had a CCA Instagram post offended any other community, be it BIPOC or LGBTQ+, for example, it would not have remained online for a minute. Heads would have rolled. There would be sensitivity training. But somehow, free speech becomes a bulwark they are willing to hide behind when a department of the school calls for the VIOLENT ethnic cleansing of the Jewish people from their historic homeland.
It’s not news that academia is rotting. At CCA, with a combined student body of undergraduates and graduates of 1500, the Critical Ethnic Studies Department has twenty-nine affiliated faculty members. The furniture department has eight; painting has ten. Diversity, race, and victim status have become as central to the school’s mission as teaching art or educating students to think for themselves. Jews don’t want special victim status. Jews expect to learn in an environment free from hate and judged on merit alone.
CCA leadership has lost its ability to tell right from wrong. We firmly believe in free speech, but for a school to allow an official statement calling for the destruction of Israel and the genocide of its Jewish citizens to stand, essentially aligning itself with Hamas? That is beyond the pale.
Our family hoped to quietly and privately help the school do the right thing. They refused.
If CCA doesn’t change course, we will revoke our bequest and encourage others to do the same.
Jonathan Wornick is a private investor and Israel advocate in the San Francisco Bay Area.