Letter from Students Supporting Israel at UCLA: Urgent Call to Rescind Cornel West’s Invitation to Speak in memory of Rabbi Heschel

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To whom it may concern,

The Center for Jewish Studies at UCLA recently announced that Cornel West will be the keynote speaker at a conference honoring the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. This appointment is both reprehensible and an affront to the memory of Rabbi Heschel, who was a proud Zionist.

Cornel West is the antithesis of everything Rabbi Heschel represented. He consistently demonizes the state of Israel accusing it of being a militaristic and racist regime that unhesitatingly massacres “hundreds of Palestinian babies”.  Furthermore, he has accused both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama of being war criminals and has designated Israel a terrorist state. As a scholar, West should demonstrate some degree of intellectual honesty and argue based on fact instead of relying on propaganda meant to induce hate against Israel.

More than once, Mr. West has likened the Palestinian conflict to slavery in the United States. The nonsensicality of such an analogy is further evidence that Mr. West does not emphasize truth, but instead depends on lies propagated by the enemies of Israel. Comparing the conflict in Israel to the African American struggle in the United State both undervalues the struggle of African Americans in the U.S., and unfairly characterizes Israeli policy. At the same time this rhetoric diminishes the efforts of social pioneers like Rabbi Heschel who advocate for justice and equality, domestically and abroad.

Rabbi Heschel was a man ahead of his time both when it came to social justice and the State of Israel. He identified and labeled racial inequality before most political leaders recognized and acknowledged responsibility. He looked beyond his own struggles and sympathized with a people with whom he had little in common, and from whom he had little to gain. Rabbi Heschel looked at issues from an objective standpoint and made decisions based solely on his empathy as a human being.

In comparison, Mr. West has consistently proven that he is either unable or unwilling to treat the conflict in Israel with the same sensitivity that Rabbi Heschel approached civil rights in the United States. West, demonizes the State of Israel, endorses the Global March to Palestine, and champions the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions efforts against Israel. Time and time again West has criticized Israel for its military operations in Gaza and the West Bank, without ever acknowledging Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket and terrorist attacks that originate from these locations.

West’s involvement with organizations that deny the Jews’ right to Israel, stands in stark contrast to Rabbi Heschel who once stated, “Israel is [a] continuous, uninterrupted insistence, an intimate ingredient of Jewish consciousness, [and] is, at the core of Jewish history, a vital element of Jewish faith.” Rabbi Heschel believed that Israel belonged to the Jews, and the Jews belonged to Israel.

Rabbi Heschel deplored racism and was an advocate for social justice. He respected all people with dignity, in contradistinction to West, who clearly resents the Jewish state and attacks its political allies, including the United States. West seemingly prefers Jews as an oppressed people without any degree of self-determination—only as a defenseless underdog can he empathize with Israel and the Jewish people.

While as a leader in his community, Rabbi Heschel wished to serve as an example for future generations to fight inequality and promote justice. Mr. West’s activities serve to perpetuate these grievances. Therefore, in the strongest way possible we wish to express our dismay with Mr. West’s appointment as keynote speaker, and strongly suggest this invitation be rescinded.

Let’s honor Rabbi Heschel, not the people who actively seek to destroy everything he stood for.


Akiva Nemensky and Liat Menna

1st year students and Founders of Students Supporting Israel at UCLA

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