Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors was set to deliver a virtual commencement address for UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs as scheduled on Friday despite scrutiny of her past critical remarks concerning Israel, the school's dean confirmed.
Cullors called for an end to the Israeli state while participating in a 2015 panel at Harvard Law School. Her remarks resurfaced in recent days following intense clashes between the Israeli military and Hamas militants in Gaza.
"Palestine is our generation’s South Africa," Cullors said at the event. "If we don’t step up boldly and courageously to end the imperialist project that’s called Israel, we’re doomed."
Several prominent Jewish groups questioned UCLA’s decision to host Cullors as a commencement speaker amid a recent wave of anti-Semitic attacks. UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Dean Gary Segura defended the decision in a statement to the Jewish Journal.
"Respect for diversity of opinion on matters of public concern is a key tenet of the educational philosophy of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and it’s important to remember that an invitation to speak does not represent an endorsement of all past or future statements by a given speaker," Segura said in a statement. "We do not condone racism, sexism, anti-Semitism or any form of bias."
"The prerecorded commencement message from Patrisse Cullors is one of unity, tolerance and forgiveness," Segura added. "She suggests that a cooperative spirit can help heal old wounds and advance new solutions. I am confident that our graduating students will appreciate her perspective and find inspiration in her call to look forward without judgment in pursuit of a happier, more equitable society."
Prominent critics of UCLA’s decision included Judea Pearl, a professor of computer science at UCLA and founder of the Daniel Pearl Foundation. Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was abducted and killed in 2002 while investigating militant groups in Pakistan.
Judea Pearl called on UCLA to demand a retraction from Cullors before allowing her to deliver the commencement address.
"For the thousands of Jewish students and faculty at UCLA, Cullors represents a bigoted sect of the BLM movement that criminalizes the core of our collective existence and calls for its destruction," Pearl said in a statement. "Inviting her as a keynote speaker without explicitly retracting or addressing that bigoted part of her ideology amounts to mainstreaming that bigotry and, by implication, expelling Jewish students and faculty from equal membership in the Bruins tent of ‘equity, diversity and inclusion."
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean and director of global social action agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, also criticized the decision.
"UCLA has the moral obligation to ask their speaker if she still seeks the destruction of the Jewish state but doesn’t have the courage to do so. UCLA graduates know what she has publicly stated in the past—supporting the destruction of Israel," Cooper said.
Cullors recently stepped down as executive director of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. She announced her exit amid scrutiny of her finances after the New York Post reported she had purchased four homes for $3.2 million.
Cullors has referred to allegations that she enriched herself through donations meant for Black Lives Matter as "categorically untrue."