Professor Raviv talks bias, Pitzer, and cockroaches
- On April 22, 2013
Up until now, CMC Associate Professor of Economics Yaron Raviv has remained completely silent on his involvement in a March 4 conflict between himself and members of a pro-Palestine student group, Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). When the Claremont Independent requested an interview March 12 via email, Raviv politely declined, saying he wanted to wait for the review process to take its course before going public with his side of the story.
Raviv, an Israel native, has been accused of using a racial slur and offensive language when he called a Pitzer student and SJP member a “fucking cockroach.” The group also alleged that Raviv tried to shut down a demonstration that they were performing, which included checking IDs at the front entrance of Collins Dining Hall during dinner service in order to simulate a West Bank and Gaza Strip Israeli checkpoint.
CMC President Pamela Gann sent an April 19 email to the Claremont Colleges Community reporting the findings of a comprehensive review conducted by the administration. Although Gann ruled that, “The CMC faculty member made statements to the Pitzer student that were inappropriate and unprofessional,” she also wrote that, “even if bias is assumed, the comments made, when viewed in the context and in their totality, were not sufficiently severe or pervasive as to constitute a violation of the College’s Harassment Policy.”
Furthermore, she ruled that, “the SJP event was not in compliance with CMC’s Demonstrations Policy and the Claremont Colleges Demonstration Policy, both of which prohibit disruptive and/or non-peaceful events,” and “The CMC faculty member did not improperly interfere with or attempt to stop the event.”
Now that the review is complete and the administration has ruled on its findings, Raviv agreed to take part in an interview with the Claremont Independent. Below is a transcript of that interview.
CI: What happened the evening of March 4?
Raviv: I was sitting in [my office] grading a midterm exam. It was around 5:20 and a Pitzer student called my office. He said, “Can I come to your office? I really need your help.” He sounded very distressed, and I said, “Sure, come to my office.” He was probably just downstairs, and he got to my office in a minute. He said, “Listen, there is some demonstration in the dining hall.” I said, “Okay, calm down, let me…go and check what is going on.” So I [went] down to the dining hall, and once we [got] on the main sidewalk, he took a turn because he was afraid to be seen with me.
CI: Did you know the student?
Raviv: Yeah, I knew the student. He was not my student. He knew that I was Israeli. I met him once at some kind of social event.
CI: What did you see when you got to the dining hall?
Raviv: I saw a couple of students [handing out] some fliers, a couple of students standing on the side of Collins Dining Hall and crying, and I saw a line of students blocking the entrance to the dining hall.
I went up to go into the dining hall and the students were standing shoulder to shoulder, and I could not pass. They told me, “Show us your ID.” I said, “What?” “Yeah, yeah, this is an Israeli checkpoint, show us your ID if you want to come inside.” I said, “I’m not going to show you my ID. Have you ever seen an Israeli checkpoint?” One of the students said, “Yeah, yeah, I saw an Israeli checkpoint.” I said, “Who is your leader? Who brought you here?” Then they told me, “We don’t have a leader. We’ve come by ourselves, and this is an approved demonstration.” I said, “Okay, okay, let me in.” They let me in, you know, so there was not any physical contact.
I went inside the dining hall. I was looking for the dining hall manager. I called her from inside the kitchen and I told her, “Listen, the students have the right to demonstrate, they probably have approved that, but they cannot block the entrance. Please move them 10 feet aside. They can do their political activity there. Just move them 10 feet aside so they will not block the entrance and hassle students. That’s illegal.” She went outside and she talked with the students, and at first it looked like they complied. So they took off the ropes—they had some ropes on the side of the dining hall—and they moved aside. However, the moment she went inside, they immediately blocked the entrance again. I went inside the dining hall again. I was looking for [the dining hall manager], and I could not find her, so I went to the cashier and I asked her to use her phone. I called [Campus Safety]—I was the one who called [Campus Safety]—and I told the dispatcher, “Listen, the students have the right to demonstrate, but you need to send someone to move them 10 feet aside. They cannot block the entrance.”
The [Campus Safety] officer arrived and he parked his car 30-40 feet south of the entrance in front of Story House. I saw the guy and wanted to go talk to him to explain what was going on. I started to walk toward his direction, and a [student from the demonstration approached me] and told me to my face, “Who are you? Show me your ID! Are you faculty or a visitor? If you are a visitor, you cannot be on campus after 5:00 p.m. Show me your campus pass!” I told him, “I will never show you my ID. It’s not your business who I am. I can be a faculty or a visitor; it’s not your business.” I kept walking toward the officer and this guy is in my face, you know, like overly aggressively. I started to talk with the [Campus Safety] officer and I said, “Listen, this student event has been approved for this demonstration, but they cannot block the entrance, you need to move them 10 feet aside.” To give [the Campus Safety officer] some validity to what I was saying, I pulled out my faculty ID. The [student] who was in my face basically said, “Oh, you are faculty! I will hunt you down!” And I said, “What? You will hunt me down? You’re a fucking, little cockroach.”
So [the student] heard that and said, “Oh! Now I’ve got you!” The moment he said that, I was really concerned—not because of the “cockroach,” I was concerned because of the f-word. I immediately disentangled because I didn’t want there to be a physical [altercation], so I went back to the Pitzer student who had asked for my help. I told him, “Listen, campus safety is here. They will take it from there.” And I left.
CI: So, I’d like to get more into what SJP accused you of. They accused you of trying to take down the event—
Raviv: Yeah, the two main accusations were, first, that I tried to take down the event. And then, they assumed that I meant to demean the other student as a Palestinian [through a racial slur]. So, first of all, you can read it in the report, I never asked that the event stop. I just asked that they move it 10 feet aside, and this was confirmed by [Campus Safety] and the dining hall manager. [Regarding] the “cockroach,” when I came home and told my wife [what had happened], I said I was really worried about the f-word and I didn’t talk about the “cockroach” at all.
First of all, Israelis do not use that kind of expression with respect to Palestinians—that’s a total lie. But I don’t need to use this argument because there was no way that me, or any other person, could tell that the person in front of me was Palestinian. How could I know that he was a Palestinian? His English was much better than mine; he grew up here in the states. He, on the other hand, knew that I was an Israeli based on my accent when he said, “I will hunt you down.”
CI: But you did know that this was a pro-Palestinian event.
Raviv: Yeah, I knew that. But the probability that you see an American Jew is much higher than the chance that you see a Palestinian.
CI: So you didn’t know the student and you didn’t know he was Palestinian before it was reported?
Raviv: No, and I didn’t have any way to know it, so that’s ridiculous. To say that this is the way that Israelis talk is ridiculous, but my argument is that I didn’t know that he was a Palestinian. Nobody could know that he was a Palestinian. I didn’t know his race. The report of the [Campus Safety] officer describes him as a white male. How could I know that he was a Palestinian?
I’m actually a two-state solution person. [The SJP] blames me for being racist, [but when] I was on sabbatical last year, I rented my house to a traditional Muslim-Arab family—and [the SJP] still calls me a racist.
CI: Another claim that the SJP made was that you said, “All Pitzer students are [fucking] cockroaches.”
Raviv: Not true. It’s not true. I only used the word “cockroach” once to the best of my recollection, and it was directly to that student. All I said was, “You’re a fucking, little cockroach.”
I poorly chose my words. I regret using bad language. We should all aspire to higher standards and not chaos. That’s not appropriate, so I’m sorry for that. But we need to understand what provoked this kind of language. What the student did to me, there’s no equivalence. Worst case scenario, I curse at somebody. But he has caused me real damage.
[Raviv said that since the incident, he has received several unpleasant and downright threatening emails. He shared a couple with the CI.]
Raviv: So, this is an email, for example, from “Juice2”: “Hitler had the right idea, he was just an underachiever. I thought you might enjoy that since you seem to be such a huge supporter of genocide. Cheers.”
I got several like this: “I am one of your students. What right do you have to call one of my colleagues a ‘cockroach,’ you filthy Israeli cunt? Please, could I ask you to leave the U.S. and return to the land of Zion-Nazis where you can slaughter innocent cockroaches at whim? See you in class you wasted inbred.”
CI: How many emails did you receive?
Raviv: Eight. Something like that.
[Finally, Raviv claimed that reckless reporting on the initial controversy has been the cause of these emails and several other damages that he has incurred.]
Raviv: At least the The Student Life didn’t publish my name initially—that was the Claremont Port Side. When I talked with Carlos [Ballesteros of TSL], I asked why he posted my name, and he said, “Well, the students have been complaining about you.” I said, “If someone had complained that I was a pedophile, would you still publish my name?” Why wouldn’t you wait to see what happens first? If someone claimed that I was a rapist, would you publish it? They really damaged my reputation. I have some Arab students in the class, I have some Palestinian students in the class, and they accused me of being a racist.
This has never happened in the college, this kind of persecution just because of political views. And you try to ask yourself, if I was an Irish-American, would they accuse me of being a racist? Or are they accusing me only because I’m an Israeli-Jew? So now, I ask you, where is the bias-related behavior? If I was an American and I said, “Fucking little cockroach,” would they accuse me of being racist?