UCLA donor Sharon Nazarian decries anti-Israel protesters’ demands to shutter school’s Israel studies department

Nazarian, whose family foundation funded the center, says the calls to shut it down are 'blatant censorship' akin to 'book burning'

Sharon Nazarian, the president of her family’s foundation and chair of the advisory board for UCLA’s Israel studies center, which it funds, stressed the necessity of the department in light of demands by anti-Israel activists on the campus — and across the country — to boycott both Israeli academic institutions and the department, calling such demands “blatant censorship” on par with “book burning.”

Following the violence on campus between anti-Israel protesters and counterprotesters, Nazarian, who also teaches a course on antisemitism at UCLA, released a statement on behalf of her family explaining the rationale behind funding the Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies and thanking the university’s administrators for supporting the center.

The protest group that set up the encampment has demanded that the university “sever all UC-wide connections to Israeli universities, including study abroad programs, fellowships, seminars, and research collaborations, and UCLA’s Nazarian Center.”

In her statement, Nazarian said that “our family and our Nazarian Center Advisory Board unequivocally and stridently reject any calls for boycotting academic centers of learning and research of any country, and specifically of Israel.”

“Impeding access to knowledge is a medieval and anti-democratic tactic that has never led to any positive societal change. Those targeting such scholarship — in many cases animated by antisemitism and anti-Israel hatred — aim only to vilify Israel and those who study and teach about it. Boycotting academic institutions is blatant censorship, just as bookburning is,” she wrote.

Following weeks of anti-Israel protesters harassing Jewish students — and a number of violent attacks — a large group of counterprotesters descended on the UCLA encampment on Tuesday night. Most of the counterprotesters were reportedly not UCLA students but members of the local Jewish community. They shot fireworks toward the encampment, threw heavy objects toward the anti-Israel protesters and sprayed as-yet-unidentified chemicals at them, likely mace.

Nazarian did not refer to the violence at UCLA overnight Tuesday, but said her family and the board “condemn [the] violent words and actions that we are unfortunately seeing from some of the anti-Israel protesters toward their fellow Jewish students. We proudly stand with Jewish and Israeli students at UCLA and across the country who are facing intimidation and threats during this deeply frightening time.”

In an extended tweet, UCLA professor Dov Waxman, the director of the center, similarly expressed opposition to the demand, saying he “oppose[s] boycotting Israeli academic institutions and academic boycotts in general.”

Waxman, who said that he “publicly opposed Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, and its blockade and now destruction of Gaza,” added that while he is generally sympathetic to the protesters’ cause, he is against the Students for Justice in Palestine, which helps lead the protest.

“[SJP] has expressed support for Hamas and has even celebrated the massacre of Israelis on Oct. 7. Being in solidarity with Palestinians does not necessitate supporting Hamas. On the contrary, Hamas oppresses Palestinians and has no concern for the lives of Palestinian civilians in Gaza,” Waxman wrote. “[Hamas is] prolonging the devastating war in Gaza, and the humanitarian crisis there, in order to maintain their power and authoritarian rule in Gaza.”

The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles condemned the violence of Tuesday night, specifically the “abhorrent actions of a few counter protestors,” whom the organization said “do not represent the Jewish community or our values.”

At the same time, the federation cast blame on the UCLA administration and the chancellor, Gene Block, which “enabled the chaos” by failing to enforce its rules and protect Jewish students.

“The chancellor has allowed for an environment to be created over many months that has made students feel unsafe, allowed for illegal encampments in violation of its own laws, refused to censure faculty and staff who flouted UCLA’s code of conduct, and has been systemically slow to respond when law enforcement is desperately needed,” the organization said in a statement. 

“We call on the chancellor and UCLA to immediately close the encampment and reestablish deterrence. We also call on the chancellor to meet with leaders of the Jewish community and with elected officials to articulate how UCLA will ensure Jewish safety and safety for all on campus, and establish long-term security plans to prevent any future violence,” it said.