University of California adopts anti-Semitism statement

The University of California’s Board of Regents has adopted a statement to single out anti-Semitism as a form of intolerance that campus leaders should challenge, but regents rejected a more far-reaching denouncement of arguments against Israel's right to exist.

The regents issued a Statement of Principles Against Intolerance that says, "Anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination have no place in the university.”

The declaration made the University of California the first public university system to reaffirm its opposition to anti-Semitic behavior since campaigns for academic and economic boycotts of Israel have taken root on many U.S. college campuses.

Political debate vs hate speech

A year in the making, the formal position opposing anti-Semitic behavior comes amid a wave of impassioned campus activism that has sparked tensions between Palestinian rights supporters and strong allies of Israel. Many Jewish students believe this tension has provoked the increasing numbers of anti-Semitic attacks on campuses.

"Political movements often depend on spoken or unspoken hatreds to perpetuate themselves," writes Jonathan A. Greenblatt on the ADL's website. "Often, however, they can use ambiguity to mask these motives and appeal to a broader audience."

The 10-paragraph declaration on anti-Semitism seeks to spell out the difference between the vigorous intellectual debates and the "acts of hatred and other intolerant behavior" campus leaders have a duty to combat.

One section, for example, states that candidates for leadership positions should not be discredited based on bias or stereotyping. The principle was an apparent reference to a UCLA student seeking a seat on the student government's judicial council being asked whether she would be able to remain impartial given her Jewish heritage.

"Intellectual and creative expression that is intended to shock has a place in our community," the document reads. "Nevertheless, mutual respect and civility within debate and dialogue advance the mission of the university."

The statement was drafted in response to pro-Israel groups that demanded more be done to protect Jewish students amid heightened activism on behalf of Palestinian rights.

When a draft of the statement was released last week prior to its adoption, critics expressed alarm over an accompanying report that listed "anti-Zionism" — the rejection of Israel's right to exist — as another kind of discrimination that didn't belong at the university.

That statement was removed. Instead regents chose using an amendment suggested by Regent Norman Pattiz, who served on the task force that drafted the statement and report. It reads, "Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California."

Criticism vs anti-Semitism

Pattiz said the change would make it clear that the university recognizes a distinction between legitimate criticism of Israel and actions that cross the line into inappropriate demonization of Jewish people.

Faculty and student groups said the report, if endorsed along with the principles themselves, could be used to stifle free speech and scholarship.

"Anti-Zionism names a political viewpoint that individuals have a right to express under the First Amendment," Judith Butler, a UC Berkeley comparative literature professor, told the board.

The system-wide principles are meant to be "aspirational rather than prohibitory," said Charles Robinson, the UC system's general counsel,

As such, they do not bar particular acts or proscribe sanctions but serve to remind administrators of their duty to combat bias and to impose discipline in cases that violate existing anti-discrimination policies, Robinson said.

The principles "express a viewpoint on conduct that promotes conduct that undermines the purposes and mission of the university," he said. "Intolerance, discrimination and bias fall into the latter category."

Student Regent Avi Oved, a UCLA student who is active in Jewish affairs and served on the advisory group, said it was important that the statement make key distinctions.Screen shot 2016-03-27 at 7.12.56 PM

"Anti-Zionism should not be conflated with criticism of Israel, or the Israeli government," he said. "When voices veer from criticism of Israeli policy to an unjust denial of Israel's right to exist or Jews' right to self-determination is when the distinction between robust discussions and anti-Zionism become clear."

Oved added, though, that students with strong ties to Israel are sometimes subject to slurs that would not be tolerated if they were directed at other minority groups.

Pro-Palestinian groups and faculty members with research specialties in the Middle East were upset that anti-Semitism was the only type of intolerance specifically mentioned in the principles at a time when Muslims in the U.S. increasingly face discrimination.

They remained concerned that the slight change did not go far enough.

"The regents' new policy offers no clarity on how to determine when criticism of Israel or anti-Zionism crosses a line into anti-Semitism, and was predicated on the erroneous assumption that support for Palestinian rights is inherently anti-Semitic," said Tallie Ben Daniel, a coordinator for the pro-Palestinian group Jewish Voice for Peace.

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