SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – The University of California’s Board of Regents is expected to vote Wednesday on a proposed policy on intolerance that includes anti-Zionism as a form of discrimination that will not be tolerated on UC campuses.
But groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine, which has criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, as well as civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, the First Amendment Coalition, and Palestine Legal argue that barring anti-Zionist sentiments on campus violates students’ freedom of speech.
The policy, which was prepared by a working group for the Board of Regents, has critics fearful that it could be used to silence activists on campus.
Jewish groups such as the AMCHA Initiative and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law have pressed UC leaders to adopt the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism.
The U.S. State Department, in a 2010 document states that “the distinguishing feature of the new anti-Semitism is criticism of Zionism or Israeli policy that—whether intentionally or unintentionally—has the effect of promoting prejudice against all Jews by demonizing Israel and Israelis and attributing Israel’s perceived faults to its Jewish character.”
The UC draft policy, released Tuesday, was applauded by Jewish organizations that had demanded more be done to protect students against anti-Semitism.
The working group’s report states that “Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California” and goes on to say that “Most members of the University community agree with this conclusion.”
But many professors, students and free speech advocates have spoken out against the draft policy, saying the working group has conflated anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
Eitan Peled, a student leader at UCLA for Jewish Voice for Peace, expressed his thoughts on the draft policy:
“This document does not represent my lived experience as an Israeli student at UCLA. As a student who considers my work advocating for Palestinian human rights as an expression of my Jewish values, I am surprised to see that criticism of a modern nation-state that regularly violates international law is so centered in a report against intolerance. Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and prejudices against both undocumented and LGBTQ students have no place on our campuses. But political debate over Zionism and the abusive policies of the state of Israel absolutely should be debated vigorously, not silenced by accusations of discrimination.”
Alan Schlosser, senior counsel at the ACLU of Northern California explained Tuesday that while the proposed Regents Policy upholds academic freedom and freedom of speech the preface, or Contextual Statement, to the Regents Policy crosses the line.
“This equation of anti-Semitism and ‘anti-Zionism’ not only threatens free speech principles. It is also inconsistent with the Regents Policy itself, which does not make that linkage…Therefore, the Regents should make clear that they are not adopting the Contextual Statement of the Working Group as University policy. The Regents should remove references to “anti-Zionism” to ensure that the policy remains focused on valid concerns with anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination. The UC needs to make clear that speech that may be deemed ‘anti-Zionist,’ and any other political speech or speech that critiques policies of any government, is within the boundaries of acceptable discourse within the University.”
But Congressman Brad Sherman, who represents California’s San Fernando Valley, issued a statement following the release of the working group’s report last week, explaining that while he was pleased with the final report’s explicit condemnation of anti-Semitism and anti‐Zionism, he argues the opposite of the ACLU.
“Since the ‘Principles Against Intolerance’ section fails to explicitly address the problem of anti-Zionism, it is critical that the report’s introduction – which condemns anti-Zionism – is adopted as part of the UC Regents’ policy. I am disappointed that the report does not recommend the adoption of a definition of anti-Semitism. I wrote to the UC Regents, as well as former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, urging them to adopt the State Department definition. The State Department definition appropriately draws the line between normal criticisms of the policies of the State of Israel on the one hand, and disguised anti-Semitism on the other.”
The proposed policy comes after several high-profile incidents, including one in which swastikas were spray-painted on a Jewish fraternity house at UC Davis in 2015. The vandalism came after the Associated Students of UC Davis passed an advisory resolution asking the UC regents to divest from businesses with connections to Israel.
The policy also comes after a report released Monday on anti-Semitism at American higher education institutions, released by the AMCHA Initiative, a Jewish non-profit organization based in Santa Cruz and founded by two professors in the UC system.
The AMCHA Initiative’s report found that UC campuses in Berkeley, Santa Cruz, Davis and Los Angeles are among the top universities in the country where anti-Semitism has been reported. Those same campuses, the report found, were among the most active in the boycott, divest, sanction movement, which calls on universities not to invest in Israeli businesses.
A version of the proposed intolerance policy was presented last year and was rejected by Jewish groups who said it didn’t go far enough to address antisemitism on campuses.
Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition has said that no other public university system has adopted the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism and that it would be a challenge for the working group to draft a policy that more precisely defines intolerance without infringing on free speech protections.
In December, the UC SJP released a position paper on the regents’ statement of principles against intolerance, in which they write:
“We see the ‘3D’ definition of anti-Semitism (speech that demonizes Israel, delegitimizes Israel, or applies a double standard to Israel) as a definition that conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Because criticism of a state’s policies and practices is not an expression of bigotry towards a people, we oppose this definition.”
UC SJP states that Jewish identity and the nation of Israel “are not contiguous” and state that the adoption of such a campus policy “strikes us as an attempt to shut down a debate rather than engage in it.”
The UC Committee on Academic Freedom weighed in on the issue in an October letter to the UC Academic Senate and shared their concerns with the working group.
The UC Committee on Academic Freedom argues that “It is impossible to create content-based definitions of ‘intolerance’ that do not potentially threaten people holding protected intellectual positions. Any attempt to inhibit, as a matter of policy, the range of ideas and opinions that may be discussed or advocated threatens the very basis of the First Amendment and would be unlikely to survive a Constitutional challenge.”
Critics of the working groups’ report argue that the UC Policy on Ethical Values and Standards of Ethical Conduct already prohibits discrimination and harassment on campus.
The UC Board of Regents is scheduled to vote on the proposed “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance” at its meeting on Wednesday in San Francisco. The university will be live video streaming the meeting’s open sessions here, beginning with public comments at 8:30 a.m. PST Wednesday.
The Regents’ vote falls in the same week that AIPAC, America’s Pro-Israel Lobby, met in Washington D.C.
U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Monday addressed a crowd at the AIPAC conference saying, “we have to be united in fighting back against BDS” and that as president she would help “build an even more vibrant culture of innovation that tightens the links between Silicon Valley and Israeli tech companies and entrepreneurs.”
By Hannah Albarazi – Follow her on Twitter: @hannahalbarazi.