Jewish groups blast secretive anti-Israel vote at U.C.

Pro-Israel groups and Jewish student leaders have lashed out at a U.C. student organization for issuing a resolution that supports boycott and divestment efforts against Israel — and for doing so using “devious tactics.”

The U.C. Student Association, which has representatives on all 10 U.C. campuses and purports to represent all U.C. students, passed the anti-Israel resolution Sept. 15. In addition to supporting BDS, it condemned HR 35, a nonbinding resolution passed by the California Assembly on Aug. 28 that urges state universities to “increase efforts” to condemn anti-Semitic acts on campus.

“The [UCSA] resolution’s attack on legitimate concerns about anti-Israel extremism and anti-Semitism is deeply disturbing,” said Roz Rothstein, CEO of the pro-Israel organization StandWithUs, in a statement that also attacked UCSA for “devious tactics” and the “secretive” way the resolution was introduced and voted upon.

In an editorial Sept. 21, the Daily Californian agreed, writing “UCSA’s board displayed a stunning lack of transparency in its vote … Public participation is especially paramount when UCSA considers divisive issues.”

HR 35 decries campus incidents involving “physical aggression” against Jewish students and speakers, and exhibits that use “anti-Semitic imagery and language to falsely describe Israel, Zionists and Jews, including that Israel is a racist, apartheid, or Nazi state.” It passed on a voice vote, with 66 of 80 Assembly members signing on as co-authors.

In addition to condemning anti-Semitism, it further calls upon California colleges to “utilize existing resources … to help guide campus discussion about, and promote, as appropriate, educational programs for combating anti-Semitism on their campuses.”

In response, the UCSA resolution — which is basically a proclamation with no teeth — accuses Israel of “racism,” claims HR 35 conflates “speech critical of Israeli policies with anti-Semitism” and calls it a “serious attack on academic freedom and faculty.” It also says HR 35 “unfairly and falsely smear[s] as ‘anti-Semites’ those who do human rights advocacy focusing on Israel’s illegal occupation.”

The student resolution concludes by recognizing the legitimacy of boycotts and divestment “as important social movement tools, and encourages all institutions of higher learning to cleanse their investment portfolios of unethical investments in companies implicated in or profiting from violations of international human rights law, without making special exemptions for any country.”

The response of Jewish groups to HR 35, which the University of California says it will not support because of First Amendment concerns, has been tepid, with few lining up in support of the legislators’ attempt to take a simple swipe at a complex issue. Jewish Voice for Peace has come out against it, while other groups, such as the Anti-Defamation League, have taken no position.

Pro-Israel groups and Jewish students said the UCSA resolution, and the Sept. 15 voting session in which it was approved, took them by surprise. The vote was on a Saturday, one day before Erev Rosh Hashanah.

“[The resolution] blindsided the Jewish community,” Jason Bellet, a U.C. Berkeley student senator, told the Daily Californian. “When we talk about having a safe and welcoming campus climate, that can’t happen when a bill like the one opposing HR 35 is passed in a nontransparent way, in a way that leaves out members of the community criticizing the process.”

Bellet, four other past and present Jewish members of the U.C. Berkeley student senate and Arielle Gabai, the president of the Jewish Student Union at U.C. Berkeley, sent a letter to JSU members. In it, they complained that they “were not informed that such a resolution was being considered nor offered the opportunity to engage our community in the conversation. The Jewish community was excluded from the debate … even though the [UCSA] is meant to represent the views of all U.C. students.”

Added Rothstein: “They essentially ambushed Jewish and other pro-Israel students by using secretive tactics, not notifying anyone who might disagree with the proposed resolution.”