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State lawmakers urge action against campus anti-Semitism

by sue fishkoff, j. staff

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State legislators this week passed a resolution condemning anti-Semitism on college campuses and urging officials to take action against it — and the University of California said thanks, but we’ll handle it ourselves.

The state Assembly’s recommendations and U.C.’s cautious rejection highlight the increasing volatility and continued complexity of dealing with hate speech and anti-Semitism on state campuses.

House Resolution No. 35, introduced by Assemblymember Linda Halderman (R-Fresno) and passed unanimously with no debate on Aug. 28, notes the growing number of anti-Jewish acts taking place on California college campuses, and calls upon college officials to take steps to prevent them, including denying public funding for activities judged to promote intolerance.

“California schools need to recognize that anti-Semitism is still a very real issue on college campuses around the state,” Halderman said in a statement. “This is a problem requiring serious attention on both a campus and system-wide basis.”

The text of the resolution refers to incidents described in the U.C. Jewish Student Campus Climate Report, issued July 9 by the president’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion, notably the harassment and intimidation of Jewish students that takes place during annual “Israel Apartheid” weeks. U.C. is expected to decide on the report’s recommendations, which include a ban or restriction on hate speech, by late October.

Responding immediately to the new legislation, a spokesman said the U.C. system will not support it because of the clause mandating that “no public resources will be allowed to be used for any anti-Semitic or any intolerant agitation.”

That, U.C. spokesman Steve Montiel told the San Francisco Chronicle, “is problematic because of First Amendment concerns.”

U.C. President Mark Yudof, a constitutional law expert and First Amendment champion, is expected to couch his response to the Campus Climate report’s recommendations in similar terms.

As of midweek, Bay Area Jewish institutions were steering clear of the fray, declining to throw their support behind the new legislation or to come out against the U.C. statement.

Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council, restricted his comments to “commending” Halderman for taking leadership on “this critically important issue,” and reiterating that the JCRC “continues to work closely” with many groups “to ensure a safe atmosphere for all students — including Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus.”

“The Legislature’s decision to weigh in on this subject makes clear that the subject of anti-Semitism on campus is a serious concern to the State of California and that continued strong leadership is required to meet the challenge,” he wrote in an email to j.

Cliff Berg, lobbyist for the Jewish Public Affairs Committee, which represents the organized Jewish community in Sacramento, thanked Halderman and her co-authors “for working closely with the Jewish community and getting the right tone and language, which is harder than you might imagine,” given the complexity of the issue.

Meanwhile, 10 pro-Palestinian and Muslim groups sent an Aug. 28 letter to the Legislature asking it to reconsider this “highly ideological resolution” that “contributes to a climate of intimidation” and has serious First Amendment problems.

“Genuine acts of anti-Semitism should be condemned, but this resolution goes far beyond that,” Rachel Roberts, civil rights coordinator for the Council on American Islamic Relations in Northern California, wrote in an email. Roberts added that CAIR was “very disappointed” but looked forward to working with lawmakers to come up with a better solution.

The pro-Israel group Stand With Us has collected nearly 1,600 signatures on a petition urging the U.C. president’s advisory council to accept the recommendations of its Campus Climate report.


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