U.C. Regents: anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism not permitted

The U.C. Board of Regents approved this week a set of Principles Against Intolerance, which condemns “anti-Semitism” and which, in an opening contextual statement, includes “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism” as something that has “no place at the University of California.”

The principles, passed unanimously at a March 23 board meeting in San Francisco, are now in effect, and apply to students and faculty at all 10 U.C. campuses, though the document includes no enforcement mechanism or consequences for violations.

Last fall, the Board of Regents formed a working group, composed of five regents, along with chancellors, provosts and other administrators, to develop a response to a string of reported anti-Semitic acts on U.C. campuses, ranging from swastika graffiti to the questioning of students’ fitness to serve on various campus organizations simply because they were Jewish.

 

BDS protestors during Day of Action, U.C. Berkeley, Sept. 23, 2014 photo/ Amcha Initiative

Regent and working group chair Eddie Island noted at the March 23 meeting that his group met with “members of the U.C. community and experts through the fall and winter. In light of the number and frequency of acts of intolerance, the group concluded the time is especially apt to reaffirm the mission of U.C. and the aspirations of all its members. These principles provide a consistent basis for responding to intolerant speech and acts.”

 

Though the document passed unanimously, it was amended before the vote, changing one phrase in the introductory contextual statement from ”anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place in the University of California” to anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms,” etc.

The same document also notes that, “opposition to Zionism often is expressed in ways that are not simply statements of disagreement over politics and policy, but also assertions of prejudice and intolerance towards Jewish people and culture.”

Further, it declares that, “harassment, threats” and “actions that interfere with the ability of an individual or group to assemble, speak and share or hear the opinions of others … will not be tolerated.”

This latter is key, especially in light of the numerous incidences over the years of anti-Israel activists shouting down pro-Israel and visiting Israeli speakers on campus.

Other language in the document reaffirms the U.C.’s policies prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, national origin and other criteria. While recognizing freedom of speech and expression as “paramount in a public research university,” including “creative expression that is intended to shock,” the document also asserts that each “member of the university community is entitled to speak, to be heard and to be engaged based on the merits of their views.”

The document encourages university leaders to “actively challenge anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination,” and empowers them to “use all available tools, including restorative justice techniques, to address unlawful conduct.”

Before voting, various board members spoke about the principles and their potential impact.

Board of Regents general counsel Charlie Robinson noted the principles “express a viewpoint on conduct that promotes, and conduct that undermines, the mission of the university. Intolerance falls into latter category. The principles are aspirational rather than prohibitory. They do not impose a ban on any speech or behavior but rather call on administrators to challenge and confront intolerant speech with more speech.”

Regent Sherry Lansing said, “Tolerance and diversity is the fundamental ethic of our university system. The report addresses all the issues of intolerance. I’m sad we’re facing this at this time in our history, but I’m proud we are addressing it. I enthusiastically endorse this.”

Student Regent Avi Oved used his time to discuss the term “anti-Zionism,” since, as he put it, “everyone seems so fixated on this word. It should not be conflated with criticisms of Israel and the Israeli government. When it veers to Israel’s right to exist is when distinctions become clear.

“It is one thing to engage in robust discussion and lead campaigns around issues, but it’s another to use that as license to deride and demonize others because of their identity. By adopting the principles, U.C. will cement its stance against the tide of bigotry and discrimination.”

Pro-Israel organizations that lobbied for the principles hailed the vote as a breakthrough.

U.C. Santa Cruz Jewish studies professor and AMCHA Initiative founder Tammi Benjamin worked for months to persuade the board to adopt the document. After passage, she said, “We applaud all of the regents for addressing the record-high and growing anti-Jewish hate. This is an unprecedented and remarkable step forward, which will benefit Jewish students across the country.”

Rabbi Doug Kahn of the Jewish Community Relations Council, which had been lobbying the Board of Regents for months, said the working group “had done an excellent job balancing the protection of free speech with the need to address growing in tolerance of all kinds, including anti-Semitism increasingly expressed through an anti-Zionist lens.”

StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein said that passage of the document “shows that the Regents are truly committed to addressing anti-Semitism, as well as other forms of bigotry within the U.C. system. Denying Israel’s right to exist and opposing the rights of the Jewish people to self-determination in their homeland is racism, pure and simple.”

In a statement, the American Jewish Committee applauded the move, cheering the regents for “talking action against hostility towards Jewish students on U.C. campuses.”

Kenneth Marcus, president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, which combats anti-Semitism on college campuses, called the passage “a great Purim gift” to the Jewish community, adding, “Jewish students now have an important protection against anti-Semitic harassment, especially when it takes the form of anti-Zionism.”

Speaking in opposition, civil rights attorney and U.C. Berkeley Law alumnus Liz Jackson of Jewish Voice for Peace said that the statement “opens the door to the policing of speech critical of Israeli policies. We do not need to speculate about where this will lead … its ambiguity presents serious implications for the First Amendment rights of students and scholars, whose political expression will undoubtedly be further chilled.”

 

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.