After months of anticipation over whether the University of California’s Board of Regents would adopt a definition of anti-Semitism in the wake of several anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incidents across its campuses, the UC’s governing arm rejected a ” target=”_blank”>whether she could serve as an unbiased judge because she is Jewish.
“The reason this whole subject’s in front of us is for specific issues, and this statement doesn’t deal with them,” said chairman of the board Bruce Varner, a partner with Varner & Brandt LLP, at Thursday’s meeting.
Although the rejected statement points to swastikas and discriminatory questioning of a “student’s fitness for a leadership role” as examples of “behaviors that do not reflect the University’s values of inclusion and tolerance,” it doesn’t specifically use the terms “anti-Semitism,” “anti-Zionism,” or call out any of the specific incidents that motivated the Jewish community’s calls for for a clear statement on intolerance.
“To not recognize why this subject is even being brought up is to do a disservice to those who brought it up in the first place,” said regent Norman Pattiz, the founder of radio giant Westwood One. “The Jewish community has a right to bring up things that concern the Jewish community. I wouldn’t expect the Jewish community to be driving ‘Black Lives Matter.’ I wouldn’t expect the Jewish community to be driving cases of Islamophobia, but I expect those communities would do exactly what the Jewish community’s doing right now in terms of bringing up instances that are germane to them.”
During a public comment section before the regents’s discussion, students and activists presented their cases for and against adopting the proposed statement. Pro-Israel Jewish students argued that the statement was insufficient and listed some particularly egregious anti-Semitic incidents on UC campuses in the past year, such as Beyda’s nomination hearing and also fliers posted at UC Santa Barbara that blamed Jews for the September 11 terrorist attacks.
On the other side, Muslim and Jewish activists from Students for Justice in Palestine and the left-wing Jewish Voice for Peace argued that adopting the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, which pro-Israel students and groups want the UC to do, would stifle freedom of speech and academic freedom. “Jewish Voice for Peace commends the University of California Regents for considering today a statement of principles against intolerance that articulate opposition to all forms of bigotry and hatred,” read a press release from the group.
“We don’t want a speech code,” Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, told the Journal. Rossman-Benjamin’s a UC Santa Cruz lecturer and a co-founder of the AMCHA Initiative, a pro-Israel campus watchdog. “To say that we can’t identify a macro-aggression against Jewish students when we talk about micro-aggressions? We can’t talk about the macro-aggressions against Jewish students and we can’t have a definition which tells us when the line is crossed between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitic harassment of Jewish students? That’s really hypocritical.”
In May, Napolitano said in a radio interview with 90.9 WBUR in Boston that her “personal view” is that the UC should adopt the United States State Department’s definition—which labels demonization and delegitimization of Israel as anti-Semitic—but that it’s ultimately something that the Board of Regents must decide.
Avi Oved, a UCLA undergraduate and the board’s designated student regent, addressed the other regents at the meeting, and said that the “process of developing this language was flawed to its core.” He said staffers in Napolitano’s office were unresponsive to his requests for input during the drafting period, and ultimately rejected his suggested revisions.
“Student communities need to have the ability to self-define instances of discrimination and intolerance,” Oved said. “We have to address the hateful invective.”
Richard Blum, a regent who heads Blum Capital and is the husband of Senator Dianne Feinstein, said that he and Feinstein had discussed the statement of intolerance last weekend, and that although Feinstein wants to “stay out of the conversation publicly, [she] is prepared to be critical of this university if we don’t have the kind of, not only statement, but penalties” for certain discriminatory actions.
“Students that do the things that have been cited here today probably ought to have either a dismissal or a suspension from school,” Blum said.
Arielle Mokhtarzadeh, a UCLA sophomore and the vice president of Bruins for Israel, said she was pleased with the regents’ decision to draft a new statement, but that she’s unhappy with the drafting process on the rejected one.
“It’s extremely disappointing, just really frustrating, that this process, which will undoubtedly shape what it means to be a Jewish student on campus, was undergone without any consultation or any attempt to include the students,” she said. “I don’t think all the regents truly understand the experience of Jewish students on campus.”
Correction (Sept. 18, 9 a.m.): A previous draft of this story indicated that Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine endorsed the “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance.” That was incorrect. Although JVP was supportive of certain aspects of the statement, it did not officially endorse it.