February 26, 2020

[UPDATED] UC Regents committee condemns anti-Semitism on UC campuses, but not all anti-Zionism

UPDATE 3/24/2016. 1:40 p.m.:  On Thursday, March 24, the full board of Regents of the University of California unanimously approved the amended “Principles Against Intolerance” approved by its Committee on Educational Policy on Wednesday. “I think it’s a giant win for the community,” Avi Oved, a student member of the Board of Regents and a senior at UCLA, said in a phone interview following Thursday's vote.

The amended prinicpals now state “Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.” An earlier version of the document had stated, “Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.”  Oved called the amendment a positive addition to the document. “I think that amendment strengthens the statement as a whole,” he said.

 

In a unanimous vote on the morning of March 23, the University of California Board of Regents' Committee on Educational Policy adopted a new “Principles Against Intolerance,” condemning anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry on UC college campuses. The full Board of Regents is expected to vote on the propsed principles on Thursday, March 24.

The three-part, 12-page report containing the sections, “Contextual Statement,” “Working Group Observations” and “Principles Against Intolerance” was made public on March 15.

The public draft had been more broad, saying, “Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.” However, prior to the vote, the working group’s members amended the statement to read, “Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.” The amendment was put forth by UC Board of Regents member Norman Pattiz.

Multiple members of the working group spoke to the committee, saying they amended the text out of concern that not allowing campus expression of “anti-Zionism” could potentially stem legitimate criticism of Israel and thereby limit constitutional rights to free speech.

A working group of eight UC Regents faculty and students drafted the approved report, including UCLA Student Regent Avi Oved, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi and others.

On Wednesday, Oved, wearing a yarmulke, spoke at the meeting, urging the UC Board of Regents members to adopt the report.

“For now, by adopting the ‘Statement of Principles,’ the UC will cement its stance against the growing tide of bigotry and discrimination,” Oved said. “These forms of hate and ignorance run contrary to the principles and values deeply rooted in this university. Simply put, this hateful invective does not represent our community, nor does it represent our hearts and spirits.”

The report was drafted in the wake of a series of anti-Semitic incidents on UC campuses.

In 2015, the fraternity house of the UC Davis chapter of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) was vandalized by spray-painted swastikas. The incident, which followed the school’s student government passing a resolution to divest from Israel, was one of several anti-Semitic incidents that have occurred on UC college campuses over the past several years as debate about Israeli occupation of the West Bank  has intensified on campus.

At UCLA, in 2015, UCLA student Rachel Beyda, a candidate for a student judicial position, was questioned by a panel about whether being Jewish would affect her ability to serve on the school’s student government. The students initially rejected her, and then after a faculty member intervened and explained the rules, she was approved for the position.

At Wednesday’s meeting, UC President Janet Napolitano described anti-Semitism on UC campuses as among the “thorniest issues facing the university today.”

One way that anti-Israel attitudes have manifested on college campuses is through student support for the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement (BDS), including passing student resolutions asking that universities divest from Israel.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis, an umbrella organization for Reform rabbis, is among the groups that have condemned the divestment movement on college campuses. But, “CCAR promotes the opportunity for campuses to be open and safe to talk about Israel,” CCAR President Rabbi Denise Eger said in a phone interview on Wednesday.

Pro-Israel organizations American Jewish Committee (AJC) and StandWithUs, respectively, applauded the regents’ vote.

“We commend the UC Regents for taking action against hostility toward Jewish students on UC campuses,” AJC Regional Director Janna Weinstein Smith and AJC San Francisco Director Sarah Persitz said in a statement.

During a public forum that preceded the meeting, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a lecturer at University of California, Santa Cruz and co-founder and director of AMCHA Initiative, called anti-Zionism a form of anti-Semitism.

“Anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination have no place in the university,” the report’s final section says. “The Regents call on the University leaders actively to challenge anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination when and wherever they emerge within the University community.” 

UC Board of Regents Member and California State Assembly Speaker Emeritus John Perez told the Journal that the report aims to prohibit criticism of Israel that crosses into anti-Semitism. “We want to be very clear: When people use anti-Zionist language as a proxy for anti-Semitic sentiment it is something we will not abide,” Perez said in a phone interview.

Estee Chandler, an organizer with the Los Angeles chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization promoting Palestianian rights, denounced today's vote. “I think there’s been a false narrative perpetuated that there is increased anti-Semitism on campus, and it is being perpetuated specially to try to get an outcome like they got today, where there is a policy being put in place that will definitely put a chilling effect on activism and maybe even further infringe on students’ rights to do pro-Palestinian or Palestinian solidarity activism on campuses,” Chandler said. “They are creating a solution for a problem that does not exist, to get a desired outcome.”

On the pro-Israel side, Judea Pearl, professor of computer science and statistics at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, called the amendment to the Principles a capitulation on the part of the UC Board of Regents. “They did it under the pressure of free speech champions or whatever,” he said in a phone interview. He believes today's vote puts the onus on the Jewish community to respond if an act of anti-Semitism occurs on a UC campus.

“If this gives license to students to be assertive in class and the courage to raise their hand and say, 'You know, Professor, you don’t belong in this university,' and if this gives the audacity to Hillel and the ADL to take things seriously, to say, ‘From now on, enough is enough,’ then we won,” Pearl said. “It all depends on what the Jews do and not what the goyim think, to quote David Ben-Gurion.”