UC Regents New Policy Opens Door to Policing Speech Critical of Israeli Policies

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Naomi Dann | media@jvp.org | 845-377-5745

March 23, 2016–This morning the UC Regents adopted a policy on intolerance that fails to address concerns that this policy could be used to police student and faculty speech critical of Israeli policies. The discussion at the Regents meeting today repeated false claims that student activism in support of Palestinian human rights has lead to an increase in antisemitism on campuses.

Tallie Ben Daniel, Jewish Voice for Peace Academic Advisory Council Coordinator:

“While the Regents have made an effort to ensure that the policy will not infringe on speech, this policy does NOT address our concerns. Proponents of the current policy (including the AMCHA Initiative, ZOA, ADL, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Hillel International) are primarily interested in giving UC administrators a tool that can be used to police student activism for Palestinian rights on campuses.  This is evident in their long history (as documented in our report “Stifling Dissent”) of efforts to shut down student campaigns to encourage their universities to take a stand in support of Palestinian human rights by divesting from companies that profit from Israel’s violations of international law. Moreover, in focusing primarily on antisemitism, this policy fails to address the urgent needs of UC students who are facing a heightened climate of Islamophobia and racism, not only on an individual level, but also supported by the rhetoric of political leaders and institutionalized discrimination in the university and broader society.”

This false narrative, perpetuated by Israel advocacy organizations intent on suppressing criticism of the state, relies on many unsubstantiated claims and lacks evidence. In contrast to the claims made by the AMCHA Initiative (an organization that maintains a blacklist of professors deemed too critical of Israel), the Anti-Defamation League, which also testified in support of the policy today, actually reported a decrease in antisemitism on campuses in 2015. While it is important to address antisemitism when it does occur, it is not the only or even the biggest threat to students on campuses in the context of the heightened racism and Islamophobia in our political climate today. The 2014 UC-wide campus climate report found that 49% of Muslims reported facing intimidating or hostile behavior because of their religious affiliation, followed by 34% of Jewish respondents and 29% of Christians. The report also found the highest level of discomfort among transgender, undocumented, and disabled students.

Ahead of the hearing, opposition to the proposed policy was expressed by hundreds of UC faculty, student activists, media outlets and civil rights experts including the American Civil Liberties Union and Palestine Legal.

At the Regents meeting today, the original proposed policy was amended to specify “antisemitic forms of anti-Zionism,” rather than a blanket condemnation of anti-Zionism broadly. The Regents congratulated themselves on a process that heard from “both sides,” despite the fact that the experts they consulted were four white men, three of whom are avowed Zionists. The Regents new policy offers no clarity on how to determine when criticism of Israel or anti-Zionism crosses a line into antisemitism, and was predicated on the erroneous assumption that support for Palestinian rights is inherently antisemitic.

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Further Quotes for Publication:

Liz Jackson, Jewish civil rights attorney at Palestine Legal, cooperating council at Center for Constitutional Rights, UC Berkeley Law alum:

“The new UC Regents statement opens the door to the policing of speech critical of Israeli policies. We do not need to speculate about where this will lead. The Israel advocacy organizations pushing this Regents statement already have a demonstrated record of demanding that criticism of Israel be punished on campus. This statement is another tool in their box, along with false accusations, smear campaigns and meritless legal complaints targeting speech on campus.

Though the University explicitly acknowledged that the statement is not enforceable, its ambiguity presents serious implications for the First Amendment rights of students and scholars, whose political expression will undoubtedly be further chilled.”

Omar Zahzah, UCLA graduate student and organizer:

“As the movement for Palestinian freedom and equality has grown in the US, so too have politically motivated efforts to silence any criticism of Israeli policies, particularly on college campuses. The work of groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is rooted in a comprehensive anti-oppression framework that sees the Palestinian struggle for freedom and self-determination as continuous with, and connected to, all other anti-racist struggles. Conflating protected political speech and anti-racist activism with genuine bigotry not only stigmatizes campus activism; it cheapens the otherwise commendable effort to combat true oppression and discrimination on university and college campuses. We all agree that anti-Semitism and racism must be combated on campus. Where we disagree is in the claim that anti-Zionism is bigotry. Palestinian and Jewish students alike should have the right to say that the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 was morally wrong and that Palestinian refugees should have the right to return home to a state where Palestinians and Jews live in equality rather than in a discriminatory Jewish state.”

Rabbi Alissa Wise, deputy director Jewish Voice for Peace:

“The effort to conflate anti-Zionism, political criticism of the state of Israel, with anti-Semitism, baseless hatred of Jews, is a morally reprehensible and desperate attempt to stop a movement that seeks justice and equality for Israelis and Palestinians, and all people. To do so is to take a dangerous step toward de-democratizing our society.”

Professor Judith Butler, University of California Berkeley:

“If we think that we solve the problem by identifying forms of anti-Semitic anti-Zionism, then we are left with the question of who identifies such a position, and what are their operative definitions?  These terms are vague and overbroad and run the risk of suppressing speech and violating principles of academic freedom. We have principles that oppose anti-Semitism on the same grounds as we would oppose all forms of discrimination. There already exists University policy and state and federal law, developed over many years that provide an effective framework for resolving these issues.”

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Jewish Voice for Peace is a national, grassroots organization inspired by Jewish tradition to work for a just and lasting peace according to principles of human rights, equality, and international law for all the people of Israel and Palestine. Jewish Voice for Peace has over 200,000 online supporters, over 60 chapters, a youth wing, a Rabbinic Council, an Artist Council, an Academic Advisory Council, and an Advisory Board made up of leading U.S. intellectuals and artists.

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