The University of California Students Association passed a resolution on Saturday condemning any attempts to censure Palestinian human rights activists on University of California campuses and demanded that the UC stop profiting from Israel’s human rights violations. The resolution passed without opposition.
The resolution points out the UCSA’s “opposition to all racism, whether it be the racism of campus and global anti-Semitism or the racism of Israel’s human rights violations, neither of which our campuses should tolerate, support, or profit from.”
Saturday’s vote follows the passing of California State Assembly House Resolution 35 (HR 35) on Aug. 28, which passed with no debate. It calls upon California public universities to “increase their efforts to swiftly and unequivocally condemn acts of anti-Semitism.”
HR 35 does not call for any new laws or policies, but opponents of the resolution including the UCSA, say there are implicit calls for censorship.
Despite the apparent goal of protecting Jewish students from anti-Semitism on UC campuses, the UCSA says the resolution binds criticism of the Israeli government and policy with anti-Semitism. Doing so raises concerns about the issue of free speech for both students and faculty, as any legitimate criticism would be classified and treated as anti-Semitism.
The California Scholars for Academic Freedom, which includes several UC and Cal State University faculty, echoed similar comments in an open letter to the authors of HR 35.
The letter says protecting academic freedom and freedom of speech are “essential activities for any credible university” and that censorship is not the proper way to counter speech with which one does not agree.
University of California officials also echoed concerns about the resolution’s language regarding the First Amendment rights of students and areis remaining neutral on HR 35.
HR 35 is the latest conflict regarding anti-Semitism that has involved the University.
In Feb. 2010, 11 students shouted down Michael Oren, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States during his speech at UC Irvine. The “Irvine 11” were arrested and convicted of disrupting Oren’s speech.
UC President Mark Yudof created the Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion that year to improve and sustain a “tolerant, inclusive” environment across the UC campuses.
Fact-finding teams from the Advisory Council released both the Muslim & Arab Student Campus Climate Report and Jewish Campus Climate Report in July 2012.
While the teams found members of both groups faced levels of discrimination on UC campuses, critics took issue with the Jewish Campus Climate Report in particular, which called for the UC to adopt a definition of anti-Semitism and prohibit hate speech.
The California Scholars for Academic Freedom said in their open letter response that the report “points to a dangerous trend of attempts to criminalize any speech discussing boycott, divestment or sanctions against Israel or settlements in the occupied territories … We do not want this abrogation of freedom of speech to be applied in California or the United States.”
The report is currently under review by the UC as it faces staunch opposition and calls for the University to table it.