UCSA: Uphold Free Speech

The UCSA resolution declares its opposition to CA State Assembly resolution HR 35.

The University of California Student Association (UCSA) passed a resolution on Sept. 15 declaring its opposition to the California State Assembly’s House Resolution 35 (HR 35), which has been criticized for implying censorship of anti-Israel comments in an effort to quash anti-Semitism.

HR 35, passed by the California State Assembly on Aug. 28, encourages California public universities to condemn acts of anti-Semitism.

The State Assembly resolution also calls upon universities to refer to “existing resources, such as the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights’ working definition of anti-Semitism.”

This includes “certain language or behavior [that] demonizes and delegitimizes Israel or attacks Israel with classic anti-Semitic stereotypes, such as denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation, drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli police to that of the Nazis, and accusing the Jewish people, or Israel, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.”

Noting that universities are centers of free speech and academic freedom, the UCSA resolution identifies students who exercise free speech to criticize Israel’s policies as “a welcome addition to campus dialogue and debate,” so long as the students do so with respect to human rights, justice and equality.

The UCSA claims that HR 35 not only gags political debate on campus, but also threatens the rights of students and faculty to “raise awareness of human rights by US-backed governments,” as they would be falsely and unjustly accused of being motivated by anti-Semitism even though they could be advocating human rights within Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land. In addition, it declares that smearing such people as anti-Semites is a misuse of the term and an offense to actual victims of anti-Semitism.

The resolution provides an example of what could be considered anti-Semitic under HR 35. In 2010, 80 percent of UC Berkeley’s student government voted in favor of a bill asking the UC to withdraw its funds from companies that aid Israel’s illegal occupation, and the UCSA note that it “defies credibility” to suggest that this was motivated by anti-Semitism.

The UCSA resolved to have its president issue a letter to both the California State Assembly and the UC Regents declaring its opposition to HR 35 and all racism. It also encouraged all universities to withdraw investments in companies that engage in or profit from violations of international human rights, “without making special exemptions for any one country.”

ASUCI Executive Vice President Andrea Gaspar, whose office promotoes student advocacy, said the UCSA resolution is a necessary voice of dissent.

“I believe that by taking a stance on HR 35, the UCSA is making a strong statement that the State Assembly and the UC Regents must protect free speech and the academic freedom of all students,” she said. “Through the resolution, UCSA also recognizes the need for the UC system to take a stance for human rights across the globe and encourage measures to seek solutions when they are violated.”

“Most importantly, the UCSA is an open space for all students to bring their concerns and become proactive about issues affecting the quality, diversity, accessibility and affordability of the university.”