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UC Regents Seek Stronger Statement Against Anti-Semitism

During its meeting last Thursday at UC Irvine, the UC Regents Council on Educational Policy rejected the first draft of the Statement of Principles Against Intolerance, stating that the statement does not do enough to address the issue of anti-Semitism on UC campuses.

The Statement of Principles Against Intolerance is a two-page document which highlights the University of California’s core principles of respect, inclusion and academic freedom for all students, and rejects discrimination, violence and threats directed at any group.

The Regents announced that a new committee led by Regent Eddie Island that consists of students, faculty, chancellors and Regents will work to create a new draft of the document that specifically addresses anti-Semitism.

Discussion on the matter was prompted last spring when more than 50 Jewish organizations asked the UC system to adopt the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism. This definition considers acts that demonize Israel or deny the country’s right to exist as anti-Semitic.

Last May, UC President Janet Napolitano announced that her personal view was in favor of adopting the State Department’s definition. The Regents were due to discuss the matter in July, but postponed it until the fall meeting.

Facing the matter at an earlier meeting and through the first draft was difficult partly because of the challenges of balancing First Amendment rights of free speech and condemning intolerance against a group of students.

“In drafting the statement every approach required navigating between polarities. On the one end, constitutionally protected speech and the paramount values of academic freedom, and, on the other end, the importance of condemning acts of hatred or bigotry,” said UC provost Aimée Dorr.

The first draft of the Statement of Principles Against Intolerance document, written by President Napolitano’s staff, was deemed ineffective by the Regents because it did not specifically address the concerns of Jewish students.

“As much as I believe in the spirit of what this proposal aimed to do I could not support it in its current form,” said student Regent Avi Oved. “It did not do justice to those who have been victimized for their identities far too long on our campuses.”

Provost Dorr mentioned that no group was specifically identified because of the difficulty of creating a list of groups that was fully inclusive of the entire student body. The draft, she mentioned, was created to be a set of principles and not specifics.

Yet, many Regents found this to be inadequate.

“It’s a nice statement, but it really just states what we’re already about and what we’re already doing,” said Regent Bruce Varner. “I think we can do a better job with crafting an appropriate statement.”

Specific issues and incidents were discussed by Jewish students, faculty and members of the community during the open session of the UC Regents Meeting.

“Many UCI students were subjected to years of harassment.  A Holocaust memorial was vandalized, a Jewish student had a rock thrown at his head, another wearing an Israeli flag pin was surrounded by a group of students who cursed at him,” said David Kadosh, director of Zionist Organization of America, Western Region.

Several students, faculty and staff expressed their concern that the State Department’s definition could affect their rights to criticize Israel as a state, and were content with the current statement.

“It seems that the crucial distinction here that you need to keep in mind is the distinction between criticizing a government and condemning a religious group,” said Kurt Horner, head steward of the UC Student-Workers Union Irvine office. “In the Palestinian territories today we have 4.5 million people who cannot vote in the government that controls their territory, who do not have freedom of movement and who often lack basic services like water and power. If that is not a political situation that we can talk about, then you cannot talk about a political situation anywhere of any government in the world.”

While the Regents believe the current draft did not go far enough, many believe the State Department’s definition would not be appropriate at a university either.

“The State Department definition isn’t one that lends itself to an academic environment. It does limit academic discourse by conflating criticism with unacceptable activity,” said Regent John Perez. “We’re smarter than that. We can craft a policy that protects academic freedom and free speech, but that condemns and responds to unacceptable activity.”

Although a new statement of principles still needs to be created, President Napolitano is hopeful that students’ concerns will be addressed.

“The fact that we are having this discussion is important in of itself,” she said.

Regents plan to discuss revisions to the statement at their next meeting at UC San Francisco in November.