The University of California Regents unanimously approved a finalized Statement of Principles Against Intolerance, which condemns anti-Semitism, but does not specifically assert anti-Zionism to be a form of discrimination.
The Statement of Principles Against Intolerance discussed during the Wednesday meeting held in San Francisco initially stated that “anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.” Per the request of Regent Norman J. Pattiz, however, the Regents agreed to replace “anti-Zionism” with “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism.”
“After considering input from a number of different sources including the Academic Senate, I would like to propose a slight change in this report,” said Pattiz, referring to the modification. “I enthusiastically support this change and the working group supports this change.”
The request for a Statement of Principles Against Intolerance was first submitted by the AMCHA Initiative, a group that seeks to combat anti-Semitic behavior on college campuses. The group was supported by many UC students and members of the community who cited various incidents of harassment and hate speech directed at Jewish students.
A working group to draft a finalized statement was created in September, after an initial statement was rejected for not specifically addressing anti-Semitism on UC campuses. The working group met several times and received the guidance of several experts before presenting a finalized statement during Wednesday’s meeting.
The final version of the Statement of Principles Against Intolerance took several months to draft due to the difficulty in balancing condemnation of anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination, while also upholding free speech and academic discourse. Ongoing arguments among students, faculty and the UC community were taken into consideration during the open session of the Regents’ Wednesday meeting.
Many Jewish students and members of the community held that Jewish students were prevented from engaging in campus debate, and were questioned and harassed because of their faith. They held that anti-Zionism was often the precursor to anti-Semitism, and was thus a blatant form of discrimination.
“I have seen other student groups demonize my Zionism for their political aspirations,” said Liat Menna, a second-year economics student from UCLA. “Anti-Zionism is an antithesis to the university’s mission to provide long-term social benefits. Anti-Zionism polarizes our campus by excluding Jews from engaging with other communities through deceitful and dangerous alienation tactics.”
Several speakers, including many Jews, however, were concerned about the limitations to free speech.
Judith Butler, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, argued that conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism could prevent students and faculty from being able to criticize Israel as a state. While the statement was revised after the open session to not mention “anti-Zionism” specifically, Jewish Voice for Peace created a social media video holding that the Regents did not respond in the same manner concerning harassment and violence directed towards Muslim and African American students.
While bias towards these groups was not specifically defined to be discrimination under the principles as anti-Semitism was, the working group provided in its report that it considered “Islamophobic acts against peaceful members of our communities” and the “Black Lives Matter movement” when drafting its principles.
Palestinian students, during the open session, evoked family histories of living under occupied lands for generations. One Palestinian student argued that this statement could erase his family history by preventing academic discourse and debate about the Israeli government.
“Are our stories and our struggles, like the Palestinian homes routinely destroyed in the occupied territory, simply meant to be built over and forgotten?” asked Omar Zahzah, a graduate student at UCLA.
During the Regents meeting, General Counsel member Charles Robinson described the legal effect of adoption of the revised statement. While the statement was the first of its kind at any university, Robinson held that it does not halt free speech, but merely supports an atmosphere that the university seeks, especially in light of growing anti-Semitism on UC campuses.
“The principles are aspirational rather than prohibitory, and they seek to define the type of environment that the University strives to establish in support of its mission,” said Robinson. “They do not impose a ban on any speech or behavior, but rather call on administrators to contest and challenge intolerant or discriminatory conduct and speech, in effect confronting and challenging intolerant speech with more speech.”
The UC Regents calls on all UC campus leaders to adopt the finalized statement of principles against intolerance, which outlines 10 points prohibiting discrimination while upholding free speech. While there is no designated monitoring board to enforce application of the principles, the statement holds that “University leaders should assure that they have processes in place to respond promptly, and at the highest levels of the University, when appropriate, when intolerant and/or discriminatory acts occur.”
Moreover, the UC Regents President and chancellors will seek to ensure that these principles are consistently applied on all campuses.