University of California softens anti-Semitism statement

Protesters march through the University of California, Berkeley, campus in Berkeley, Calif., on Dec. 10, 2014. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Noah Berger
Protesters march through the University of California at Berkeley campus in Berkeley, California December 10, 2014. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Noah Berger

Protesters march through the University of California at Berkeley campus in Berkeley, California December 10, 2014. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Noah Berger

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters)  The University of California’s regents declared on they would not tolerate anti-Semitism on campus but rejected a proposal to equate anti-Zionism with religious bigotry, as they tried to defuse tensions between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian students.

The statement of principles, approved unanimously Wednesday (March 23) by the university’s governing board, stems from concerns among Jewish students and faculty about a rise in anti-Semitism on several UC campuses in response to recent student activism in support of Israel.

Pro-Palestinian campus activists, however, say they are simply voicing legitimate criticism of Israel, which, they say, is being misconstrued, creating a pretext for pro-Israeli activists to squelch the Arab side of the Mideast debate.

The regents rebuffed draft language that would have broadly defined opposition to Israel as anti-Jewish bigotry, with the board instead voting to disapprove “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism.”

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The action by California’s flagship public university, reflecting a broader conflict playing out on college campuses nationwide, sought to strike a balance between condemning intolerance and protecting free speech.

The UC system is considered one of the most prestigious higher education institutions in the country, comprising 10 campuses including the University of California, Berkeley and the University of California, Los Angeles.

Critics said a blanket condemnation of anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism, as contained in the original draft, would have trampled academic freedom and opened the university to costly litigation.

Pro-Palestinian students called the statement the latest in a series of efforts to muzzle political criticism of Israel, including student movements pressing for divestiture or boycotts against the Jewish state.

“Are our stories and our struggles simply meant to be built over, forgotten?” asked Omar Zahzah, a UCLA graduate student whose relatives, he said, were forced from their homes with the 1948 founding of Israel.

But supporters of the draft, including student regent Abraham “Avi” Oved, whose parents were born in Israel, said anti-Zionism has evolved into a politically coded contemporary brand of anti-Semitism.

From their perspective, anti-Zionist rhetoric — marked by calls for Israel’s destruction or denial of its right to exist — frequently feeds more overt forms of anti-Jewish hatred.

He cited an instance in which the phrase “Zionists should be sent to the gas chamber” was scrawled on a building at UC Berkeley after a student senate campaign calling for university divestment from U.S. companies doing business with Israel.

Regents, meeting at UC’s San Francisco campus, ultimately adopted an amended statement declaring: “Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.

Some students said the final language still conflated a political doctrine with anti-Jewish bias and could suppress free speech.

“Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism have very little to do with each other,” said Tallie Ben Daniel, an academic advisory council coordinator for the group Jewish Voice for Peace.

(Reporting by Cassie Paton)

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  • The article is either poorly written or written intentional to deceive. Removing the ant-Zionism censor has NO impact on stiffling any and all criticism of Israel. That is already covered in the definition of antisemitism adopted by the UC committee.

  • I just want Israel out of Palestine. The citizens of Palestine are Christians, Jews,
    and Muslims and they existed for thousand of years before the State of Israel
    decided to chase them off their land, restrict their travel, limit their water to a
    few hours a day, cut their electric use to next to nothing, steal their crops when
    it time to harvest, close their schools or give sub-standards books and buildings,
    prevent or limit jobs via high taxes, use land a “training areas” for soldiers, etc.
    etc, etc.

  • And you believe if Hamas were to take over power in a post-Israel Palestinian state, then Christians, Jews and Muslims would peacefully exist together just as they existed for thousands of years? Just look at what happened to Arab Palestinians allied with Fatah in 2007 after Hamas rejected power sharing and seized power after a military conflict. Hamas leaders disposed their Fatah rivals by dropping Fatah leaders off the roof of a 15-storey Gaza apartment building and publicly executing others. But to magical thinkers, it’s always all about Israel, isn’t it?