University of California officials heard criticism Thursday over the first draft of system-wide principles defining intolerance that some free speech advocates fear could lead to censorship on UC campuses.
At Thursday’s board meeting in UC Irvine, Regent Norman Pattiz said the statement before them didn’t say anything new and didn’t address the reason it was drafted in the first place: a number of instances of anti-Semitism on UC campuses.
Jewish organizations say a rash of anti-Semitism incidents past year – including many that made references to Israel – underscore the need for the UC system to take a strong stance. Last February, Rachel Beyda, a Jewish pre-law student at UCLA who had been nominated for a student-judicial role, was asked at her nomination hearing as to whether she could serve as an unbiased judge because she is Jewish.
UCLA Students Against Anti Semitism cheer following a University of California’s Board of Regents meeting at the Student Center to discuss a controversial policy statement on intolerance in Irvine, Calif., on Thursday, September 17, 2015.
Our letter quoted the late Professor Robert Wistrich, a truly irreplaceable authority on anti-Semitism and its history, observing that anti-Zionism “is the most unsafe and effective form of anti-Semitism in our time”.
But Oved also criticized the UC Office of the President for not including him in the development of the statement, and said that the statement failed to “do justice” for those who had experienced discrimination. “So, too, is tolerance, and University of California students, faculty, and staff must respect the dignity of each person within the UC community”. They argued that the State Department’s definition conflates anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of Israel and threatens campus debate.
The board itself will discuss the issue later in the day.
“We are asking for an acknowledgment that sometimes anti-Israel expression moves into anti-Semitism”, said Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a UC Santa Cruz lecturer and director of Amcha, a nonprofit dedicated to combating anti-Semitism.
Several regents echoed similar sentiments.
Two dozen people, mostly Jewish students, expressed concern that the proposed “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance” does not address anti-Semitic incidents on campuses.
“This statement shall not be interpreted to prohibit conduct that is related to the course content, teaching methods, scholarship, or public commentary of an individual faculty member or the educational, political, artistic, or literary expression of students in classrooms and public forums that is protected by academic freedom or free speech principles”, the proposal continues. “I do think it’s unsafe when universities draw the line between what is OK to say and what isn’t”.
UC President Janet Napolitano in a May radio interview had expressed support for adopting the State Department’s definition.
Meanwhile, Palestinian youth groups that stage campus demonstrations against Israel and call for universities to divest, boycott and sanction Israel have countered that they are being smeared as anti-Semitic terrorists.
Other speakers opposed including the definition, saying it did not represent the position of all Jews.
Ori Herschmann, 22, a UC Berkeley economics major, said he’s experienced the anti-Jewish flavor that many say has seeped onto campuses not only in California but also across the country.
He urged the regents to adopt policies so that no students feel they have to hide their ethnic, racial, religious or sexual identity.
“I hope I’m not the only one feeling chilled by that”, said Reiss during the meeting.