UC regents pressured to demonize criticism of Israel
For several months, the University of California Regents, which serves as the board of trustees for the entire UC system, have debated releasing a new statement of principles regarding “intolerance.” Under pressure from pro-Israel groups, the Regents are considering adopting the official U.S. State Department definition of anti-Semitism as part of its statement.
That definition, introduced in 2010, radically expands the traditional understanding of anti-Semitism as anti-Jewish hatred to include any speech perceived to “demonize,” “delegitimize,” or set a “double standard for Israel.”
According to the State Department website, “blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions,” “multilateral organizations focusing on Israel only for peace or human rights investigations,” and “denying Israel the right to exist” all qualify as expressions of anti-Semitic sentiment.
The Regents are being pressured by Zionist groups like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as well as pro-Israel voices within the UC system to adopt that definition.
While the statement of principles would not itself be binding university policy, critics of the definition, like the Los Angeles Times editorial board, argue that this notion of anti-Semitism would chill pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist activism and speech on campus by setting the standard for actual policies. Critics also point out that the campaign in favor of this proposal is part of a broader effort by Zionist groups across U.S. campuses to counter the mounting successes of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters and divestment campaigns on campus.
After the Regents rejected the initial proposal prepared by the office of UC President and former Obama administration official Janet Napolitano, the UC administration submitted a revised draft, removing any explicit reference to Israel or anti-Semitism. That proposal, too, was rejected in September for declining to mention anti-Semitism specifically, prompting Regent Dick Blum to threaten that his wife, senior California Senator Dianne Feinstein, “would engage publicly and is prepared to be critical of this university if we don’t have the kind of not only statement but penalties” for students found to be in violation of the State Department definition
While a new draft of the statement of principles is not yet up for a vote, the Regents heard public comments from over 100 community speakers this past week. This ongoing saga is a front line of the battle over Palestine on college campuses: Pro-Israel forces are attempting to protect their increasingly controversial conflation of Jewish identity with support for Israel. They are hoping to crush students and faculty who engage in Palestine advocacy by bringing the full weight of institutional power down on them.