For Immediate Release
SJP-West Welcomes University of California Regents’ Decision to Not Consider Harmful Re-Definition of Anti-Semitism
Wednesday July 22, 2015
The UC Regents will not be considering adoption of the State Department definition of anti-Semitism at its meeting today, after an outcry from students, graduate student workers, Jewish community members, and civil rights organizations. The UC Office of the President (UCOP) announced instead that, “…the Board of Regents will consider at its September meeting a statement of principles against intolerance, including, but not limited to, anti-Semitism and other types of intolerance.”
As SJP-West illustrated in its June letter to UC President Janet Napolitano, the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism dangerously conflates anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of Israeli policy, mis-representing an issue of human rights as an ethno-religious matter. The Los Angeles Times recently editorialized in agreement with this position, highlighting the ways in which the State Department’s “overly broad and constitutionally dubious” definition would lead to confusion and conflation of pro-Palestinian speech with bigotry. While we reiterate our opposition to anti-Semitism as well as all forms of racism and bigotry, we believe that the State Department’s definition, if adopted, would ultimately harm not just efforts to advocate for Palestinian rights but also efforts to oppose anti-Semitism.
In addition to petitions and legal letters sent by SJP-West and other organizations, on July 7, 2015 SJP West, UAW-2865 (the labor union for Graduate Students and Workers of the UC schools), Jewish Voice for Peace, and various civil rights organizations along with UC students, faculty, and staff gathered in Oakland to protest outside the UC Office of the President. These groups asserted their disapproval of the possible adoption of the State Department definition of anti-Semitism at today’s meeting.
Robert Gardner, a current student at UCLA, expresses extreme relief at the fact that the UC Regents will not adopt this definition – for now. He explains, “Students shouldn’t be stigmatized as bigots because we oppose well documented abuses practiced against Palestinians by the Israeli government. This decision to drop consideration of the State Department definition is an important step because it shows that the Regents understand that our First Amendment right to engage in debate on campus is imperative to the integrity of the UC system. Moreover, it proves that when students come together and make their voices heard, we are able to overcome the pressures of powerful outside forces who seek to stifle and censor criticism of the Israeli government.”
Students report that administrators who fear controversy over Israel and Palestine try to restrict their activity. In the first four months of 2015 alone, Palestine Legal documented 60 cases of false accusations of anti-Semitism that were in fact incidents where students or faculty criticized policies of Israel. Statements made to the Jewish Daily Forward by one of the principal advocates of the State Department’s re-definition indicates that the definition is seen by some pro-Israel advocates as applying to nearly all forms of pro-Palestinian student speech that take place on UC campuses today.
Sophia Shalabi, a student at UC Irvine, notes that, “…refraining from the implementation of a definition that is strategically meant to silence Pro-Palestinian activists will allow students to continue advocating for the Palestinian voice that has been ignored by our administration.” Gardner predicted, “As we move forward within the upcoming academic year, Palestinian rights activists hope to engage in critical debate and continue to educate our fellow students about the Palestinian plight. This will now be a little bit easier.”
SJP-West is a coalition of Students for Justice in Palestine chapters across California. Find more at www.sjpwest.org.