In response to the “UC Leaders Letter”
The UC Students Association should be commended for courageously standing in opposition to HR 35, the recently passed California Assembly bill that equates legitimate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism and seeks to censor free speech and political activism across California’s public universities.
It should go without saying that all forms of racism and bigotry, including anti-Semitism, should be vigorously opposed by all members of the University. But one glance at the language of the bill reveals that HR 35 is less concerned with combating bigotry than it is with claiming that criticism of Israeli state policy is anti-Semitic, a position that is strongly opposed by many prominent Jewish groups on both sides of the political spectrum.
HR 35 is an attempt to silence and intimidate the growing student movement for Palestinian equal rights and, more specifically, to stifle the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against Israel for its continued violations of human rights and international law.
While HR 35 bypasses decades of academic and legal scholarship in order to stifle criticism of Israel at the University (a space whose most intrinsic function is to allow for the free exchange of ideas), groups like Students for Justice in Palestine base their positions on equal rights and international law. We believe that HR 35 is a reaction to the growing public consensus that Israel’s behavior towards the Palestinians is wrong.
The brutal military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the systematic discrimination against Palestinians inside Israel’s own borders and the denial of the right to return for civilians who endured ethnic cleansing in 1948 are objectionable behaviors that increasing numbers of students are standing up against on campuses across the United States.
The effort to stifle criticism of Israel on campuses has already resulted in attacks on the academic freedom of professors at UCLA and other campuses.
And now, as groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and the National MEChA have endorsed calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions, defenders of Israeli apartheid have become so desperate as to support criminalizing free speech.
The UCSA was quick to respond to this, expressing their “strong opposition to HR 35 and expressing the UCSA’s opposition to all racism, whether it be the racism of campus and global anti-Semitism or the racism of Israel’s human rights violations, neither of which our campuses should tolerate, support, or profit from.”
The UCSA isn’t the only group opposed to HR 35 and other attempts to stifle criticism of Israel on campus. California Scholars for Academic Freedom, Jewish Voice for Peace, the Berkeley Free Speech Movement Archives, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the Asian Law Caucus, the National Lawyers Guild, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the UC Student-Workers Union, Angela Davis and, most recently, David Myers, chair of the UCLA history department, have all weighed in to criticise HR 35 or other similar efforts.
As UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof put it, “One can object deeply to the policies of Israel. Our students should have a right to protest what they believe to be an unlawful and immoral action.”
When our critics oppose fake checkpoints and mock walls on campus because they make students uncomfortable, we remember that the discomfort felt by looking at the wall or seeing a student dressed up as a soldier is just a fraction of the discomfort felt by Palestinians who face real checkpoints, real walls and real soldiers on a daily basis.
When they argue that boycotts are extreme measures, we reply that boycotts are a tactic that UCLA students have used many times before, most notably to pressure the South African government to abandon its apartheid policies.
And when opponents of Palestinian rights claim that we are singling out Israel for special criticism, we remind them that this was a common claim made by defenders of apartheid in South Africa.
As Desmond Tutu wrote in 2010, “The same issue of equality is what motivates the divestment movement of today, which tries to end Israel’s 43-year long occupation and the unequal treatment of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government ruling over them. The abuses they face are real, and no person should be offended by principled, morally consistent, nonviolent acts to oppose them. It is no more wrong to call out Israel in particular for its abuses than it was to call out the Apartheid regime in particular for its abuses.”
Hodali is a graduate student in comparative literature and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA.
Written by SJP members at UC Berkeley and published in the Daily Californian on October 2nd
Last month, the UC Student Association, a coalition of the UC student governments across each campus, expressed its principled opposition to anti-Semitism but deep concern with the language of a state Assembly bill purportedly about the topic, HR 35. The concern stems from language in the bill that conflates anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of Israeli state policies. For example, HR 35 equates anti-Semitism with statements that Israel’s policies may be racist or constitute apartheid, as Nobel Peace Prize winners Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu and Mairead Maguire, among many others, have suggested, or with advocacy for boycotting Israel and complicit companies until the state ends such policies. Civil rights groups and faculty members have already recognized the threat such a definition of anti-Semitism poses to free speech and academic freedom on our campuses, and through its vote, the UCSA now has too. We applaud the UCSA for speaking up for the free speech rights of students.
We also applaud the UCSA for calling on the UC Regents to “cleanse their investment portfolios of unethical investments in companies implicated in or profiting from violations of international human rights law, without making special exemptions for any country.” Rather than singling out Israel for criticism, as some have suggested, the UCSA vote helps to correct HR 35’s efforts to singularly protect Israel from criticism that would be directed at any other nation engaging in similar practices. As the UCSA resolution makes clear, all states should be held accountable for their human rights violations, with boycotts or divestment being legitimate nonviolent tools to do so. SJP supports an ethical investment policy that would broadly target human rights abuses in multiple countries. We recognize the importance of naming Israel in that list because the United States has given more in military aid to Israel than any other country in our lifetimes, giving United States residents a special responsibility for the human rights abuses Israel commits and a special opportunity to make change.
Specifically, SJP advocates using boycott and divestment to target companies that are directly complicit in the human rights abuses attending Israel’s occupation, such as Caterpillar Inc., a company in which our school invests more than $5 million, according to the most recent end-of-year investment report. Caterpillar supplies massive weaponized bulldozers to the Israeli Defense Force that are routinely used to demolish Palestinian homes and farmland as part of Israel’s ongoing theft of Palestinian land taken to establish exclusionary Jewish-only settlements that are illegal under international law. These are not “alleged” human rights violations, as some have recently impugned, but the honest reality affirmed by myriad human rights groups, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and the United Nations, all of whom decry the human rights abuses perpetrated by Israel with America’s support. The UCSA view that we should not be profiting from these human rights abuses should hardly be controversial, and, in most corners of the university, it clearly is not, as evidenced by the overwhelming majority votes in the UCSA and in in all three divestment votes at Berkeley in 2010.
Since the UCSA vote, however, some — including the editors of this paper — have raised objections. Though we suspect their true concerns are with the substance of the bill, their chief expressed complaint has been procedural. In response, it is worth noting that UCSA student leaders did nothing to make this bill less public than any of their other legislative efforts. HR 35’s passage was sudden and unexpected, and the UCSA had a duty to promptly respond in defense of student rights. The suggestion that the Jewish community on campus was selectively and intentionally excluded from the conversation, as has been alleged, is absolutely false. In fact, a Jewish Israeli student was one of two students to address the UCSA on the day of its vote, a fact conveniently ignored by those attempting to craft a narrative of Jewish exclusion. This student approached the UCSA because his own research on Israel’s ethnic cleansing is threatened by HR 35, and he hoped his student government would stand up for him. There’s nothing devious about petitioning your elected representatives to protect your rights — and it’s not really reasonable to demand that a student invite those who seek to restrict his free speech rights to a hearing about his right to speak freely. But there is something worrying about some people’s attempt to lend their marginal viewpoint defending Israel’s occupation the moral weight of an entire ethnic and religious minority, disregarding the many Jewish students on campus who firmly oppose Israel’s policies in the process.
Due to institutional features of the UCSA — UCSA representatives from across the state are only in the same city to cover all business matters for a full day once a month — the UCSA forum is not an ideal forum for long debates about HR 35 and divestment. To those wishing for more robust debate, we can relate. The longest public debates on the topic of Israel/Palestine on this campus came about as a result of the 2010 divestment hearings in the ASUC, initiated by SJP members. Though we recognize that fewer and fewer students stand in opposition to granting Palestinians universal human rights, we are eager to engage with those who do not yet share this opinion. In fact, on numerous occasions, our members have sought out a debating partner among those who defend American support for Israel’s policies, only to find no one willing to debate on the other side. We hereby extend an open invitation to any remaining critics of the recent UCSA resolution, including recent opinion writers Joey Freeman and Noah Ickowitz, to participate in a respectful, academic debate with fellow students regarding HR 35 and the ethicality of boycotting and divesting from Israel and complicit companies. We would like this debate to be moderated by a mutually agreed upon unbiased party — and failing that, we’d even be willing to settle for a moderator like The Daily Californian.
As published in the Daily Californian on Oct. 2nd, 2012
Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PSCABI) in the Gaza Strip welcomes a resolution passed by the University of California Student Association (UCSA), representing students of all 10 UC campuses, that reaffirms the right of its members to organize in support of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, being this the nonviolent tactic chosen by Palestinians to gain their inalienable rights, including the right to self-determination, denied by Israel for over 60 years. The UCSA resolution condemns Bill HR 35, passed in the California State Assembly, that calls on the university authorities to curb student action in opposition to Israel’s three-tiered system of occupation, colonization and apartheid. Bill HR 35 is a reaction to the growing effectiveness of the BDS movement around the world in holding Israel accountable and its ability to expose the true nature of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians that run contrary to the narrative of Israel disseminated for decades in the US. To blur honest debate, pro-Israel lobby groups have resorted to smear tactics and intimidation to misrepresent the intentions of Palestine solidarity activists and to “lawfare”- a form of legal harassment – to stifle freedom of speech guaranteed under First Amendment rights.
Angela Davis: Dismissal of Palestinians is reminiscent of Jim Crow days
In my home state of California, elected officials have gone so far as to encourage the violation of First Amendment rights in order to control opposition to Israel. Largely in response to University of California students’ support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel, state legislators recently passed an Assembly Bill (HR 35) that, while unbinding, calls upon campus authorities to restrict student activism that is critical of Israel.
Such desperate measures implicitly proclaim that curbing criticism of Israel is more important than safeguarding constitutional rights. Perhaps those who support these measures fear the increasingly widespread use of the “apartheid” label to describe Israel, employed not only by students but also by such prominent figures as President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
If they fear the emergence of a new anti-apartheid movement, this time directed against Israel, they may very well be correct. The boycott movement is rapidly gaining support: This past spring, the eighth annual Israeli Apartheid Week was observed on campuses in South Africa and throughout Europe, North America and the Arab World.
Shortly after the passage of HR 35, the University of California Student Association passed a strong resolution that not only opposed HR 35 but recognized “the legitimacy of boycotts and divestment as important social movement tools” and encouraged “all institutions of higher learning to cleanse their investment portfolios of unethical investment in companies implicated in or profiting from violations of international human rights law, without making special exemptions for any country.”
We here in the U.S. should be especially conscious of the similarities between historical Jim Crow practices and contemporary regimes of segregation in Occupied Palestine. If we have learned the most important lesson promulgated by Dr. Martin Luther King — that justice is always indivisible — it should be clear that a mass movement in solidarity with Palestinian freedom is long overdue.
Free speech is being attacked throughout the University of California (“U.C.”) and at public and private college campuses across the country. Speech and association rights of the student groups Students for Justice in Palestine (“SJP”) and the Muslim Student Association (“MSA”) are being threatened by University administrators, a baseless lawsuit, and problematic Department of Education investigations.1 Speech activities clearly protected by the First Amendment that grapple with important political questions relating to Israel’s policies are being improperly characterized as anti-Semitic. These “legal bullying” tactics must be recognized and stopped. While the focus of this briefing is on speech at the University of California at Berkeley (“Cal”), other troubling incidents of repression of expressive speech have taken place across the country, including the criminal prosecution of students at the University of California at Irvine, and administrative responses to students at Columbia University, Florida Atlantic University, and many other campuses.
Federal officials are investigating a complaint filed against UC Berkeley alleging that protests staged on campus have created an anti-Semitic environment.
The U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office confirmed this week that it is investigating allegations from a complaint filed in July by attorneys representing UC Berkeley alumni Jessica Felber and Brian Maissy.
“(The civil rights office) received a complaint alleging that Jewish students at the university were harassed and subjected to a hostile environment on the basis of their national origin,” reads a statement released by the U.S. Department of Education Press Office. “And, that the university failed to respond promptly and effectively to notice of the hostile environment. The complaint is under investigation.”
The complaint alleges that the campus has persistently failed to curtail anti-Semitic behavior from annual Israeli Apartheid Week demonstrations, which are organized by the campus group Students for Justice in Palestine to raise awareness of the conditions of Palestinians in Israel.
The complaint cites a 2010 Apartheid Week demonstration in which students from SJP and the campus Muslim Student Association participated in a mock checkpoint that included fake barbed wire and fake AK-47 firearms.
SJP member Tom Pessah said the aim of Israeli Apartheid Week is to demonstrate inequalities in Israel.
“No one is stopped at checkpoints other than the actors in the demonstration — everyone knows that,” said SJP member Mariah Lewis.
Felber and Maissy filed a lawsuit against the university in March 2011 alleging that it had failed to mitigate a climate averse to Jewish students. The suit was dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in December of 2011.
“The administration has engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the opposing parties in an attempt to ensure that the rights of all persons are respected, and to minimize the potential for violence and unsafe conditions,” the dismissal ruling stated.
UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said campus officials have remained committed to maintaining a safe and welcoming climate for all students and to protecting free speech rights.
“Speech criticism of Israeli governmental policy is not necessarily anti-Semitic,” Mogulof said. “One can object deeply to the policies of Israel. Our students should have a right to protest what they believe to be an unlawful and immoral action.”
Mogulof said that the campus will provide the same information to the civil rights office that it provided judges with during the Felber and Maissy lawsuit and said the complaint seems to be a way to shop for more venues and courtrooms to tell the university to violate the constitutional rights of students involved in the demonstrations.
“The real story here is a massive assault on free speech and a coordinated effort to silence the legitimate political speech of students critical of Israel,” said Liz Jackson, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild, in an email. “The factual allegations are simply untrue.”
Ben White: Israel lobby uses discredited anti-Semitism definition to muzzle debate
Top administrators at the University of California are considering what action to take against speech and activities alleged to be anti-Semitic. As part of their discussions, the university may endorse a seven-year-old document, which — despite not having an official status — is often called the European Union’s “working definition” of anti-Semitism.
Although the administrators have indicated that their motive is to protect Jewish students, a careful examination of the definition indicates that the real agenda may be to stifle Palestine solidarity activism and criticism of Israel in the classroom.
In early July, a report commissioned by the University of California’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion was published (“U. of Calif. Weighs Banning ‘Hate’ Speech,” Forward, 2 August 2012).
The council has been co-directed by Richard Barton, national education chairman of the Anti-Defamation League — one of the most powerful groups in America’s pro-Israel lobby. Its report claims that Palestine solidarity activities were “undermining Jewish students’ sense of belonging” and creating a hostile environment.
The report’s recommendations include the adoption by the administration of a definition of anti-Semitism that could be used to “identify contemporary incidents” which would then “be sanctioned by University non-discrimination or anti-harassment policies.”
Specifically, the report mentions “a working definition of anti-Semitism” developed by “the European Union,” a reference to the 2005 draft working definition of anti-Semitism published by the European Union’s Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. Based in Vienna, the center has subsequently been renamed the Fundamental Rights Agency.
One of the Zionist groups to enthusiastically welcome the findings was StandWithUs, whose chief executive Roz Rothstein called the idea of a definition of anti-Semitism “one of [the report’s] most important recommendations” (“StandWithUs Welcomes UC Report On Campus Climate For Jewish Students,” 23 July 2012).
Rothstein noted the reference to “the EU’s working definition,” which she claimed “recognizes that anti-Israel extremism is a form of what is called the ‘new anti-Semitism.’”
The month after the publication of the report, at the end of August, California’s assembly passed a non-binding resolution “urging California colleges and universities to squelch nascent anti-Semitism … [and] to crack down on demonstrations against Israel” (“Calif lawmakers denounce anti-Semitism in colleges,” Associated Press, 29 August 2012).
Like the University of California report, this resolution calls on the university administration to “utilize” the EU agency’s “working definition of anti-Semitism.”
Rebecca Pierce: U.C. report on Jewish campus climate: Results marginalize, misrepresent students critical of Israel
The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories has long been a controversial topic in the United States, especially on college campuses. Personal identity can influence how people view the conflict, causing some to assume that this discussion is, or should be, conducted strictly along ethno-religious lines. This assumption, however, has the potential to chill speech and push dissenters out of their communities. As a Jewish and African American student critical of Israeli policy and involved in Palestinian solidarity organizing at U.C. Santa Cruz, I experience this firsthand.
Since coming to UCSC, my ability to participate in Jewish student programming while active in the campus Committee for Justice in Palestine has met constant challenges. Last year, I was repeatedly subjected to abusive online comments by a staff member at a center for Jewish life because of my decision to be in CJP and participate in Jewish student programming. This is not the only time I’ve been targeted, and I’m not the only Jewish student to experience something like this. Unfortunately, recent steps by the University of California to “improve campus climate” appear poised to make this situation even worse.
On July 9, U.C. President Mark Yudof’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion presented the “University of California Jewish Student Campus Climate Fact-Finding Team Report & Recommendations.” Authored by Rick Barton of the Anti-Defamation League and Alice Huffman of the California NAACP, it is ostensibly based on testimony from meetings with Jewish students at six U.C. campuses. I was part of a Jewish student panel that discussed the report when it was released, and had no choice but to dispute much of its findings.
I was present at the UCSC meeting in fall 2011 and discussed the difficulties of maintaining involvement in both CJP and my campus Jewish community. But upon receiving the report, I discovered my experiences, and those of other Jewish students critical of Israel, were almost entirely absent.
In fact, while the authors note there are some Jewish students involved in what they label “the anti-Zionism movement,” the document portrays Palestinian campus organizing as problematic, or even anti-Semitic by nature, often through unchecked generalizations.