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.”
by Isabel Sausjord
In the wake of the UC Student Association’s decision to take a stance for free speech and the human rights of Palestinians and all people, I was disappointed by the Daily Cal’s decision to publish three opinion pieces decrying this as an attack on the Jewish community. As a Jewish student who advocates for justice for Palestinians, I was frustrated by these portrayals that ignored my existence and mischaracterized the ideals I stand for.
Anti-Semitism should never be condoned. But HR-35, a resolution passed by the California legislature, was absolutely wrong to conflate anti-Semitic hatred with the pro-Palestinian human rights movement. Not only incorrect, HR-35 encourages the silencing of pro-Palestinian voices, chilling our attempts to educate about and advocate against Israel’s racism and human rights abuses toward Palestinians. The UCSA, with input from two UC Berkeley students including a Jewish Israeli, rejected this silencing and affirmed the need for the university’s investments to reflect its values.
I, along with several other Jewish students I know at Cal, was thrilled by the UCSA decision. The self-designated “leaders of the Jewish community” do not speak for us when they defend Israel’s occupation and human rights violations and support attempts to silence pro-Palestinian activists. The Jewish community is not a monolith, and we don’t have to be loyal to the government of Israel no matter what it does. Many of us, as throughout history, see the struggle for justice and human rights for all as a fundamental part of our Jewish identity.
Previous op-eds on the UCSA decision lament that the issue of divestment — removal of university funds from companies complicit in Israeli human rights violations — is “divisive.” I am also disappointed that this issue is so divisive. But not because disagreement on an issue should be silenced, rather the fact that support of human rights should not be contentious. It should be a no-brainer to support human rights of Palestinians, and to instead prioritize defending Israel’s government from criticism, no matter what it does, is profoundly anti-human.
The claim that advocates of BDS are unfairly singling out Israel is wrong. I and other pro-Palestinian advocates care deeply about human rights across the world. We organize around the rights of Palestinians in large part because of the U.S.’s close military and economic ties to Israel — consider that the U.S. finances Israel’s military on the order of $3 billion dollars per year — mean that Americans are involved in its human rights violations, and that we also have a great potential to effect change. As we help build the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions, we can create the pressure necessary to force Israel to end its injustices against Palestinians, much as a similar movement a few decades ago forced the South African government to cease its apartheid policies.
In the 1980s, UC Berkeley students voted to divest from South African apartheid. It’s time to be on the right side of history again. We have to prioritize our commitment to justice and humanity over loyalty to any government, including Israel. Jewish students are part of the coalition across UC and across the world fighting for equality and dignity for Palestinians, and this UCSA decision is an important victory in our struggle.
Isabel Sausjord is a sophomore at UC Berkeley.
An Open Letter From California Scholars for Academic Freedom to California Assemblymembers Linda Halderman, Bonnie Lowenthal, and 66 Co-authors of California House Resolution 35:
Coauthors: Assembly Members Achadjian, Beall, Block, Blumenfield, Butler, Cook, Fong, Furutani, Galgiani, Gatto, Gordon, Hagman, Mansoor, Miller, Monning, Portantino, and Williams, Alejo, Allen, Atkins, Bill Berryhill, Bonilla, Brownley, Buchanan, Charles Calderon, Campos, Carter, Cedillo, Chesbro, Conway, Davis, Dickinson, Donnelly, Eng, Feuer, Fletcher, Fuentes, Beth Gaines, Garrick, Gorell, Harkey, Hayashi, Roger Hernández, Hueso, Huffman, Jeffries, Jones, Lara, Ma, Mendoza, Mitchell, Morrell, Nestande, Olsen, Pan, Perea, John A. Pérez, V. Manuel Pérez, Silva, Skinner, Smyth, Solorio, Swanson, Torres, Valadao, and Wagner
Dear California Assembly Representatives;
California Scholars for Academic Freedom** opposes in the strongest possible terms House Resolution 35, a resolution which lists each of you as introducers or co-authors, and which was approved, with no debate, by the California State Assembly on August 28, 2012 . The resolution poses a clear threat to academic freedom in the University of California and the California State University systems.
HR 35 does not create new law, but it calls upon university administrators to deny First Amendment rights to students and faculty. The Assembly resolution states,”[university] leadership from the top remains an important priority so that no administrator, faculty, or student group can be in any doubt that anti-Semitic activity will not be tolerated in the classroom or on campus, and that no public resources will be allowed to be used for anti-Semitic or any intolerant agitation.” The resolution erroneously gives as examples of “anti-semitism”:
- Discourse on a campus that describes Israel as a racist or an apartheid state. HR-35 implicitly calls for the censorship of lectures and presentations critical of Israel such as might be given by Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, and Mairead Maguire, all of whom have used the term “apartheid” in their descriptions of Israel or its policies . Acclaimed author Alice Walker, along with other members of the prestigious Russell Tribunal , could also be potentially barred from California campuses if university administrators follow the recommendations of HR-35.
- Speech that charges Israel with crimes against humanity or ethnic cleansing. HR-35 implicitly calls for the exclusion, from university classrooms, of reports that document crimes against humanity or ethnic cleansing, as from leading human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The resolution could also lead to the ban of academic speakers from Israeli universities who have published evidence of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity by the state of Israel.
- Student and faculty-sponsored boycott, divestment, and sanction campaigns against the state of Israel. HR-35 thus seeks to ban nonviolent resistance to the apartheid system of laws in Israel, a resistance analogous to the now celebrated boycott of Apartheid South Africa of previous decades.
Public universities have a special responsibility to protect academic freedom and freedom of speech. Academic freedom allows professors to conduct and disseminate scholarly research, to design courses and teach students in the areas of their expertise, and to enjoy First Amendment protections for extramural speech. These are essential activities for any credible university.
The conflation of criticism of Israel or its policies with anti-semitism has become a standard tactic by those who seek to censor criticism of Israel. By way of comparison, it would be unthinkable to equate criticism of the government of China or the Free Tibet movement with anti-Chinese racism, despite the identification that many Chinese students feel with China and Chinese culture. Similarly, it would be absurd to equate criticism of governments in Africa with racism against African Americans. It is almost inconceivable to imagine an Assembly resolution that would conflate criticism of Egypt’s government with anti-Arab racism. HR-35 is no less ridiculous for its conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-semitism. Censorship is not the proper way to counter speech with which one does not agree. Rather, the proper response is to argue with evidence and persuasion – in short – to engage in free speech.
House Resolution 35 undermines the First Amendment and calls for restrictions on speech critical of Israel that go far beyond any such restrictions in Israel itself. Criticisms of Israel that are proscribed by HR-35 are routinely aired in the mainstream Israeli press. We emphasize, however, that we are not suggesting that the boundaries of acceptable criticisms of Israel should be defined by the limits of discourse within Israel. California faculty and students have the right to unrestricted inquiry in this matter, and for that purpose, Palestinian voices are essential, though rarely given the opportunity to be heard on California’s university campuses.
The driving concern behind House Resolution 35 is not anti-semitism. Indeed, HR-35 itself is fundamentally anti-semitic because it associates and conflates with Judaism an unending list of well-documented racist policies and crimes against humanity committed by the state of Israel. Far from the worthy goal of fighting real anti-semitism, this resolution was written to serve the propaganda aims of the government of Israel at the expense of constitutionally protected rights of California residents.
We urge you in the strongest possible terms to publicly renounce House Resolution 35, and to vote to rescind it.
View full statement and signatures here:
A Resolution Regarding California Assembly Bill HR 35
Approved by the University of California Student Association,
9/15/2012 (12 for, 2 abstain, 0 against)
WHEREAS a marketplace of ideas where no political speech is suppressed is crucial to a healthy democratic process, AND
WHEREAS universities are important traditional centers of free speech and academic freedom. AND
WHEREAS students and student organizations, motivated by belief in human rights, justice and equality, and who exercise their First Amendment rights to criticize Israeli policies are a welcome addition to campus dialogue and debate. AND
WHEREAS HR 35, introduced in the California State Assembly, calls upon public postsecondary educational institutions in California to directly suppress legitimate criticism of Israeli policy and Palestine solidarity activism, and stifles robust political debate on public university campuses1. AND
WHEREAS HR 35 calls upon public postsecondary educational institutions in California to increase efforts to swiftly and unequivocally condemn student and faculty sponsored divestment, and sanction campaigns against Israel and those companies supporting Israel’s Human rights violations.2 AND
WHEREAS Boycotts, divestment and sanction campaigns are a recognized form of free speech protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. AND
WHEREAS HR 35 constitutes a serious attack on academic freedom and the rights of students and faculty to raise awareness about human rights abuses by US-backed governments3 AND
WHEREAS While HR 35 is a non-binding resolution, the resolution may embolden university administrators to explicitly curb freedom of expression, as has already been advocated by the recent campus climate report commissioned by UC President Mark Yudof.4 AND
WHEREAS While HR 35 purports to oppose anti-Semitism, much of HR 35 is written to unfairly and falsely smear as “anti-Semites” those who do human rights advocacy focusing on Israel’s illegal occupation, alleging that the UC faculty and staff involved in such work are motivated by anti-Semitism5 rather than by the political ideals of equality and respect for universal human rights they affirm, ideals UCSA and most California students share. AND
WHEREAS organizations and student governments on campuses throughout the UC system have passed resolutions and been involved in actions critiquing and responding to Israeli policies, and this demonstrated campus unity refutes claims that these actions are motivated by anti-Semitism6 AND
WHEREAS The misuse of terms like anti-Semitism does a disservice not only to those falsely smeared but also to the legacy of anti-Semitic racism and actual victims of anti-Semitism. AND
WHEREAS HR 35 reflects a complete ignorance of the wealth of scholarship and legal opinion (important pieces of it coming from scholars at the UC) affirming the applicability of terms such as racism and Apartheid in the context of Israeli policies.7
BE IT RESOLVED that the UCSA President will issue a letter to the Assembly and UC Regents in 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.
BE IT RESOLVED that the UCSA recognizes the legitimacy of boycotts and divestment as important social movement tools, and encourages all institutions of higher learning 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;
BE IT RESOLVED that the UCSA supports free speech on campus, including criticisms and critiques of foreign governments,
BE IT RESOLVED that the UCSA recognizes HR35 as one in a series of attempts to stifle legitimate speech by UC students by falsely conflating speech critical of Israeli policies with anti-Semitism.
View Original Post:
Jewish Voice for Peace Condemns CA Assembly Vote to Support Limiting Free Speech on UC Campuses
Applauds few legislators who refused to vote for deceptive resolution meant to limit criticism of Israeli policies
[OAKLAND—August 29, 2012] Jewish Voice for Peace is appalled that the CA State Assembly passed a resolution yesterday which was presented as a broad condemnation of anti-Semitism on UC campuses but which goes far beyond that in supporting putting limits on the free speech of students, faculty and community-members who criticize Israeli policies. ( See “Anti-Semitism resolution hits anti-Israel protestors”, AP)
Cecilie Surasky, Jewish Voice for Peace Deputy Director: “This resolution wants the University of California system to treat Israel differently from virtually every other country in the world, including the United States, by claiming much criticism of Israeli policies is hate speech. If any legislator tried to introduced a similar resolution claiming criticism of Iran was anti-Muslim, or attacks on Utah were somehow anti-Mormon, they’d be laughed out of office. And rightly so.
That’s one reason the Jewish community is completely divided on this issue —when the UC campus climate report on Jewish life referenced in the resolution made similar far-reaching recommendations to limit speech critical of Israel, the biggest pushback came from Jewish UC students, faculty and alum. The implications of limiting academic inquiry and free speech, even speech that makes some people uncomfortable, are deeply troubling. Just as alarming, this resolution cheapens the very serious charge of anti-Semitism.“
View full statement:
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.
Letter to UC President Yudof regarding Campus Climate Report on situation of Jewish, Muslim and Arab Students
Dear President Yudof,
We, the California Scholars for Academic Freedom** write to urge you not to adopt the recommendations of the Jewish Student Campus Climate Report. We find the report’s recommendations pose a clear threat to academic freedom at the University of California. First, the report is based on sloppy methodology and clear bias. A comparison with the Muslim and Arab Student Campus Climate Report is instructive. The latter explains exactly how many people they spoke with, how they were put in touch with them, and lists their names and affiliations. The Jewish Student Campus Climate Report merely implies that they spoke with a range of people but never specifies with whom and how they were chosen. In fact, the two people who conducted the Jewish Student Campus Climate Report appear to have spoken almost exclusively with those who would like to silence criticism of Israel on UC campuses.
Second, the Muslim and Arab Student Campus Climate Report explains in great detail the exact nature of the discrimination that Muslim and Arab students experience on UC campuses, while the Jewish Student Campus Climate Report quotes unnamed people as feeling upset about criticisms of Israel. In fact, the report focuses almost exclusively on criticism of Israel as a supposedly objective measure of anti-Semitism while giving short shrift to the broad range of Jewish student experiences on UC campuses. The Jewish Student Campus Climate Report, despite a brief one-sentence disclaimer, essentially equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, despite having to acknowledge that much of this criticism comes from Jewish faculty and students.
Indeed, one key piece of harassment is missing in this report: the harassment conducted by those who do not want to hear any criticism of Israel voiced at all on UC campuses. The harassment by these individuals has been intense, both against Muslim and Arab American students and faculty and against other Jewish students and faculty who criticize Israel. This harassment has occurred on all the UC campuses. Case in point: the UC Santa Cruz campus. Two individuals at UCSC mobilized thousands of emails to criticize faculty who exercised their academic freedom of speech to criticize Israel. These harassers are the ones who equate Jewish students and faculty who criticize Israel with Nazis.
They also claim bias in these events and lack of “balance,” despite the fact that they have organized numerous events that are propaganda for the state of Israel. More recently, individuals who try to suppress academic freedom of speech in relation to Israel have tried numerous campus avenues and legal means to try to suppress this speech.
Finally, the Muslim and Arab Student Climate Report has a range of sensible recommendations, including a streamlined reporting system for reports of discrimination, multicultural centers for dialogue across cultural and religious differences, more accommodations for religious observance, and enhanced educational opportunities about the Middle East and Islam. In contrast, the Jewish Student Campus Climate Report basically recommends censorship: developing a policy against “hate speech” and banning campus sponsorship of offensive activities. Given that this recommendation comes in the context of a report that focuses almost exclusively on debates about Palestine/Israel, this recommendation is certainly too one-sided.
Indeed, we are concerned that the Jewish Student Campus Climate Report, given its almost exclusive focus on Israel, will yet again make Muslim and Arab students feel unheard and unwelcome at the University of California.
The fact that you appointed Richard D. Barton, National Education Chair of the Anti-Defamation League, to carry out the “research” for the Jewish Student Campus Climate Report ensured a one-sided, biased report not based at all on objective research. The Anti-Defamation League is famous for its activism in the United States to suppress criticism of Israel. Barton’s leadership on this report meant from its inception that its sole goal would be to try to suppress criticism of Israel on the UC campuses. Otherwise, you would have appointed a neutral person with a history of conducting objective research.
The conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-semitism has become a common tactic by those who want to silence any criticism of Israel. We would never dream of equating criticism of the authoritarian government in China or the Free Tibet movement with anti-Chinese racism, despite the fact that many of our Chinese students identify strongly with mainland China and Chinese culture. We would never dream of equating criticism of authoritarian governments in Africa with racism against African Americans. More recently, we have not worried that criticisms of Egypt’s government or of Syria is a form of anti-Arab racism. The only way to counter speech we do not agree with is to encourage more speech.
Public universities have a special responsibility to protect academic freedom and freedom of speech. Academic freedom includes the freedom of professors to conduct and disseminate scholarly research, to design courses and teach students in the areas of their expertise, and to enjoy First Amendment protections for extramural speech. (The latter is a right enjoyed by everyone within the jurisdiction of the U.S. constitution, but is the third leg of the principles of academic freedom because professors should not be professionally penalized for non-academic speech that they engage in beyond the academy.)
The Jewish Student Campus Climate report points toward a dangerous trend of attempts to criminalize any speech discussing boycott, divestment or sanctions against Israel or settlements in the occupied territories, echoing a new law in Israel that punishes any public discussion of these activities. We do not want this abrogation of freedom of speech to be applied in California or by extension in the United States.
The courts have signaled that universities have a special responsibility to harbor even extreme speech. We urge you to affirm that the University of California strives to be a leader with regard to academic freedom and freedom of speech.
California Scholars for Academic Freedom
View full letter and signatures here:
August 9, 2012
President Mark G. Yudof
Office of the President
University of California
1111 Franklin Street, 12th Floor
Oakland CA 94607
Dear President Yudof:
I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) to express our concern about aspects of the recently released report on “University of California Jewish Student Campus Climate” commissioned by the UC Campus Climate Advisory
MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.
MESA rejects all forms of discrimination, bigotry and racism, including anti-Semitism, and it supports prompt and forceful action in response to anti-Semitic incidents on university campuses. We therefore understand the concerns that led to this effort to examine the experiences of Jewish students on UC campuses, and to the parallel report on “Muslim and Arab Student Campus Climate.” Nonetheless, we feel that the report and recommendations concerning the UC system’s Jewish students deploy a vague and expansive definition of hate speech, one that seems to encompass the expression of political opinions. As a result they frequently fail to draw a clear distinction between the legitimate expression of political views, on the one hand, and hate speech or anti-Semitism on the other. Criticism of Israel’s policies and of Zionism, including assertions that Israel is an “apartheid state,” are political statements, and even though they may be unwelcome to staunch supporters of Israel they do not constitute hate speech or anti-Semitism. We recognize that speech and actions expressing intense criticism of Israel’s policies, and even challenging its legitimacy as a state, may make some students,
Jewish or otherwise, uncomfortable. This is, however, not sufficient justification for categorizing such speech and actions as hate speech or as anti-Semitic, or for prohibiting or restricting them. We are therefore distressed by the report’s recommendation that UC “push its current harassment and nondiscrimination provisions further, clearly define hate speech in its guidelines, and seek opportunities to prohibit hate speech on campus,” apparently in order to make it less likely that Jewish students will encounter opinions that make some of them uncomfortable. We believe that such use of hate speech guidelines clearly threaten not only the First Amendment’s protection of free speech but also the principles of academic freedom that are so central to the mission and functioning of our institutions of higher education.
We therefore call on you to reiterate your commitment, as a matter of university policy, to defend the free expression of political opinions by UC students and faculty, including those that some members of the UC community may find repugnant, even as the university remains vigilant about expressions of anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. We further ask that you explicitly disassociate yourself from the language and recommendations contained in this report, because its advocacy of a broad and loose definition of hate speech may undermine the First Amendment rights of UC students and faculty as well as the principles of academic freedom.
We thank you for your attention to this matter and look forward to your response at your earliest convenience.
Fred M. Donner
Professor of Near Eastern History, University of Chicago