Remi Kanazi: Silencing pro-Palestinian speech on campus
On July 9, 2012, the University of California’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion presented its fact-finding report and recommendations on Jewish Student Campus Climate. According to a letter written by UC President Mark Yudof, the report was launched in response to the 2010 Berkeley student government vote to divest from companies selling weapons to the Israeli military and the 2010 UC Irvine protest against Israeli ambassador Michael Oren.
The “climate report” was tasked with “fact-finding about the challenges and positive campus experiences of Jewish students at UC and to identify steps needed to make campuses more inclusive and welcoming for Jewish students”. The council also presented a fact-finding report on Muslim and Arab Student Campus Climate.From the outset, the Jewish Student Campus Climate report focuses on non-violent protests and speeches critical of Israel, a state in clear violation of international law, not anti-Jewish bigotry. In fact, nearly 50 per cent of the report (excluding the introduction and recommendations) covered “the Anti-Zionism/Anti-Israel Movement and its Impact on Climate”.
Specifically, the use of the words “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid” to describe Israel’s policies are presented as problematic, while anti-Zionism and the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel are referred to as “manifestations of anti-Israel sentiment on campus”.
What is the definition of “anti-Israel”? We are never told. Imagine a UC report referring to protests against the war on Iraq as “manifestations of anti-American sentiment on campus”. One of the three key demands in the BDS call is equality for all Palestinians living inside the state of Israel. Imagine referring to the Montgomery Bus Boycott as an “anti-American” period in our history.
The report further presents Palestine Awareness Week as a “negative experience” for Jewish students, a framing that disregards the viewpoints of many Jewish students involved in organising and planning the event.