Free Speech Fight over Antisemitism on California Campuses

StandWithUs via Facebook
StandWithUs via Facebook

Following a sharp rise in antisemitism across the University of California’s 10 campuses, a group of professors, students, activists and Jewish groups wrangled with a group of UC leaders at a public forum at UCLA on Monday as they sought to make revisions to a proposed policy denouncing intolerance on school grounds.

According to the Associated Press, several Jewish organizations present at the forum argued that more needs to be done to stop discrimination against Jews on campus and called for the proposed policy to include a specific definition on antisemitism.

They pushed for university leaders to adopt the U.S. State Department’s definition of antisemitism, which includes attempts at delegitimizing the Jewish state by “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist.”

Others, those who are supportive of Palestinians, reportedly complained that such a move would conflict with the First Amendment’s rights to free speech.

“Jewish students are fearful to show their support for Israel,” Leore Ben David, who acts as a campus coordinator for the Zionist Organization of America, reportedly said. “I am asking this working group to take a stand against racism and injustice.”

The AP notes that the initial policy was drafted by the UC president’s office and defined intolerance as “unwelcome conduct” motivated by discrimination or hatred toward a group or individuals, but that it did not address any specific groups.

Adopting the State Department’s definition of antisemitism would make the UC system the first public university system to do so. In May of this year, former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security and current UC President Janet Napolitano reportedly said she believed the system should adopt the definition. “I have my own personal view, and my personal view is that we should” adopt the State Department’s definition, Napolitano said in a radio interview with Here & Now.

Her remarks drew criticism from individuals who are critical of Israel and who refer to the nation as an “occupying force,” suggesting the move could be used to stifle free speech.

Mandy Cohen, a doctoral candidate in comparative literature at UC Berkeley, reportedly came out against the inclusion of the State Department’s definition on Monday. “I am part of a community of Jews and scholars who are critical of Israel. They are, in fact, seeking to silence me,” she reportedly said.

The UC Board of Regents will likely be presented with the new policy in March.

Several incidents of antisemitism on UC campuses include, but are not limited to:

Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz and on Facebook.


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