University of California Votes to Label anti-Semitism as Form of Intolerance

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University of California regents Norman Pattiz, left, and Eddie Island, right, flank board secretary and chief of staff Anne Shawn during a public forum on how best to deal with intolerance at the university, on the campus at UCLA in Los Angeles.
University of California regents Norman Pattiz, left, and Eddie Island, right, flank board secretary and chief of staff Anne Shawn during a public forum.Credit: AP

AP - The University of California's governing board is set to sign off Thursday on a statement condemning anti-Semitic behavior and a companion report urging campus leaders to confront "anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism."

A committee of the university's Board of Regents voted unanimously on Wednesday to send what is being called a "Statement of Principles Against Intolerance" and a report summarizing the context for it to the full board for consideration.

A year in the making, the documents were prepared at the urging of some Jewish groups that argued the 10-campus UC system needed to affirm its opposition to anti-Semitism amid growing student activism on behalf of Palestinian rights.

"There is absolutely no doubt that anti-Zionism is the driving force behind the alarming rise in anti-Semitism at UC and at schools across the country," said Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a Hebrew lecturer at the university's Santa Cruz campus who led the campaign.

When a draft of the statement was released last week, critics expressed alarm over language in the accompanying report that cited both anti-Semitism and "anti-Zionism" – the rejection of Israel's right to exist – as types of discrimination that don't belong at the university.

Faculty and student groups said the report, if endorsed along with the principles themselves, could be used to stifle free speech and scholarship. The regents' Educational Policy Committee softened the disputed wording slightly on Wednesday.

"Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California," it now reads.

Regent Norman Pattiz, who served on the task force that drafted the statement and report, said it was appropriate for the university to link disapproval of Israel with prejudice toward Jewish people and that the issue was a personal one for him.

"My colleagues on the working group couldn't done a better job of looking at the roots of these issues and finding ways to deal with the subject of anti-Semitism, which for some reason has had a very difficult time finding its way into the group of minorities that in some way have faced intolerant behavior, Pattiz said.

"Well that's over now. It's found its way in," he said

If adopted on Thursday, the declaration would make the University of California the first public university system to reaffirm its opposition to anti-Semitic behavior since campaigns for academic and economic boycotts of Israel have taken root on many U.S. college campuses.

Pro-Palestinian groups and faculty members with research specialties in the Middle East were upset that anti-Semitism was the only type of intolerance specifically mentioned in the principles at a time when Muslims in the U.S. increasingly face discrimination.

Free speech advocates remained concerned that the slight change to the introductory report made Wednesday did not go far enough.

"We called for the UC to change the prior version to make clear that anti-Zionism, like other political speech, is not equated with discrimination," Alan Schlosser, senior counsel at the ACLU of Northern California, said. "Unfortunately, the revised version doesn't give that clarity."

The system-wide principles are meant to be "aspirational rather than prohibitory," said Charles Robinson, the UC system's general counsel.

As such, they do not bar particular acts or proscribe sanctions but serve to remind administrators of their duty to combat bias and to impose discipline in cases that violate existing anti-discrimination policies, Robinson said.

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