Once again, Israel advocacy groups were out on Monday to demand that the Regents brand criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic and "intolerant” – in the latest of many attempts to shut down one side of an important debate. The controversy is not about “intolerance.” This is a canard. Some campus members want to engage in critical discussion about Israeli policy, and others want to suppress it. As documented in our report - The Palestine Exception to Free Speech - Palestine Legal responded to nearly 300 incidents of suppression in 2014-15, over a third of which took place in California. We were struck by the repeated resort to false accusations of anti-Semitism in response to speech critical of Israeli policy.
The regents themselves have blurred the lines between speech critical of Israel and anti-Semitism. At the September meeting, Regent Blum – spouse of U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein – threatened the UC with negative political consequences if it did not punish students for engaging in protected speech critical of Israel. Such actions would violate the First Amendment, but the threat itself undermines the educational environment at our universities.
While the mainstream media takes a great interest in accusations of anti-Semitism, widespread efforts to intimidate critics of Israel get little attention. Over the past few weeks, we responded to a spate of incidents including a physical assault and death threats against students expressing support for Palestinian rights. This "intolerance" of other viewpoints is what the regents should be discussing in order to ensure that UCs remain places where free speech is honored, not silenced.