Palestine Legal urges UC Regents to protect free speech

UC BERKELEY (Credit: John Morgan)

UC BERKELEY (Credit: John Morgan)

Civil rights organizations raise First Amendment concerns with efforts to adopt a re-definition of anti-Semitism

Today, amid calls for the University of California to adopt a troubling re-definition of anti-Semitism that would infringe upon constitutionally-protected speech, Palestine Legal, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the National Lawyers Guild sent a letter to the University of California President Janet Napolitano and the Board of Regents urging them to protect student's First Amendment rights to criticize Israel and to safeguard their commitment to academic freedom.

The letter warns the University that adoption of the re-definition, which is currently used by a division of the U.S. State Department for international monitoring purposes, conflates criticism of Israeli government policies with anti-Semitism. If adopted, the University would likely infringe upon protected First Amendment rights and violate the University’s own commitment to academic freedom.

Among many problems, the State Department definition classifies “applying a double standard” to Israel as an example of anti-Semitism. If the UC adopted this vague measure, the letter asks, “[h]ow many additional countries [would] students and professors [be] required to criticize when they criticize Israel?”

The letter urges the University to drop consideration of the State Department re-definition. Instead, the letter recommends looking to the U.S. Department of Education for guidance on how to distinguish anti-Semitic incidents from First Amendment-protected criticism of Israel.

The letter states:

As university administrators, we urge you to affirm your commitment to protecting free speech on campus by embracing the DOE findings and using them as a guide to safeguard the right to criticize Israel and Israeli policies exercised by students, academics and administrators alike.

Calls for the University to conflate anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel is a tactic used increasingly by Israel advocates to suppress the First Amendment-protected speech and advocacy of Palestinian human rights activists. Palestine Legal has documented a number of incidents in which false accusations of anti-Semitism has been used to silence Palestine advocacy.

For more information on the State Department re-definition, see Palestine Legal’s FAQ on Efforts to Re-define Anti-Semitism to Silence Criticism of Israel.