Interest groups attack university for not condemning Palestinian human rights advocacy in proposed statement
At the University of California Regents meeting yesterday, Israel advocacy organizations attacked the university for failing to protect Jewish students from criticism of Israel. University administrators had proposed a “statement of principles against intolerance” which emphasizes bedrock values of free speech and refrains from condemning Palestinian human rights activism as intolerant. Israel advocates, and members of the Board of Regents who spoke during the meeting argued that the statement does not go far enough.
As the LA Times reported, Regent Richard Blum said he and his wife, Senator Dianne Feinstein, believe that students who behave in racist, antisemitic or other biased ways should face penalties such as suspension or expulsion. Of course, if the university punished students for their speech activity, it would blatantly violate the First Amendment. But comments such as these are especially alarming given that many Israel advocates at the Regents meeting wrongly conflated criticism of Israel with antisemitism, mischaracterizing it as an attack on the identity of Jewish students.
Liz Jackson, California-based attorney with Palestine Legal, commented:
It is the Regents’ legal responsibility and their duty as educators to reject demands by Israel advocacy organizations to silence one side of an important debate. It's their job to protect all students – Jewish and otherwise – who seek to engage in a free exchange of ideas about core racial justice issues like Palestinian rights.
Acceding to interest groups' demands to stifle human rights advocacy will only restrict this free exchange of ideas. The reality is that students defending Palestinian rights are being silenced for their speech activities because of the discomfort it causes people who defend Israeli policies, not because they are antisemitic.
Kelsey Waxman, a Senior at UC Berkeley commented, “The most unsafe I have ever felt as a Jewish student at UC Berkeley was when fellow Jews attacked me for speaking up about the morally unacceptable Israeli occupation in Palestine.”
David McCleary, a graduate student activist with Students for Justice in Palestine, and a member of the Executive Board of UAW 2865, commented:
The last thing I wanted to do was complain about my own circumstances, but seeing my experiences erased today was too much to bear. While campaigning for divestment, I have been called a self-hating Jew, a Kapo and a Nazi. But the hatred and vitriol that I have experienced pales in comparison to the vitriol faced by my Arab and Muslim friends who have been subjected to death threats. For example, last March, when Students for Justice in Palestine hosted a journalist to speak at Berkeley about Palestinian rights, there was a bomb threat credible enough that the UCPD came out to secure the location.
For further coverage of the Regents meeting, view the articles linked below.