Media Spotlight: UC Regents' debate airs difference between antisemitism and anti-Zionism

This spring, the University of California (UC) Regents’ consideration of a Statement of Principles Against Intolerance sparked a contentious debate about the meaning of antisemitism and efforts to equate it with criticism of Israel. The original proposal explicitly named anti-Zionism, together with antisemitism, as a form of discrimination.

Palestine Legal and our partners took a clear message to the media: by conflating anti-Zionism with antisemitism, the UC’s proposed Statement of Principles posed an untenable threat to free speech, and misrepresented the nature of campus activism for Palestinian rights.

The Regents responded to the uproar, amending the proposal to condemn “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism.” This final iteration acknowledges the difference between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, though it is still premised on a negative view of advocacy for Palestinian rights.

But debate on the UC Statement of Principles lifted campus activism for Palestinian rights to a national stage, and made space for mainstream media sources – including The New York Times, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, the Jewish Forward, CBS, Reuters and more – to examine key questions:

What is anti-Zionism? What is wrong with the conflation of criticism of Israel with antisemitism? And what is the campus movement calling for freedom, justice, and equality for Palestinians really about?

Palestine Legal highlights the following important coverage on these questions.

Prior to the UC Regent’s vote:

The LA Times editorial board came out against the conflation of antisemitism and anti-Zionism: “UC’s Intolerance Policy goes Dangerously Astray on Anti-Semitism.”

Also, in the LA Times, Palestine Legal pointed out threats to free speech.

UC professors Saree Makdisi and Judith Butler wrote in the LA Times: “Suppressing Criticism of Zionism on Campus is Catastrophic Censorship.”

A professor of Jewish History at UCLA penned the aptly-titled “UC Regents Need a History Lesson” in the Jewish Forward, which expanded on the history of debate within the Jewish community about Zionism, belying the position that anti-Zionism is inherently antisemitic.

250 faculty members called on the Regents to reject the Statement of Principles:

“UC System Considers Forbidding ‘Anti-Zionism’ on Campuses” (LAist)

“University of California Board Weighs Statement on Anti-Semitism” (Reuters)

SJP activists, the ACLU, and Palestine Legal emphasized the campaign to silence speech critical of Israel, including prior attempts to adopt the so-called State Department definition of Anti-Semitism, covered by the local CBS affiliate.

After the vote:

Palestine Legal and our partners remained prominent voices in discussing the impact of this decision.

Palestine Legal staff attorney Liz Jackson, UC Berkeley Graduate Student and member of UAW local 2865 David McClearly, and Tallie Ben Daniel of Jewish Voice for Peace provided commentary for CBS.

On April 4, 2016, The New York Times published a Room for Debate series entitled “Is Anti-Zionism Anti-Semitism?” Omar Zahzah, a PhD student at UCLA, and Sherene Seikaly, a professor at UC Santa Barbara both contributed.

The InterceptTeleSurNewsweekHuffington PostInside Higher Ed, and Education Dive also published overviews of the legal and political implications of the UC Statement of Principles.

In the aftermath, mainstream news outlets like the San Francisco Chronicle took a closer look at Students for Justice in Palestine’s campus activism, publishing: UC Berkeley Students Stage Mock Checkpoint in Protest.