This week once again the UC Regents are meeting to discuss and potentially vote on a policy statement that they are calling: “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance.”
The statement seeks to oppose, among other things, anti-Semitic behavior in the wake of debates and clashes between those supporting Palestinian rights and those supporting Israel.
The statement appears to be generic, calling on the mission of the university “to promote discovery and create and disseminate knowledge, to expand opportunities for all, and to educate a civil populace and the next generation of leaders. The University therefore strives to foster an environment in which all are included, all are given an equal opportunity to learn and explore, in which differences as well as commonalities are celebrated, and in which dissenting viewpoints are not only tolerated but encouraged.”
It adds, “Acts of hatred and other intolerant conduct, as well as acts of discrimination that demean our differences, are antithetical to the values of the University and serve to undermine its purpose.”
However, it singles out anti-Semitism: “Anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination have no place in the University. The Regents call on University leaders actively to challenge anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination when and wherever they emerge within the University community.”
This is the result of pressure from Jewish groups to adopt a stronger statement after an earlier version failed to specifically condemn anti-Semitism.
“It is not always easy to balance protecting Jews and other minority groups from racism with upholding the First Amendment and academic freedom, but I believe the regents were able to do that successfully,” said Max Samarov, director of research & campus strategy for the pro-Israel organization StandWithUs.
However, both Palestinian groups, as well as free speech supporters, are a bit leery of the proposed language.
In the Huffington Post, Omar Zahzah fears that UC will go too far and adopt the State Department definition of anti-Semitism. “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
Within that definition, however, is the relation to Israel, which can bleed from anti-Semitism into the realm of political criticism of the Israeli government. Mr. Zahzah warns that this “is so vaguely worded in certain portions that any critique of Israeli policy could arguably be construed as anti-Semitic.”
Mr. Zahzah also is concerned that “the working group consulted with a widely criticized all-male panel of ‘experts,’ some of whom are known to advocate for the suppression of speech critical of Israeli policies. Jerry Kang, UCLA’s Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, is the only individual on the panel with actual scholarly expertise on racial issues.”
The ACLU is also concerned in particular about a proposed statement listing anti-Zionism by saying “opposition to Zionism often is expressed in ways that are not simply statements of disagreement over politics and policy, but also assertions of prejudice and intolerance toward Jewish people and culture.”
They write, “Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.”
“It implies that strong statements against the policies and practices of the state of Israel or other statements that could be deemed ‘anti-Zionist’ have no place on campus,” ACLU Senior Counsel Alan Schlosser said. “As a statement of the official policy of the regents, this could very well chill constitutionally protected speech on this very controversial and current issue.”
Here is the full introduction:
During the 2014-15 academic year, the Regents received correspondence and public comment from a variety of sources expressing concern that there has been an increase in incidents reflecting anti-Semitism on UC campuses. These reported incidents included vandalism targeting property associated with Jewish people or Judaism; challenges to the candidacies of Jewish students seeking to assume representative positions within student government; political, intellectual and social dialogue that is anti-Semitic; and social exclusion and stereotyping. Fundamentally, commenters noted that historic manifestations of anti-Semitism have changed and that expressions of anti-Semitism are more coded and difficult to identify. In particular, opposition to Zionism often is expressed in ways that are not simply statements of disagreement over politics and policy, but also assertions of prejudice and intolerance toward Jewish people and culture.
Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California. Most members of the University community agree with this conclusion and would agree further that the University should strive to create an equal learning environment for all students. This said, members of the community express widely divergent views about how the University should respond to incidents of overt, and more particularly, covert anti-Semitism and other forms of prohibited discrimination and intolerance. In light of the evolving nature of anti-Semitism, some commenters recommended that the Regents endorse or adopt a definition of anti-Semitism that has been attributed to the U.S. Department of State. They express the view that adopting a definition of anti-Semitism would help members of the University recognize and respond to anti-Semitism. Some commenters urged the Regents to sanction members of the University community who express views thought to be anti-Semitic, while others asserted that the State Department definition would sweep in speech protected by principles of academic freedom and the First Amendment. Sanctioning people based on their speech, they say, would violate the First Amendment. Others expressed concerns about defining and focusing on anti-Semitism alone when other forms of bias and prejudice also occur on UC campuses, but have not been specifically defined or addressed in Regents policy. Finally, some commenters asserted that expressions based on stereotypes, prejudice and intolerance impact the learning environment for some members of the University community, and that prohibiting such expressions altogether should be deemed a legitimate approach to enforcing the University’s non-discrimination policies.
At our September 2015 meeting, the Regents considered the adoption of a draft statement of principles against intolerance. After receiving public comment and engaging in extensive discussion, the Regents elected not to move forward with the draft in its then current form. Members cited a number of concerns that led to the decision not to move forward. In the end, Chair Monica Lozano announced the formation of a Working Group, to be chaired by Regent Eddie Island, and charged the Group with developing a statement reflecting the Board’s discussion, as well as the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression. The Working Group comprises Regents Island, Oved, Pattiz, Perez, and Varner; Faculty Representative Hare; Chancellor Katehi; and Vice Provost and Chief Outreach Officer Gullatt. The Working Group has been supported by General Counsel and Vice President Charles Robinson and Secretary and Chief of Staff Anne Shaw.
In the course of preparing a draft statement, the Working Group convened a day-long public forum, on October 26, 2015, in order to receive additional input from interested parties and members of the public, beyond that received at several Regents meetings. Following the public forum, on December 1, 2015, the Working Group invited four recognized scholars and/or leaders on the subjects of discrimination, with a particular focus on anti-Semitism, and on free speech, to come before the group and present their views on what might be an effective statement on intolerance. These experts were UCLA Professor of Law and Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Jerry Kang, UCLA Gary D. Schwartz Professor of Law Eugene Volokh, President and General Counsel of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under the Law Kenneth L. Marcus, and Founder and Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Marvin Hier. In addition to making presentations, each of these experts provided written materials to the Working Group for further consideration.
The Working group then convened for a series of meetings in December 2015 and January 2016to develop a statement on intolerance. In addition to the forums convened as described above, the Working Group, and the Secretary’s Office on behalf of the Board, have received extensive comment from many members of the University community and the general public. In December, 2015, Student Regent Avi Oved began soliciting input by email from all UC students.
—David M. Greenwald reporting