SAN DIEGO (AP) — Jewish organizations are upset that the University of California is considering adopting a creed against intolerance that does not explicitly mention anti-Semitism, which they say is a longstanding problem on its campuses.
More than two dozen organizations signed a letter sent to the UC board of regents on Thursday expressing their outrage about the proposed “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance” to be discussed at their meeting next week.
Jewish groups had been pushing the UC to adopt the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, saying some campus debates over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were disintegrating into the harassment of Jewish students.
UC President Janet Napolitano said in a radio interview in May that she personally believes the UC should adopt the U.S. State Department’s definition, which says that denying Israel’s right to exist is anti-Semitic. That would be a first for a public university system. Napolitano’s comments drew fire from advocates of free speech and those critical of Israel’s policy toward Palestine, who said such a definition could be used to silence them.
Jewish organizations say a rash of anti-Semitism incidents last year— including many that made references to Israel — underscore the need for the UC system to take a strong stance against anti-Semitism on its 10 campuses. They included Nazi swastikas splashed on a Jewish fraternity house at UC Davis and a student’s credentials being questioned by student government leaders at UCLA for a position on a campus panel because she is Jewish. The student leaders later apologized.
“Unfortunately the proposed statement of principles, which the Jewish community was led to believe would address their serious and well-founded concerns, is so watered-down and overly broad as to be meaningless,” states the letter signed by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the National Conference on Jewish Affairs, among others. “It does not even mention anti-Semitism, and it will do nothing to mitigate the anti-Semitic bigotry that Jewish students are currently facing at the University of California.”
The proposed statement says the UC “is committed to protecting its bedrock values of respect, inclusion and academic freedom.” It adds that the statement is not intended to be used as the basis for disciplinary action, which is covered under existing policies. But it provides examples of behaviors it says go against its principles, including “vandalism and graffiti reflecting culturally recognized symbols of hate or prejudice.
These include depictions of swastikas, nooses, and other symbols intended to intimidate, threaten, mock and/or harass individuals or groups.”
It also calls out behavior that questions a student’s fitness for a leadership role or inclusion in the campus community based on the student’s race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality or gender.
“This statement of principles applies to attacks on individuals or groups and does not apply to the free exchange of ideas in keeping with the principles of academic freedom and free speech,” it states.
Groups fighting against adoption of the State Department definition hailed the proposed statement as a victory.
“I really commend the University of California for what seems like a clear and thoughtful statement against intolerance and one for free speech and academic freedom,” said Tallie Ben Daniel of Jewish Voice for Peace, which has been critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. “My feeling is anti-Semitism is a complicated topic that many people have a lot to say something about and that has been used to silence conversations about Israel and Palestine. In the long run, in this political moment, it’s best it was not explicitly defined by the university.”
UC officials declined to comment Thursday or say whether they had ever considered proposing a statement that reflects the State Department definition. “There will be a full discussion by UC Regents of issues that affect a broad spectrum of the entire UC community next week,” UC spokesman Steve Montiel said.
He emphasized the issue is only in the discussion phase and no action is expected yet by the board.