Education

University of California approves anti-Semitism statement

The Student Center on UC Irvine's campus.
The Student Center on UC Irvine's campus.
Steve Zylius via UC Irvine on Flickr

A committee of the University of California's governing board unanimously approved a statement Wednesday that cites anti-Semitism as a form of intolerance that campus leaders have a duty to challenge.

The committee of the university's Board of Regents voted to send what is being called a "Statement of Principles Against Intolerance" on to the full board for final consideration on Thursday.

But it did so only after softening a reference in an accompanying report that listed "anti-Zionism" — the rejection of Israel's right to exist — as another kind of discrimination that didn't belong at the university.

Critics of the proposed declaration had argued that the original report language stating, "Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California" could be used to stifle free speech and scholarship.

Regent Norman Pattiz, who served on the task force that drafted the statement and report, suggested amending it to instead read, "Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California."

Pattiz said the change would make clear the university recognizes a distinction between legitimate criticism of Israel and actions that cross the line into inappropriate demonization of Jewish people.

The system-wide principles were drafted in response to pro-Israel groups that demanded more be done to protect Jewish students amid heightened activism on behalf of Palestinian rights.

If adopted on Thursday, the declaration would make the University of California the first public university system to reaffirm its opposition to anti-Semitic behavior since campaigns for academic and economic boycotts of Israel have taken root on many U.S. college campuses.

Jewish groups had argued in favor of the document, which was written by an ad hoc working group the board appointed after complaints that an earlier version drafted by UC administrators failed to explicitly condemn anti-Semitism.

The draft considered Wednesday described the university as an institution dedicated to the free exchange of ideas and a community where anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination have no place.

Pro-Palestinian groups and faculty members with research specialties in the Middle East were upset that anti-Semitism was the only type of intolerance specifically mentioned in the principles at a time when Muslims in the U.S. increasingly are being targeted.