A University of California committee on Wednesday cited anti-Semitism as a form of intolerance that campus leaders should challenge but rejected a more far-reaching denouncement of any criticism of Israel’s right to exist.
The committee of the university’s governing Board of Regents voted unanimously to send the statement on to the full board for final consideration on Thursday.
The statement opposing anti-Semitic behavior has been under discussion for a year amid a wave of impassioned campus activism that has sparked tensions between Palestinian rights supporters and strong allies of Israel.
Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Federations of North America and American Jewish Committee had lobbied in favor of the document written by an ad hoc working group. The board appointed the group after complaints that an earlier version drafted by UC administrators failed to explicitly condemn anti-Semitism.
The panel approved what is being called a “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance” after softening language 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 that proposed declaration, including faculty and student groups, had argued that the initial 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.
“Anti-Zionism names a political viewpoint that individuals have a right to express under the First Amendment,” Judith Butler, a UC Berkeley comparative literature professor, told the board.
Regent Norman Pattiz, who served on the task force that drafted the statement and report, suggested amending it to 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.
Student Regent Avi Oved, a UCLA student who is active in Jewish affairs and served on the advisory group, supported amending the report.
“Anti-Zionism should not be conflated with anti-Semitism,” Oved said.
Oved added, though, that students with strong ties to Israel are sometimes subject to slurs that would not be tolerated if they were directed at other minority groups.
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.
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 face discrimination.
They remained concerned that the slight change to the introductory report made Wednesday did not go far enough.
“The Regents’ new policy offers no clarity on how to determine when criticism of Israel or anti-Zionism crosses a line into anti-Semitism, and was predicated on the erroneous assumption that support for Palestinian rights is inherently anti-Semitic,” Tallie Ben Daniel, a coordinator for the pro-Palestinian group Jewish Voice for Peace, said.
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