SAN FRANCISCO ― A University of California committee agreed Wednesday to single out anti-Semitism as a form of intolerance that campus leaders should challenge but rejected a more far-reaching denouncement of arguments against Israel’s right to exist.
A year in the making, the formal position opposing anti-Semitic behavior comes amid a wave of impassioned campus activism that has sparked tensions between Palestinian rights supporters and strong allies of Israel.
The committee of the university’s governing Board of Regents voted unanimously to send what is being called a “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance” to the full board for consideration on Thursday.
“Anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination have no place in the university,” it reads.
The 10-paragraph declaration seeks to spell out the difference between the vigorous intellectual debates the university says it exists to promote and the “acts of hatred and other intolerant behavior” campus leaders have a duty to combat.
One section, for example, states that candidates for leadership positions should not be discredited based on bias or stereotyping. The principle was an apparent reference to a UCLA student seeking a seat on the student government’s judicial council being asked whether she would be able to remain impartial given her Jewish heritage.
“Intellectual and creative expression that is intended to shock has a place in our community,” the document reads. “Nevertheless, mutual respect and civility within debate and dialogue advance the mission of the university.”
The statement was drafted in response to pro-Israel groups that demanded more be done to protect Jewish students amid heightened activism on behalf of Palestinian rights.
When a draft of the statement was released last week, critics expressed alarm over 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.
Faculty and student groups said the report, if endorsed along with the principles themselves, 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.
The regents’ Educational Policy Committee softened the disputed wording on Wednesday.
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 are meant to be “aspirational rather than prohibitory,” said Charles Robinson, the UC system’s general counsel,
As such, they do not bar particular acts or proscribe sanctions but serve to remind administrators of their duty to combat bias and to impose discipline in cases that violate existing anti-discrimination policies, Robinson said.
The principles “express a viewpoint on conduct that promotes and conduct that undermines the purposes and mission of the university,” he said. “Intolerance, discrimination and bias fall into the latter category.”
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.
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,” said Tallie Ben Daniel, a coordinator for the pro-Palestinian group Jewish Voice for Peace.
On Thursday, the full board could further amend the document, approve it in its entirety or reject some or all of it.
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