California votes to oppose intolerance by opposing tolerance for critics of Israel
California State Assembly Seeks to Stifle Debate on Israel
By Stephen Zunes, Huffington Post
August 30, 2012
The California State Assembly has just passed a bipartisan resolution (HR 35) by voice vote which constitutes a serious attack on academic freedom and the rights of students and faculty to raise awareness about human rights abuses by U.S.-backed governments. While purporting to put the legislature on record in opposition of anti-Semitism on state university campuses, it defines anti-Semitism so widely as to include legitimate political activities in opposition to Israeli government policies.
The resolution was opposed by a wide variety of groups, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Asian Law Caucus, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, yet the Republican-sponsored measure received wide bipartisan support in the Democratic-controlled legislature.
The non-binding resolution — which was sponsored by 66 of the 88 members of the lower house — demands that what it calls “anti-Semitic activity” should “not be tolerated in the classroom or on campus, and that no public resources be allowed to be used for anti-Semitic or intolerant agitation.”
The resolution lists a number of examples of genuine anti-Semitic activities, such as painting swastikas outside Hillel offices. However, much of the text is focused upon criticism of the state of Israel. Among the examples given of “anti-Semitic activities” included in the resolution are:
• Accusations that the Israeli government is guilty of “crimes against humanity”
This would mean that a speaker from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other reputable human rights groups which have documented such violations of international humanitarian law by the Israeli Defense Forces could not be provided space or honoraria to talk about their research.
• Accusations that Israel has engaged in “ethnic cleansing”
This would mean that Israeli scholars who have studied and published documents from Israeli archives pertaining to the 1947-49 conflict in Israel/Palestine which demonstrate that there was a calculated policy of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian population in some regions, would similarly be barred.
• “Student and faculty-sponsored boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel”
This would prohibit efforts to boycott goods made in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, support international sanctions on Israel over its ongoing violations of a series of UN Security Council resolution, or have the university divest from its endowment stock in companies supporting the Israeli occupation.
The resolution also declares a number of other political activities that, while clearly objectionable — such as disrupting a speech by a supporter of the Israeli government — as “anti-Semitic,” based on the assumption that hostility toward such a speaker is not based on opposition to policies of Israel’s right-wing government, but because the country is Jewish.
Indeed, throughout the resolution, opposition to Israeli government policies is equated with bigotry towards Jews. There’s no question that some pro-Palestinian activists do sometimes cross the line into what could reasonably be called anti-Semitism, which should indeed be categorically condemned, as should all manifestation of prejudice. Unfortunately, this resolution makes no distinction between this tiny bigoted minority and the majority of activists who oppose the Israeli occupation and other policies of that country’s right-wing government on legitimate human rights grounds.
Not only does this constitute an attack on academic freedom, it compromises legitimate efforts against the scourge of anti-Semitism which — while not as widespread a phenomenon on California campuses as the resolution implies — is still very real.
College campuses, particularly those in California’s large public university systems, have long been a center of agitation for human rights and in opposition to U.S. policies which support violations of human rights, whether it be the war in Vietnam, investment in apartheid South Africa, intervention in Central America or support for Israel’s wars and occupation.
This bipartisan effort appears to be an attempt to stifle this tradition. Indeed, if the California state legislature succeeds in shutting down debate regarding U.S. policy toward Israel and its neighbors, it will only be a matter of time before debate on other aspects of U.S. foreign policy will be suppressed as well.
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Calif lawmakers denounce anti-Semitism in colleges
By Hannah Dreier, Associated Press
August 29, 2012
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — An Assembly resolution urging California colleges and universities to squelch nascent anti-Semitism also encouraged educators to crack down on demonstrations against Israel, angering advocates for Muslim students.
With no debate, lawmakers on Tuesday approved a resolution that encourages university leaders to combat a wide array of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel actions.
“California schools need to recognize that anti-Semitism is still a very real issue on college campuses around the state — it did not disappear with the end of World War II,” said Assemblywoman Linda Halderman, R-Fresno, the resolution’s author.
Most of the incidents of anti-Semitism the resolution cited are related to the Israel-Palestine debate. These include instances of protesters comparing Israeli police to Nazis and urging support for Hamas.
The resolution, which is purely symbolic and does not carry policy implications, also condemns the suggestion that Israel is a “racist” state and that Jews “wield excessive power over American foreign policy.” The resolution characterizes the student campaign to pressure the University of California system to divest from Israel as anti-Semitic, and applauds university leaders’ refusal to consider it.
The Council on American Islamic Relations said the resolution went too far and constituted an attack on students’ right to free expression.
“To be clear, genuine acts of anti-Semitism should be condemned, but this resolution goes far beyond that,” said Rachel Roberts, a spokeswoman for the group. “By characterizing pro-Palestinian speech as anti-Jewish, the Legislature sidelines those Muslim students and progressive Jewish students who often organize together to raise awareness about the Middle East.”
Roberts said the council was disappointed that the resolution was drafted and passed while California colleges were out of session.
Pro-Palestinian protests have become a regular occurrence on many University of California campuses. Students sometimes use sensational tactics including simulating checkpoints and combining swastikas with the Star of David.
In 2010, 10 Muslim students were convicted of misdemeanors for repeatedly interrupting a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at UC Irvine, where students were suspected of painting swastikas in university buildings.
The Assembly’s actions also drew criticism from free speech advocates. Carlos Villarreal, director of the San Francisco chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, called the resolution irresponsible and dangerous because it combines legitimate condemnations of acts of intimidation and hate with specific objections to tactics used to support the Palestinian people.
“In doing so, it can be seen as having no other purpose than to demonize all those who criticize the nation-state of Israel or support the rights of the Palestinian people,” he said.
Halderman did not mention Israel when she introduced HR35, which passed on a voice vote with 66 of the Assembly’s 80 members signing on as co-authors.
Some of the lawmakers who signed on as co-authors when the resolution was called on the floor seemed surprised to later learn of the references to Israel. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, was one of the few who did not support it.
“Ignorance reigns up here,” he said.
One of the resolution’s co-authors, Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, said she understood critics’ concerns.
“We absolutely have to have colleges and universities that are free from anti-Semitism,” Lowenthal said. “But we just have to be careful that we don’t accidentally silence legitimate debate as we try to shut down organized hate.”
The California Legislature has no Muslim members, according to the council.
Bill to condemn all forms of intolerance including anti-semitism on all public campuses,
HR 35, California State Assembly
WHEREAS, The frequency and severity of incidents of contemporary global anti-Semitism are increasing according to reports by representatives from nations around the world, including the United States Department of State in 2008, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in 2004, and the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism in 2009; and
WHEREAS, On July 20, 2009, the United States Senate unanimously approved a resolution that unequivocally condemns all forms of anti-Semitism and rejects attempts to rationalize anti-Jewish hatred or attacks as a justifiable expression of disaffection or frustration over political events in the Middle East or elsewhere, and decries the comparison of Jews to Nazis perpetrating the Holocaust or genocide as a pernicious form of anti-Semitism; and
WHEREAS, The United States Department of State, the United Kingdom’s All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe have adopted or endorsed the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights’ working definition of anti-Semitism, which notes that in context certain language or behavior demonizes and delegitimizes Israel or attacks Israel with classic anti-Semitic stereotypes, such as denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation, drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli police to that of the Nazis, and accusing the Jewish people,
or Israel, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust; and
WHEREAS, The United States Commission on Civil Rights reported in 2006 that anti-Semitism exists on some college campuses and is often cloaked as criticism of Israel, and recommended that colleges and universities ensure that students are protected from actions that could create a hostile anti-Semitic environment; and
WHEREAS, Over the last decade some Jewish students on public postsecondary education institution campuses in California have experienced the following: (1) physical aggression, harassment, and intimidation by members of student or community groups in student-sponsored protests and rallies held on campus; (2) speakers, films, and exhibits sponsored by student, faculty, and community groups that engage in anti-Semitic discourse or use anti-Semitic imagery and language to falsely describe Israel, Zionists, and Jews, including that Israel is a racist, apartheid, or Nazi state, that Israel is guilty of heinous crimes against humanity such as ethnic cleansing and genocide, that the Jewish state should be destroyed, that violence against Jews is justified, that Jews exaggerate the Holocaust as a tool of Zionist propaganda, and that Jews in America wield excessive power over American foreign policy; (3) swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti in residential halls, public areas on campus, and Hillel houses; (4) student- and faculty-sponsored boycott, divestment, and sanction campaigns against Israel that are a means of demonizing Israel and seek to harm the Jewish state; (5) actions of student groups that encourage support for terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah and openly advocate terrorism against Israel and the Jewish people; and (6) suppression and disruption of free speech that present Israel’s point of view; and
WHEREAS, California public postsecondary educational institutions are admired throughout the world for their excellence and diversity,and it is important that they provide continued leadership in the fight against anti-Semitism; and
WHEREAS, While the response by California public postsecondary educational institutions to incidents of hate and intimidation, including anti-Semitism, with actions designed to make their campuses safer and more inclusive of diverse students, faculty, and staff have increased, the problem requires additional serious attention on both a campuswide and systemwide basis; and
WHEREAS, The Assembly commends the initial actions taken by the University of California (UC) to address anti-Semitism on its campuses such as: (1) refusal by the UC Board of Regents and the President of UC to consider divesture from companies doing business with Israel; (2) strengthening UC’s systemwide policies prohibiting student conduct motivated by bias, including religious bias; (3) implementation of a campus climate reporting system allowing any member of a UC campus community to report incidents of intolerance or bias and development of a comprehensive UC systemwide campus climate assessment; (4) the formation of an Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion whose members have conducted in-depth visits with Jewish students and groups on UC campuses to better understand their concerns and challenges and report back to the President of the UC; and (5) immediate statements by UC leaders strongly condemning specific acts of intolerance or bias when they occur; and
WHEREAS, The Assembly urges both the University of California and the California State University to take additional actions to confront anti-Semitism on its campuses, with due respect to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution; and
WHEREAS, While these actions are important steps, strong leadership from the top remains an important priority so that no administrator, faculty, or student group can be in any doubt that anti-Semitic activity will not be tolerated in the classroom or on campus, and that no public resources will be allowed to be used for anti-Semitic or any intolerant agitation; now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Assembly of the State of California, That the Assembly unequivocally condemns all forms of intolerance, including anti-Semitism, on public postsecondary educational institution campuses in California; and be it further
Resolved, That the Assembly recognizes recent actions by officials of public postsecondary educational institutions in California and calls upon those institutions to increase their efforts to swiftly and unequivocally condemn acts of anti-Semitism on their campuses and to utilize existing resources, such as the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights’ working definition of anti-Semitism, to help guide campus discussion about, and promote, as appropriate, educational programs for combating anti-Semitism on their campuses.