Concern for UC Jewish students: An open letter to the Regents

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Dear Honorable Members of the University of California Board of Regents,

We are 32 organizations representing hundreds of thousands of supporters who are deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of Jewish students at the University of California. In light of the alarming increase in antisemitic activity on UC campuses, we urge you to take substantive measures to address this serious problem, first and foremost by adopting the current U.S. State Department definition of antisemitism at your upcoming Regents meeting.

As you know, campus debate on Israel is increasingly slipping into antisemitism.  On UC campuses where divisive Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaigns have been promoted, antisemitic behavior has dramatically increased and the campus climate has become hostile for many Jewish students.  For example:

  • At UC Berkeley, “Zionists should be sent to the gas chamber” was scrawled on a bathroom wall in the wake of a contentious BDS campaign.
  • At UC Los Angeles, a candidate for student government’s eligibility was questioned by BDS-activists simply because she was Jewish. The four student senators who challenged the candidate for the judicial board based on her Jewishness and Jewish affiliations were authors, sponsors and supporters of the most recent anti-Israel divestment bill at UCLA.
  • At UC Santa Cruz, anti-Israel faculty and students used threats and intimidation to try to shut down a Hillel-sponsored LGBT event.
  • At UC Santa Barbara, after years of divisive BDS campaigns, flyers blaming Jews for 9/11 were posted on campus.
  • At UC Davis, only days before and after a recent bitter BDS vote, the university’s Hillel House was defaced with “grout out the Jews,” and a Jewish fraternity was spray-painted with swastikas.Jewish students on UC campuses have reported feeling targeted, harassed and unsafe as a result of anti-Israel activity:
  •  At a recent UC Santa Barbara student senate meeting a Jewish student stated, “For the first time in my life, I felt that my identity, an unchangeable part of who I am, was under attack… I don’t wear that star of David necklace anymore. I don’t tell most people that I’m Jewish, and I definitely don’t tell them that I’m pro-Israel…I’m scared for my safety.
  • A Jewish student leader at UCLA recently shared: “People say that being anti-Israel is not the same as being anti-Semitic. The problem is the anti-Israel culture in which we are singling out only the Jewish state creates an environment where it is ok to single out Jewish students.”

    The State Department definition of antisemitism addresses the unique nature of contemporary Jew hatred by recognizing that language or behavior which demonizes and delegitimizes the Jewish state or denies its right to exist may cross the line into antisemitism.  Such a definition is essential for adequately understanding and identifying antisemitism as experienced by Jewish students today.

    There are those who would falsely claim that the State Department definition violates free speech. But defining antisemitism simply allows for its proper identification; it does not prescribe shutting down speech or taking any other disciplinary measures, nor are we in any way advocating that the definition should be used to restrict expression protected by the First Amendment. Indeed, antisemitic rhetoric is not against the law, but it is bigotry, and it should be identified and called out with the same promptness and vigor as all other forms of racial, ethnic and gender bigotry.

    Furthermore, any suggestion that the UC Regents may not adopt principled viewpoints on matters of important social and political issues such as this, violates Supreme Court precedent.

    The State Department’s understanding of antisemitism has been widely embraced by the Jewish community. In 2011, the leaders of 61 national Jewish organizations across the religious and political spectrum signed a statement affirming: “We, the undersigned members of the Jewish community…recognize and accept that individuals and groups may have legitimate criticism of Israel policies.  Criticism becomes anti-Semitism, however, when it demonizes Israel or its leaders, denies Israel the right to defend its citizens or seeks to denigrate Israel’s right to exist.”

    The State Department definition also has the widespread support of UC stakeholders. The student senates at UCLAUC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara have each unanimously approved resolutions condemning antisemitism based on the State Department’s definition, and 17 student organizations from various UC campuses, including AEPi, Hillel and Chabad, have asked President Napolitano to make these resolutions official UC policy. In addition, thousands of UC faculty, alumni, parents, donors and California taxpayers have urged the University of California to adopt the State Department definition and to use it in identifying and addressing antisemitic behavior.

    Our organizations join UC stakeholders in asking you to adopt the State Department definition of antisemitism and to afford Jewish students the same protections as all other students at the University of California.

    Sincerely,

    Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity (AEPi)
    Alums for Campus Fairness
    AMCHA Initiative
    American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists
    Americans for Peace and Tolerance
    BEAR: Bias Education, Advocacy & Resources
    Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law
    Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA)
    CUFI on Campus
    David Horowitz Freedom Center
    Declare Your Freedom
    Eagles Wings
    Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET)
    Fuel For Truth
    Hasbara Fellowships
    Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel
    Iranian American Jewish Federation
    Israeli-American Council (IAC)
    Jerusalem U
    National Conference on Jewish Affairs
    NCSY
    Middle East Political and Information Network (MEPIN)
    Proclaiming Justice to the Nations
    Scholars for Peace in the Middle East
    Simon Wiesenthal Center
    StandWithUs
    Students and Parents Against Campus Anti-Semitism
    The Israel Christian Nexus
    The Israel Group
    The Lawfare Project
    Training and Education About the Middle East (T.E.A.M.)
    Zionist Organization of America

Concern for UC Jewish students: An open letter to the Regents

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AUTHOR

SPME

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) is not-for-profit [501 (C) (3)], grass-roots community of scholars who have united to promote honest, fact-based, and civil discourse, especially in regard to Middle East issues. We believe that ethnic, national, and religious hatreds, including anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, have no place in our institutions, disciplines, and communities. We employ academic means to address these issues.

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