Tuesday, January 22

Student groups in discontent over HR 35, related documents

A controversial resolution passed by the state legislature has prompted disagreement among University of California student leaders in recent weeks.

House Resolution 35, signed in late August, encourages state public university officials to “increase their efforts to swiftly and unequivocally condemn acts of anti-Semitism on their campuses.”

Last month, the University of California Student Association board, which is comprised of student representatives from all UC campuses, approved its own resolution in response to the legislature’s statement. The association’s resolution states that HR 35 endangers free speech and works to “suppress legitimate criticism of Israeli policy and Palestine solidarity activism.”

Members of the UC Berkeley chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, a student group that works to educate about Palestinian people, drafted the document and submitted it to the UC Student Association for consideration at last month’s board meeting.

More recently, 60 other UC student leaders ““ including nine UCLA undergraduate student government officials ““ sent a letter to the association last week criticizing its board for passing a resolution they said marginalizes students tied to the Jewish community.

Student leaders who signed the letter said certain phrases in UC Student Association’s resolution, such as “the racism of Israel’s human rights violations,” made the document seem to take a stand on the Israel-Palestine debate, instead of simply advocating for free speech.

“Rather than taking a stance on that issue (of free speech) which is directly related to students, (the board) went beyond that and actually took a stance on the international politics,” said David Bocarsly, Undergraduate Students Association Council president, who signed the letter.

UC Student Association board members, however, said their resolution was not intended to marginalize students or take a side on the issue.

“The main point of this resolution was not to target or isolate one community, because that’s not what we’re here for, but rather to bring awareness to the fact that our freedom of speech and academic freedom are at risk because of (HR 35),” said Raquel Morales, UC Student Association president.

Although they agreed HR 35 threatens free speech on campus, student officers who signed the letter in response to the UC Student Association’s resolution said they thought the association overstepped boundaries and delved into the geopolitical issue of Israel-Palestine. The student leaders called for greater transparency in the association’s discussions and decision-making, expressing concern that not enough students were informed or consulted about the resolution before its approval.

At the end of the letter, student government officers urged the UC Student Association’s board to issue a public apology for the resolution and forward the letter to the UC Office of the President, UC Board of Regents and the California State Assembly for the record.

UC Student Association officials, however, maintain that the resolution only mentions the geopolitical issue of Israel and Palestine to directly respond to HR 35, Morales said. The primary purpose of the resolution was to protect free speech, they said.

Lana Habib El-Farra, external vice president of USAC and UCLA’s representative to the UC Student Association, voted in favor of the UC Student Association’s resolution. She did not sign the letter that was sent to the board.

“In the end I believe, still, the subject of academic freedom was a lot more stressed than any part of the resolution,” El-Farra said. “HR 35 really does hone in on what students can and cannot say, and it’s a really dangerous line to cross. We really felt it was important of us to take a stance.”

At USAC’s weekly council meeting on Tuesday, El-Farra was noticeably upset and expressed dismay that USAC members did not approach her first before signing the letter to the association. She said she acknowledged, however, that there are issues of transparency in the UC Student Association, which members are working to address.

The board plans to have a conference call to discuss the resolution again and take the letter into account, though it has not yet been scheduled, said Darius Kemp, organizing and communications director for the UC Student Association.

But Morales said the board would likely not change its decision.

“We went through this resolution line by line and we voted in the way that we believe reflects the university body,” she said. “We’ve already made our decision, and I believe that the board will stand by what they passed.”

Taylor Mason, cultural affairs commissioner, was another one of the four USAC officers who did not sign the letter to the UC Student Association. Mason did not feel it was appropriate for councilmembers to express opinions about the resolution, after receiving an email from Bocarsly telling them about the letter, she said.

She said she thought councilmembers should have discussed the letter together before making a decision, particularly if the letter went against a stance made public by the UC Student Association.

“Any time we’re going to voice an opinion via signature, endorsement, anything like that, it has to be something that we thoroughly take the time to discuss,” Mason said.

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