Monday, November 20

Submission: UC should not adopt anti-Semitism definition that endangers open debate


This summer has seen a debate over whether the UC Board of Regents should adopt a controversial definition of anti-Semitism that categorizes certain speech critical of Israeli policies as anti-Semitic. While anti-Semitism is understood to be prejudice, discrimination, or hatred toward Jewish people for being Jewish, this redefinition expands that notion to include three types of criticisms of Israel – “demonizing,” “applying a double standard” to or “delegitimizing” the state of Israel – also known as the “three D’s.”

The vague nature of these three D’s has prompted an intervention by the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, which urged UC not to adopt the redefinition. “It’s hard to see how these standards could be transplanted to the campus of a public university committed to a robust exchange of views and subject to the free-speech provisions of the 1st Amendment,” the paper wrote. And Kenneth Stern, one of the definition’s original authors, recently argued against its adoption by the University of California, saying that the definition would “do more harm than good … damag(ing) the university as a whole.” Reviewing these standards can help illustrate how dangerous and fraught they are.

The first of the three D’s is “demonizing Israel,” a term which likely means something different to everyone who reads it. Although there are individuals who adopt views of Israel that are rooted in hatred, the term alone is vague, providing no clear idea of where to draw the line. Is criticizing Israel’s discriminatory policies demonizing? Is calling for social and economic pressure to change those policies demonizing? And who decides?

The second of the three D’s, “applying a double standard to Israel,” drew the harshest criticism from the Los Angeles Times, which asked, “Would pro-Palestinian students who mounted a protest against Israeli policies in the West Bank be judged anti-Semites because they didn’t also demonstrate against repression in Egypt or Russia?” This in itself would be a double standard, as other social justice campaigns are not asked to denounce various world problems before being allowed to make their specific cases.

The last of the three D’s is “delegitimizing Israel,” sometimes described as denying its “right to exist.” Again, the Los Angeles Times was quick to point out how open these statements are to interpretation, asking, “What about a student who wanted to argue that Israel should be replaced by a nonsectarian state? Even those who find such a position unrealistic or undesirable might agree that it needn’t be driven by hatred for Jews.” Indeed, campus debates about Israel and the Palestinians don’t center on Israel’s right to exist, but instead on what type of Israel should exist – a democratic state with equal rights for all that respects international law, or one that continues policies of exclusion and occupation.

What we should keep in mind is that principled criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic, for two main reasons. First, criticism of Israel is targeted at a state and its government’s policies, not at the ethnic or religious groups living in the state. Second, conflating criticism of Israel with hatred toward Jews assumes a one-to-one relationship between the Jewish community and Israel as a state – an assumption that itself is based on harmful stereotypes. The state of Israel does not represent all Jews, and many Jews, including those with strong connections to Israel, support strong measures of social and economic pressure aimed at changing its treatment of the Palestinians.

Concerns about the legal and pedagogical implications of UC Regents adopting the three D’s are shared by many, including Jewish Voice for Peace, Palestine Legal, Students for Justice in Palestine, the UAW Local 2865 and free speech groups such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Using this definition would endanger open policy debate on campus – some prominent advocates of the redefinition have already stated that they wish to use it to stigmatize and suppress a wide range of political speech critical of Israel. Many faculty and students would likely avoid discussing political questions from fear of being labelled anti-Semitic. And should the definition be applied to restrict speech on campus, it would likely prompt lawsuits over free speech and censorship.

In his op-ed advising the UC not to adopt the three D’s, Stern supported promoting a more inclusive policy against intolerance in all its forms, including anti-Semitism, and creating more robust mechanisms for reporting and handling incidents of bias on campuses. The UC Regents have indicated an openness to this alternative, and it appears to be the wisest and most sensible route to take.

Peled is a fourth-year economics, global studies, and public affairs student and is the president of Jewish Voice for Peace at UCLA and the programming director of Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA. Kurwa is a graduate student in sociology and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA.

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  • Literally

    This is new… SJP and company are now invoking the 1st ammendment? How ironic, considering that they spend the rest of their time trying to censor opposing views. When students suggested that SJP’s BDS resolution be expanded to condemn human rights violations by countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and more, the response was a resounding “no,” as SJP wanted USAC to target Israel exclusively. Because adding other countries to their resolution would “water it down” and take away from their message. Well, that is exactly what they are trying to do now: to water down a document aimed at addressing anti-Semitism by changing the focus from anti-Semitism altogether, leaving it as a small footnote in a larger definition of injustice and discrimination. SJP is hypocritically doing exactly what they advocated against. If they want to challenge the definition of anti-Semitism that the UC will adopt–fine. But to propose removing the focus from anti-Semitism altogether suggests (along with much other evidence about SJP at UCLA and the national organization) that SJP is only interested in pursuing a biased agenda in which they benefit from hiding behind their virulent and hateful version of anti-Zionism to protect themselves from accusations of anti-Semitism. Adopting a definition of anti-Semitism that includes any mention of Israel is threatening to the mission of SJP, which is why they are attempting to stop the UC’s discussion on anti-Semitism altogether.

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  • Carol Kuczora

    When I’m critical of a policy of my government, nobody calls me anti-American or anti-caucasian. The government of Israel is cruel and destructive of Palestinians in the Palestinian territory inhabited by Palestinians for thousands of generations. Objection to demolition of those people’s ancestral homes and colonization of their territory by a the Israeli government is not a condemnation of the whole Jewish people, nor does it imply that the government responsible for the demolitions should cease to exist, but just change its policy. The broad definition of anti-Semitic does not allow for this understanding.

  • garyfouse

    As a part-time teacher at UCI and a Gentile, I addressed the regents during the public comment portion last week. The proposed statement of principles is a joke and is no more than a myriad of statements already on file on every UC campus when it comes to intolerance. The worst -ism on our campuses is anti-Semitism. It is also the only -ism that for years has been essentially ignored because the perpetrators are the pro-Palestinian crowd.

    I respect free speech and criticism of Israel does not automatically represent anti-Semitic speech. However, when you argue for the destruction of the Jewish state and make comments that cross the line into attacks against Jews as a people. That is anti-Semitism When you draw swastikas on walls on campus, that is anti-Semitism.

    Whether or not the regents adopt the State Dept. definition of anti-Semitism, if their statement does not specifically address anti-Semitism they will have failed their responsibility-as they have done for too many years.

  • Larry Saltzman

    As both a UCLA alumnus and a Jewish-American, I am appalled at these proposed regulations stifling free speech to protect Israel. If I were a current student under these regulations I would face suspension or expulsion for my vigorous and regular criticism of Israel, a state that I consider to be guilty of grave war crimes and crimes against humanity. I could make equally strong criticisms of any other country, including the U.S. and not get in trouble. These regulations have noting to do with preventing bigotry, and everything to do with censoring criticisms of Israel. Never mind that those criticisms are grounded firmly in hard facts and deserve to be aired. During the last few years I have also voiced criticisms of the Italian justice system. Strangely nobody has accused me of being anti-Italian or anti-Catholic. I have also voiced strong criticisms of aspects of American foreign and domestic policy. I would be free to continue to do so under the new regulations. But if I were currently attending the UC system and criticized Israel and suddenly I would see my rights to free speech destroyed and I would face expulsion. This is a perverse set of undemocratic regulations that must not be adopted by the UC Board of Regents. If it is adopted, I hope there are large scale intentional violations of these policies to the point where they become unenforceable.

  • BradD99

    People who want to destroy the world’s only Jewish state aren’t the right people to define what constitutes anti-Jewish bigotry, aka antisemitism.

    The Daily Bruin should not be publishing editorials like this.

    KKK members should not be listened to when discussing black people’s human rights.

    People who want to destroy the world’s only Jewish state should not be listened to when discussing Jewish human rights.

  • BradD99

    Quiz:

    Muslim states are acceptable and Arab states are acceptable yet a Jewish state is “RACIST/UNACCEPTABLE” because:

    1) You’re an antisemite and a hypocrite. A bigot.
    2) Actually, if Muslim and Arab state are OK, obviously a Jewish state is OK too.