Over the past several weeks, we have witnessed the emergence of a troubling double standard targeting Jewish and pro-Israel students and organizations. While cloaked in the language of “ethics,” “marginalization” and “human rights,” this initiative is actually about denying our narrative and represents a frontal assault on dialogue, education and constitutionally protected rights.
During the recent Undergraduate Students Association Council elections, a coalition of student groups including the Muslim Students Association, Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace led an initiative asking candidates to sign an “ethics statement.” The statement asked candidates to pledge to refrain from taking trips with certain pro-Israel organizations, based on claims that these groups “marginalize” communities on camps.
Further, in an article published on May 6, the editorial board of Al-Talib targeted an individual running for USAC, demanding that he condemn and publicly disassociate himself from a pro-Israel organization that sponsored his educational trip to Israel. While these demands seem legitimate on the surface, they are blatantly hypocritical.
For example, numerous USAC representatives and student leaders are affiliated with the UC Student Association and the US Student Association. Both of these organizations have taken positions or actions that marginalized student communities. In 2012, the UCSA passed an anti-Israel resolution on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. They failed to notify Jewish and pro-Israel students in advance or give them any opportunity to raise concerns. The same year, the USSA published a position paper called “Fund Education, Not Oppression,” which contained direct references to the anti-Israel BDS movement, as well as offensive fallacies about Israel.
While the authors of the “ethics statement” make the claim that the aforementioned trips to Israel are problematic because the sponsoring organizations have “marginalized” students, the same argument can be made regarding sponsored trips to UCSA and USSA conferences.
No attempt, however, was made to address those organizations – only pro-Israel groups were targeted.
The groups that circulated the joint statement of ethics are calling for the effective blacklisting of only Jewish and pro-Israel organizations from campus life and politics.
If applied fairly, the standards laid out by the authors of the “ethics statement” and the editorial board of Al-Talib would prevent USAC members from participating in UCSA and USSA lobby trips to Congress or events with anti-Israel groups as well as trips from pro-Israel groups.
This infringement on the rights of councilmembers to educate themselves about a contentious issue and advocate for what they believe in is in fundamental opposition to the very foundation of our political system and represents an attack on the constitutional right to free association.
If councilmembers can belong to groups that are strictly representative of their own community or other political organizations and attend UCSA or USSA lobbying conferences without any scrutiny, then student leaders should have the freedom to associate with pro-Israel groups both on and off campus.
In fact, if councilmembers insist on voting on geopolitical issues as contentious and complex as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is imperative that they educate themselves in order to make informed decisions, just as members of Congress have taken trips to Israel in order to be informed representatives.
Barring student leaders from associating with pro-Israel organizations, but not others, would make the council incapable of serving our student body as informed representatives of all communities.
An objective look at the situation reveals the perpetuation and acceptance of a despicable double standard. The blatant hypocrisy of the “ethics statement,” as well as attacks exclusively targeting Jewish and pro-Israel groups and students, sends a message to the campus community: Association with pro-Israel organizations must be condemned, while affiliation with groups that marginalize, tokenize or otherwise harm not only the Jewish and pro-Israel communities but other groups on campus are perfectly acceptable and immune to criticism.
We invite all Bruins to assist in the drafting of a new statement of ethics that, rather than revealing the hypocrisy of its authors and unfairly targeting a community, sets forth standards that can be objectively agreed upon by all students and helps to bridge communities and foster constructive dialogue on our campus.
Nusbaum is a third-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student and a board member of Bruins for Israel. Ismakov is a fourth-year political science student and a board member of Bruins for Israel.