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Submission: USAC ethics pledge hinders tolerance, awareness

By Bob Blumenfield

June 24, 2014 5:53 p.m.

I was dismayed to read reports of a so-called “ethics pledge,” circulated during the Undergraduate Students Association Council election, which sought to pressure candidates for student government office to promise they would not take educational trips to Israel offered by some of the most well-regarded Jewish community organizations in the country.

In response, I offered a resolution with the support of six of my City Council colleagues, urging the University of California to develop policies to ensure that no student will have to live in fear of bullying for his or her beliefs.

As an elected official, I feel a strong responsibility to lead the charge for social justice, fairness and dialogue. I believe that an essential part of my job is to educate and enlighten. This “ethics pledge” is particularly insidious because it is falsely couched in words like tolerance and transparency when in reality it promotes the opposite. At the same time, its proponents have utilized tactics of bullying and intimidation to promote a version of events that ignores basic facts in favor of politically expedient narratives.

The pledge singled out groups that include a pro-Israel mission and mischaracterized them as promoters of intolerance and discrimination. I have worked with these organizations for decades and know that they have actively helped lead the charge against discrimination and intolerance worldwide.

The Anti-Defamation League, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary fighting discrimination in all its forms, was in fact founded on the basic principle of securing “justice and fair treatment to all.”The ADL’s message of universal tolerance is what drew me to serve on the ADL board prior to elective office and is exactly the kind of message that needs to be carried forward on today’s college campuses.

Further, the ADL has been a leading voice in raising awareness and combatting discrimination that targets America’s Muslim communities. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, ADL and law enforcement officials have documented many apparent “backlash crimes” directed at Muslim, Sikh and Arab Americans. For example, in 2012, the ADL led the public outcry over the deadly shooting spree at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin.

The trips the ADL and others sponsor allow students of all faiths and creeds, including recently elected Undergraduate Students Association Council President Devin Murphy, who attended a sponsored trip, to see the land with their own eyes. Israel is a fascinating country. It is the only established democracy in the Middle East. It is a young country that respects the rights of its citizens whether they are Arab or Jewish, gay or straight, black, white or otherwise. Why would a group of students try to prevent other students from seeing and meeting the diverse communities of Israel, some made up of those who were born there and some made up of those who have immigrated from Russia, the United States, South Africa, Ethiopia and many other nations in search of a better life?

These organizations do not, as one Students for Justice in Palestine missive recently wrote, “marginalize student communities on campus.” On the contrary, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Hasbara Fellowships offer educational opportunities to learn about Israel, in all its complexity, firsthand.

The only conclusion to be drawn is that these efforts are not intended to protect students, but to isolate them, as part of an international campaign to delegitimize Israel.

I recently spoke with a past student government councilmember who, along with another student, was hauled before a student tribunal by Students for Justice in Palestine and accused of having a conflict of interest after taking an educational trip to Israel. The Student Judicial Board voted to absolve both students, but not before they were made subjects to threats, bullying and harassment in person and online.

As a politician and a UCLA alumnus, I am no stranger to passionate disagreement, but there is no place for these tactics of intimidation in our schools.

We are blessed beyond words to live in one of the most diverse cities in the world. It is part of what made my own time at UCLA so special. I commend all UCLA students for speaking their minds on this and many other issues, but I maintain that without fundamental respect for one another and a clear-eyed view of the facts, we cannot move forward as a community.

That means embracing cultures not our own, not marginalizing them. We need to celebrate disparate points of view, not resort to intimidation or bullying. Whether by taking educational trips abroad, or simply sharing a holiday meal, we need more dialogue on campus, not more isolation.

Blumenfield is a member of the L.A. City Council.

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