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California Senate approves resolution condemning anti-Semitism

By Eliza Blackorby

July 16, 2015 8:20 p.m.

The California Senate voted Thursday to approve a resolution known as SCR 35, which condemns anti-Semitic activity on University of California campuses, following its passage in the state Assembly Monday. The measure urges individual campuses to each adopt their own similar resolutions.

Its passage follows public statements made in May by UC President Janet Napolitano and several UC Regents condemning anti-Semitism following events that included painted swastikas on a Jewish fraternity house at UC Davis in January and UCLA student government’s controversial questioning of a Jewish Judicial Board candidate.

The U.S. Department of State’s definition of anti-Semitism includes demonizing Israel, applying a double standard to Israel and delegitimizing Israel. The resolution, which refers to part of the U.S. Department of State’s definition, does not explicitly cite the department’s clauses regarding Israel.

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a UC Santa Cruz faculty member and co-founder of the AMCHA Initiative, which works to end what the organization perceives as anti-Semitism on college campuses, said she felt the resolution illustrated California lawmakers’ understanding of anti-Semitism as an important issue.

She said the bill represented a step toward addressing what she considers a dramatic increase in anti-Semitic activity on UC campuses.

However, Benjamin added she thinks the resolution does not offer a clear enough definition of anti-Semitism, advocating for the adoption of the entire U.S. Department of State’s definition by the UC.

“The thing that would make a difference would be a tool to actually identify anti-Semitism and have it be treated like all other bigotries,” she said.

Liz Jackson, an attorney with Palestine Legal, a group that provides legal assistance to activists protesting Israeli treatment of Palestine, expressed concern that the resolution could be used to silence political discussion on UC campuses if it led campuses to adopt the full U.S. Department of State’s definition.

People could be afraid to express their political views in critique of Israel if doing so could brand their opinions anti-Semitic, she said.

While Jackson said that she is strongly against discrimination of all kinds, she said she did not see anti-Semitism as a special problem separate from other types of bigotry. She said she thought the recent instances of anti-Semitism on UC campuses were isolated events.

Jackson added she thinks groups like the AMCHA Initiative push a definition that includes what they term the demonization of Israel as anti-Semitism in order to silence academic and political discussion about Israeli policy.

“This has a very serious chilling effect because it is scary for people on campus to engage in (the Israeli-Palestinian) issue because they know they could be publicly smeared as an anti-Semite, called out by the chancellor, targeted with hate mail,” Jackson said. “It really hurts the educational environment. Where else can you have your worldview challenged and engage in tough issues?”

Tallie Ben-Daniel, academic advisory council coordinator for Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that seeks to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, also expressed concern over the possibility of UC campuses adopting similar resolutions with the U.S. Department of State’s definition of anti-Semitism.

She added that Jewish students who critique Israel could feel excluded from their community if they did not agree with an official definition of anti-Semitism supported by their university.

At its meeting in September, the Board of Regents plans to discuss many issues of intolerance at the UC, including anti-Semitism. The board has not yet decided whether to employ the U.S. Department of State’s definition of anti-Semitism.

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Eliza Blackorby
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