Editor’s Note: The following is an open letter to the University of California Board of Regents that represents the opinion of 83 different affiliated student groups and organizations throughout the UC. It was submitted to the Daily Bruin by Arielle Mokhtarzadeh, a undergraduate representative of the Associated Students UCLA Board of Directors and the vice president of Bruins for Israel.
To the honorable UC Board of Regents,
We, the undersigned, represent a cross-section of Jewish student leaders from across the UC. We reach out on behalf of our constituents, our friends and our community, thousands of individuals who have entrusted us with this great responsibility. We write out of a great sense of duty and obligation, guided by the words of Rabbi A.Y. Kook who said, “I don’t speak because I have the power to speak, I speak because I don’t have the power to remain silent.” We write as students and stakeholders of the UC, humbly, to share an important message that we have been charged to deliver.
Over the course of this last academic year, Jewish students from across the UC have become victims of anti-Semitism. Swastikas were painted on Alpha Epsilon Pi, the Jewish fraternity at UC Davis. The phrase, “Hitler did nothing wrong” was etched into a table at UCLA’s Bruin Café. Fliers were posted around UC Santa Barbara blaming Israeli intelligence for the terror attacks of 9/11. A bathroom at UC Berkeley was vandalized when a student wrote, “Zionists should be sent to the gas chamber.” And most recently, a Jewish student at UCLA was initially denied a position of leadership based solely on her religious identity.
Did these incidents hurt our community? Absolutely.
However, did we allow them to define our experiences as Bruins, Bears, Aggies, Anteaters, Bobcats, Highlanders, Tritons, Gauchos or Banana Slugs? Never.
We are proud to be Jewish members of the UC community; we proudly wear our kippot and tzitzit, Jewish stars will always hang from our necks, Jewish prayer will always flow from our lips, and Jewish values will always be the driving force behind our passion to make this world a better place.
Our community will be defined not by the ill intentions of those who seek to demonize us and politicize our identities, but by our steadfast commitment to our ideals, our morals, our faith and most importantly, our people.
Following these incidents, hundreds of Jewish students and allies of the Jewish community returned to their student leaders and implored them to condemn these acts of hatred and commit our campuses to being better educated about the Jewish community, our history and our needs. These resolutions – by which the UCLA Undergraduate Students Association Council, Associated Students of the University of California (Berkeley’s Student Government) and the UC Santa Barbara Associated Students Senate each adopted the U.S. State Department definition of anti-Semitism – setting a precedent of zero-tolerance for identity-based hatred on our campuses and committing our collective communities to change. Important strides have been made, but the majority of our culture-changing work is yet to come.
We understand that the UC Board of Regents also seeks to complement the work of our student leaders by adopting an official definition of anti-Semitism for the UC. We recognize that anti-Semitism does not exist in a vacuum, which is why we stand in solidarity and share our platform with other communities who also experience forms of identity-based bigotry and discrimination.
The wheels of the train are in motion and we wish to ensure that the students – the individuals who will be most directly impacted by this policy – do not get left behind. Given that we are the ones who wear the badges of our politicized identities on a daily basis, we believe that it is only fitting that we – the Jewish students of the UC – be the ones to define our experience of anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism has transformed our experience from what it once was. It still involves the Holocaust references and paraphernalia, nasty stereotypes and accusations of dual loyalty, but anti-Semitism has come to encompass so much more. Anti-Semitism of the present has extended the umbrella of demonization, delegitimization and double standards from the Jewish people to the Jewish state. It involves calling for the destruction of the Jewish state and the Jewish people, denying Jews the right to self-determination, defaming Zionism – which is the belief in the right of the Jewish people to return to their indigenous homeland – and drawing from historical scapegoating tactics to accuse Jewish people of being unconditionally loyal to the Jewish state or some great “Jewish agenda.”
It is for the reasons above that we assert that the U.S. State Department definition – in its entirety – is the only definition capable of addressing the many nuanced realities of what anti-Semitism is today and what we experience on campus.
Some have argued in favor of the definition without the section titled, “What is Anti-Semitism Relative to Israel?” which we believe to be unacceptable. Failure to recognize the clear correlation between anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism would be irresponsible. It is on campuses where anti-Israel speech and discriminatory attitudes go unchecked, where swastikas are drawn on fraternity houses, where overqualified Jewish students are denied positions of leadership and where Jewish students may feel inclined to mask their religious identities.
The UC is an intricate tapestry of diverse identities. Failure to protect and serve one thread of that tapestry jeopardizes the safety, security and stability of that whole tapestry.
It is because we love this university that we have spoken out and will continue to speak out.
Our university motto is “Fiat Lux” or “let there be light.” Together, may we shed light on the darkness of hatred and bigotry to enable the UC to shine like the gem that is was established to be.
Let there be light.
A full list of signatures can be obtained here.