UCLA and Berkeley anti-Semitism resolutions ‘blur lines,’ hurt debate – critics

Reuters / Lucy Nicholson
Recently adopted resolutions condemning anti-Semitism by student unions at two University of California campuses have come under criticism for going too far, with opponents arguing they stifle debate under the guise of battling bigotry.

Both Palestinian advocates and Jewish dissenters have raised criticism over the concern that the resolutions blur the line between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel, arguing that the language in the documents is based on a decade-old EU document revoked two years ago.

“This resolution is much broader than the one recognized by the Office of Civil Rights of the US Department of Education,” Phan Nguyen, journalist for Mondoweiss, told RT. The OCR has investigated numerous allegations of harassment, but found “time and time again, what is considered harassment turned out to be actual criticism of Israel people felt offended by.”

The student association at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) adopted a resolution condemning anti-Semitism last week, following the passage of a similarly-worded resolution at UC Berkeley at the end of February.

Both documents reference several inflammatory incidents in the past two months, including a Jewish fraternity house at UC Davis being defaced with Nazi graffiti and a candidate for a student judiciary body at UCLA having her loyalties questioned on account of being Jewish. Both invoke the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, with the UCLA document specifically listing what constitutes “appropriate and acceptable criticism of Israel.”

“They don’t want to debate Israel,” Nguyen told RT, but rather “want to prevent any discussion of this from happening under this blanket of anti-Semitism.”

According to NPR columnist Wendy Kaminer, however, the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) movement is “blurring the lines between irrational mistrust or hatred of Jews and reasoned protests of Israeli policies.” UC Davis adopted a resolution joining the BDS the night before the Jewish frat house was vandalized.

When taken in the context of the view, increasingly present on many US campuses, that unequal distribution of power should be countered by an unequal distribution of rights, the anti-Semitic belief that Jews hold excessive power “removes Jews from the charmed circle of historically disadvantaged students who deserve deference on campus and the full panoply of rights,” argued Kaminer.

The UCLA resolutions calls on the student association to be “conscious of the intentional and unintentional effects of their words and actions,” while the Berkeley document “encourages the student body to be conscious of unintended effects that their words and actions may have on others.”

Unintended consequences of speech were also highlighted last week at UC Berkeley, when a Muslim student used a hashtag referencing “intifada” – the Arab word for “uprising” – to announce her candidacy for the student senate. Jewish groups protested and claimed the term brought up painful images of terrorism.

Clarifying her intentions in the Berkeley student newspaper, The Daily Californian, Sumayyah Din defended her use of #Dintifada as a pun on her name, which to her represented “faith-filled resistance” and “compassionate and resilient means of survival.”

“My reference to it is in no way was or will be a call of hatred toward Jewish people,” Din wrote, adding she was “pleased” when the anti-Semitism resolution was passed, as she did not support “any hate speech on this campus.”