President Obama visits UC Irvine (file)
President Obama visits UC Irvine (file) Reuters

The University of California governing board unanimously approved on Wednesday a statement of "Principles against Intolerance," in response to reports of anti-Semitic incidents on UC campuses. The statement condemns both anti-Semitism and “anti-Semitic forms” of anti-Zionism.

The principles state that in certain circumstances, anti-Israel expressions constitute anti-Semitism. Critics of Israel deny this linkage, and warn that the decision stifles freedom of speech.

The approved “Principles against Intolerance” stopped short, however, of actually equating anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, as some Israel advocacy groups had wanted.

The regents urged educators “actively to challenge anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination when and wherever they emerge within the University community.” The principles condemn actions that “interfere with the ability of an individual group to assemble” and “harassment, threats, assaults, vandalism and destruction of property.”

“Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California,” the board’s working group said in a statement accompanying the principles. “Members of the UC community have come forward with concerns that anti-Semitic stereotypes and tropes of Jewish people appear coded as political discourse about Israel and its policies.”

It balanced this out by adding that anti-Muslim sentiment following terror attacks by “self-identified religious fundamentalists” is just as problematic.

The principles urge students to consider their responsibilities, “regardless of whether one has a legal right to speak in a manner that reflects bias, stereotypes, prejudice and intolerance.”

A rise in anti-Semitic incidents

Jewish students and groups have been pointing to a rise in anti-Semitic incidents at colleges and universities. In a study published last year by Trinity College and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, 54% of Jewish college students surveyed said they had witnessed or experienced anti-Semitism on campus during the first half of the 2013-2014 school year.

In another 2015 study, from Brandeis University, almost three-quarters of Jewish college students surveyed said they had “been exposed at one time during the past year” to at least one of six anti-Semitic statements provided.

In the 2014-2015 school year, the number of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incidents on US college campuses increased 38% from the previous year, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

The AMCHA Initiative, a pro-Israel organization, released a study last week of anti-Semitism at colleges that named four UC schools among the five colleges or universities with the “highest overall anti-Semitic activity.” The study looked at 113 colleges and universities in the US with the largest Jewish student populations. After Northwestern University, the study listed UC Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley, UC Davis and UCLA, respectively, as the worst offenders.

Pro-Israel organizations, including StandWithUs, have voiced support for UC’s principles, while other individuals and organizations have criticized them.

The directors of the AJC’s Los Angeles and San Francisco chapters commended the UC regents “for taking action against hostility toward Jewish students on UC campuses. We also applaud the Regents for pointing out that some individuals and groups pursuing a virulently anti-Israel agenda on UC campuses have crossed a threshold into discrimination against Jewish students.”

Abraham Oved, a student regent, reportedly said at the meeting that the statement “unequivocally embraces the First Amendment” yet protects students who have been called “Zionist pigs” or been told “Zionist pigs should be sent back to the gas chambers.”

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