A “landmark” first step was taken by the University of California system this week to combat anti-Semitism on campus. The Regents’ statement of principles condemns “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism” and declares that such behaviors “have no place in the University of California.”
“There is absolutely no doubt that anti-Zionism is the driving force behind the alarming rise in anti-Semitism at UC and at schools across the country,” says Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, the UC Santa Cruz faculty member who heads the AMCHA Initiative that tracks on-campus anti-Semitism.
But much of mainstream reporting on the Regents’ statement erases this link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Headlines refer to anti-Semitism but not to anti-Zionism and reporting suggests that there is no real need for the Regents’ statement or that free speech is at risk.
The LA Times made its position explicit in an editorial: “In reality, it is perfectly possible to oppose Zionism—or advocate for a secular state in what is now Israel and the West Bank—without being anti-Jewish.”
Leaving aside that Jewish Israel is predominately secular and is surrounded by Muslim countries that, unlike Israel, do not have religious freedom, and leaving aside the secular Zionist founders of the Jewish State, I find most disturbing the phrase “in what is now Israel and the West Bank.”
Somehow the LA Times, the largest newspaper in the city that has the second largest Jewish population in the US, whose editorial board defines anti-Zionism as “opposition to the idea of a Jewish State,” cannot understand that college students report they are ostracized and harassed because they take the minority view (on campus) that the world’s only Jewish state should continue to exist. Students are experiencing old fashioned anti-Semitism to such a degree that even the Regents of UC, who have many other things to worry about, have noticed.
I’ll admit that I struggle to understand what forms of anti-Zionism are not anti-Semitic. The LA Times’ definition that anti-Zionism opposes even the idea of a Jewish state suggests that anti-Zionism is necessarily anti-Jewish. However, anti-Zionism is also its own form of bigotry. The push for legalistic language to protect Jewish students arises from the reality that anti-Zionism is quite acceptable on campus while, at the same time, Jews are not a “protected minority.”
The hundreds of anti-Semitic incidents cataloged by AMCHA are connected to the widely heard campus position that Israel should not exist as a Jewish state and to demonizing Zionism. Tellingly, Associated Press reports that ran in many California papers including the San Francisco Chronicle, contrasted “Israeli supporters” with “backers of Palestinian rights,” although Zionism is the concept of Jewish rights to self-determination. No report that I could find considered pro-Israel students to be “backers of Jewish rights.”
In fact, the LA Times headlined its editorial “Striking a Balance Between Free Speech and Bigotry,” as if anti-Zionism is not a form of bigotry and as if anti-Zionist speech is not protected by the first amendment.
No one explains the situation as clearly as UCLA professor, Judea Pearl:
UC guidelines opposing anti-Semitism are grossly inadequate in curbing the current wave of anti-Jewish hostilities on campuses, which by and large are directed not against those who practice their religion but against those suspected of supporting Israel…
…the UC regents have not banned anti-Semitic, Islamophobic or white supremacist speech, and do not propose to ban anti-Zionist speech; rather, the regents rightly want to make it clear that the latter is beyond the pale of civil discourse.
So if the regents adopt the principles against intolerance, they won’t officially restrict free expression. But, and here is an important distinction, they will send a message to the community that anti-Zionism, like Islamophobia and other hateful ideologies, has “no place,” culturally, “at the University of California.Originally published in HonestReporting.