U. of Calif. Weighs Banning 'Hate' Speech

Stringent Restrictions Coming to Cradle of Free Speech?

Free Speech? A report is urging the University of California to ban a wider range of conduct considered ‘hate speech,’ which could include anti-Israel protests.
milesgehm/via flickr
Free Speech? A report is urging the University of California to ban a wider range of conduct considered ‘hate speech,’ which could include anti-Israel protests.

By Naomi Zeveloff

Published August 02, 2012, issue of August 10, 2012.
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The University of California, birthplace of the 1960s campus Free Speech Movement, is now considering a proposal that would ban certain forms of speech as a result of a report on Jews and the Israel debate at its schools.

The July 9 report, issued by an advisory panel to UC President Mark Yudof, concluded that Jewish students sometimes face a hostile environment at UC schools in the form of anti-Israel protests. It recommends that UC “seek opportunities to prohibit hate speech on campus.”

The panel “recognizes that changes to UC hate speech policies may result in legal challenge,” the report reads. But it encourages UC to “accept the challenge.”

Yudof will make the final call on the recommendations; no date has yet been established for his decision. But Alan Dershowitz, a First Amendment lawyer and author of “The Case for Israel,” said he would challenge such a ban: “It’s a very serious mistake,” he told the Forward. “The first victims of the policy would be pro-Israel advocates. It will backfire.”

A spokesman for Yudof said the UC leader was out of town and unable to comment for this article. But the spokesman, Steve Montiel, said that the president “is a First Amendment scholar who has been a champion of free speech, and I don’t see anything changing that.”

The report was commissioned by a subgroup of the UC President’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture, and Inclusion, and co-directed by Richard Barton, a senior lay leader of the Anti-Defamation League. The council was established in 2010 after several fraternities at UC San Diego organized a racially-charged “Compton Cookout” party that was seen as slurring blacks. Anti-gay graffiti at UC Davis the same year also played a role in the council’s creation. Over the past two years, Jewish students and professors have asked the council to address the status of Jewish students on campus in the context of the Israel debate.

The 10-page report describes a campus system that is widely hospitable to Jewish student life. And it acknowledges that the Jewish communities on UC campuses hold diverse opinions on Israel. But during the annual Israel Apartheid and Palestine Awareness weeks at California schools, the report stated, “pro-Zionist Jewish students described an environment in which they feel isolated and many times harassed and intimidated.”

The report outlines eight recommendations for the UC system to improve its treatment of Jews, including adopting a “hate speech-free campus policy” that would include prohibition of anti-Semitic discourse.


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