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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But it has come under sharp criticism from pro-Palestinian organizations and others. A group of current and former UC students and professors wrote an online letter to President Yudof, contending that the report misrepresents the Palestinian rights movements on UC campuses as anti-Semitic and excludes the experiences of Jewish students who criticize Israel, among other concerns. The same group also created a petition asking Yudof to table the report; it has received almost 2,000 signatures.

Jewish Voice for Peace, a Jewish group skeptical of Zionism and highly critical of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, also slammed the report. In an interview, JVP Deputy Director Cecile Surasky said that the report makes only a cursory mention of Jews involved in pro-Palestinian activism. The report, she added, doesn’t reference cases on UC campuses in which some Jewish students were excluded from Jewish student life due to their political views on Israel, such as a 2011 incident when the Berkeley campus’s Jewish Student Union voted to bar J Street, the dovish pro-Israel group, from membership.

“It doesn’t reflect tons and tons of experiences that are also a part of Jewish life,” she said.

Another point of concern, she said, is Barton’s role as the national education chair of the ADL, a group that has spoken out strongly against some forms of anti-Israel activism on campus. Barton, who coauthored the report with Alice Huffman, the president of the California NAACP, is a member of the UC President’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion, which is made up of professors, students and concerned California citizens. Barton, who fits the last category, volunteered to conduct the research for the report.

Barton said that his ADL affiliation did not affect his view of the climate at UC schools. “The ADL doesn’t dictate to me how I do things,” he said. “We interviewed a wide spectrum of people and tried to put into the report that there is a great diversity of voices that exist.”

Also released on July 9 was a campus climate report on the status of Muslim and Arab students at UC Schools. Led by Jihad Turk, the director of religious affairs at the Islamic Center of Southern California, the report garnered much less attention than its Jewish counterpart.

It mainly focused on the day-to-day lives of Muslim students, many of whom say they lack proper dietary accommodations and that they have been subject to harassment by other students.

The report also commented on protests around the Israel debate, particularly the so-called Irvine 11 case. That occurred in 2010 when 11 students shouted down a speech by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren at UC Irvine. Ten of the students were convicted on two misdemeanor counts for civil disturbance and sentenced to three years of informal probation. The case, the report said, has had a chilling impact on Muslim and Arab student life across the UC system. “The Muslim community viewed the handling of the students as an affront to their community driven primarily by political pressure,” it reads.

The report also noted that students were frustrated when Yudof issued an open letter condemning a protest of a pro-Israel event. “Criticism of Israel or Israeli government actions is protected free speech when expressed in a lawful matter,” the report said.

Contact Naomi Zeveloff at zeveloff@forward.com


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