POINT: Report by UC Regents unfairly conflates racism with activism

On college campuses across the nation — including our own — students and administrators have been grappling with how to best address issues of diversity and maintain a safe campus environment for all students. It is against this backdrop that a University of California Regents working group drafted a statement detailing several “Principles Against Intolerance,” in an attempt to create a campus environment “in which all are included, all are given an equal opportunity to learn and explore, in which differences as well as commonalities are celebrated, and in which dissenting viewpoints are not only tolerated but encouraged.”

Despite this laudable goal, however, the UC Regents did the exact opposite — by conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Such an implication is not only intellectually dishonest, but it also sets a dangerous precedent that both stigmatizes legitimate criticism of Israel and undermines serious instances of anti-Semitism.

Conceptually, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are clearly distinct. Whereas anti-Semitism is defined as prejudice or discrimination against the Jewish people, anti-Zionism is defined as opposition to the political movement of Zionism, which advocates for the establishment of Jewish sovereignty in Palestine and support for the modern-day state of Israel more broadly. Opponents of Zionism often challenge the idea of Jewish statehood on the basis that it inherently denies equality to non-Jewish communities within Israel, including its indigenous Christian and Muslim populations.

But whereas anti-Semitism is inherently hateful and intolerant, anti-Zionism is a perfectly legitimate — albeit controversial — political debate. In the same way one can question whether Israel can or should exist as a Jewish state for all of its citizens, one too could dispute the legitimacy of nations such as the Kurds, the Basques or the Taiwanese establishing independent states. By asserting that opposition to Zionism signifies a “prejudice and intolerance toward Jewish people and culture,” the UC Regents blur this important distinction.

This, of course, is not to say that anti-Semitism isn’t a serious issue on college campuses or that there aren’t anti-Semites who hide behind the label of anti-Zionists — far from it. Such actions should be exposed and fiercely condemned. But to blindly treat anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism as though they were two sides of the same coin overlooks the important fact that a overrepresented and growing percentage of anti-Zionists are themselves Jews.

Moreover, the fusion of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism also bears the risks of having a devastating impact on campus activism that is critical of Israel or its policies within the occupied Palestinian territories. Stigmatizing criticism of Israel as inherently discriminatory doesn’t help create the safe and vibrant exchange of ideas that the UC Regents claim to foster — rather, it stifles it.

As someone who has studied the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and visited the region several times, I can attest that this topic is challenging to discuss — particularly on college campuses. For students who are unfamiliar with the subject, it can seem confusing or confrontational. For those who are more familiar with it, it can feel personal and frustrating. I, too, have felt uncomfortable when my beliefs or views on this issue were challenged. But as students, we would be wrong to confuse this kind of discomfort with a lack of safety. We would be wrong to prioritize a campus climate in which one’s ideas go unchallenged at the expense of vibrant political discussion and the freedom to express conflicting political views.

Yasmeen Serhan is a senior majoring in international relations. “Point/Counterpoint” runs  Tuesdays.

4 replies
  1. robert e litman
    robert e litman says:

    “In the same way one can question whether Israel can or should exist as a Jewish state for all of its citizens, one too could dispute the legitimacy of nations such as the Kurds, the Basques or the Taiwanese establishing independent states.” One could also debate this about the Palestinians and their legitimacy as a nation as well, since, there never was a country or nation-state of Palestine. Many Palestinians are descended from Arabs who emigrated to the area with the conquest of the area by Arab tribes rfom Saudi Arabia. There was a nation-state of Jews very early on in the area known as the fertile crescent – modern day Palestine called the Kingdom of Judaea. There is a wealth of archaeological evidence suggesting the presence of Jews (and other indigenous nations) in the are as well.
    And, as I recall, when Israeli leaders first doubted the legitimacy of the Palestinians’ demand for a state of their own, they were accused of being racist. So be careful when you portray the legitimate aspirations of the Jews for their own state/homeleand as up for debate, because we can also have that debate about the Palestinians themselves.

  2. Arafat
    Arafat says:

    While Saudis repress all their people (other than the royal family whom have private $500 million dollar private airplanes)… and while Saudis execute gays, women and Shi’ites on trumped up charges… and while Saudis export Islamist hatred across the globe…we focus our angst on Israel – the only country in the Middle East where Palestinians have the right to vote and where Palestinians serve in Parliament -for deep down we are really just

    Brown Shirts pretending to be humanitarians.

    While Abbas serves in his eleventh year of his four year term, and while Hamas rules with fear,

    repression and intimidation, while education under the Palestinian elected officials focuses on Mein Kampf-like messages, and while women killers and baby killers are glorified by the perverse and despicable Palestinians we focus our angst upon Israel – the only country in the Middle East where Palestinians are free to protest and are allowed the luxury of free speech -for we are really just Brown Shirts pretending to be humanitarians.

    While Pakistanis ethnically cleanse that once entirely Hindu country of its few remaining Hindus we focus

    our angst on Israel – a country with a Palestinian Supreme Court member – for deep down we are really just Brown Shirts pretending to be humanitarians.

    While Egyptians ethnically cleanse that country of its two thousand year old Coptic community we focus our

    angst on Israel – a country with a more diverse demographic profile than any Muslim country in the Middle East -for deep down we are just Brown Shirts masquerading as humanitarians.

    While Islamists turn Nigeria into the next Sudan with gang-raping and child kidnapping and mass killings becoming

    commonplace we focus our angst on Israel – for we are hypocritical Muslim apologists -and deep down we are really just Brown Shirts pretending to be humanitarians.

    While Sunnis insatiably kill Shi’ites, and Shi’ites endlessly kill Kurds, and while Kurds endlessly kill

    Sunnis and every variation of this blood-letting theme, we focus our angst on Israel – the only country in the world that has increased its green space – because we are just Brown Shirts pretending to be humanitarians.

    While Yemenis turn that bread basket of the Arabian Peninsula into a place of starvation we focus our

    crocodile tears on Israel for deep down we are really just Brown Shirts pretending to be humanitarians.

    While Islamists in Southern Thailand kill off over 5,000 Buddhists in the span of a few years we ignore their plight and turn our focus on Israel – a country that has contributed more medical and scientific advancements per capita of any country in the world – for we are today’s Brown Shirts, today’s Goebbels’ acolytes goose-stepping like a gaggle of mindless geese.

  3. Robin Messing
    Robin Messing says:

    One of the main causes of rising anti-Semitism around the world is the perception that Jews uncritically support Israel’s illegal and oppressive occupation of the West Bank and its attacks against Gaza. Here is how J.J. Goldberg described a 2014 report by the Jewish People Policy Institute: (What Happens in Israel Doesn’t Stay in Israel, Forward, Aug. 18, 2014)

    Begin Goldberg quote—————–

    Much of the report focuses on participants’ concerns about Israeli democracy itself — religious pluralism and discrimination against Arab citizens, for example. But one section is devoted to “The impact of Israel’s policies on the security and wellbeing of Jews around the world.” It warns: “There is clear evidence that periods of tension between Israel and its neighbors raise the frequency and severity of harassment/attacks on Jews in locations around the world.”

    In many incidents of physical attacks on Jews, the assailant cites Israeli actions as the motivation. . . . And it quotes a 2012 Anti-Defamation League research report, “Anti-Semitism on the Rise in America,” which claimed, “Anti-Israel feelings are triggering anti-Semitism.”

    It’s often argued, correctly, that anger at Israel shouldn’t lead to attacks on Jews in other countries. But enemies of Israel are already prepared to attack Israeli commuter buses and restaurants. It’s only a short jump from there to foreigners who identify themselves as Israel’s next line of defense and declare, “We are one.”

    End Goldberg quote—————————-

    Bibi Netanyahu did not help alleviate the perception that all Jews unquestioningly support Israel, no matter how egregiously it acts. Many of our politicians demand that Muslims loudly denounce Islamic extremism whenever a Muslim carries out a terrorist attack anywhere in the world. And though it does not get nearly the media coverage it deserves, many Muslims have spoken out against the abuse of their religion as an excuse to commit terrorism. I suspect they speak out for two reasons. First, they speak out because it is the right thing to do. And second, they speak out because they hope that if the public hears a loud Muslim voice condemning terrorism it will stem the rising tide of Islamophobia.

    In a similar manner, the more Jews are perceived as supporting Israel’s brutal occupation, the more anti-Semitism is likely to grow. Jewish protest against the occupation and for Palestinian rights can provide an inoculation against the cancer of anti-Semitism. And one of the most important ways to speak out against the occupation is through support of the BDS movement, imperfect though it may be.

    Now, many will call me out on that last statement. OK–suppose I’m wrong. Suppose there are better ways to oppose Israel’s occupation than the BDS movement. Or suppose I am wrong in my view that what Israel is doing in the West Bank as an illegal occupation. And suppose you think it is craven of me to suggest Jews should try to gain safety by giving in to threats by the enemies of Israel. For argument’s sake, suppose Jews should react to those threats by doing everything they can to oppose BDS–short of stomping on the rights of others. Still, stifling the right of those in favor of BDS could inflame the very growth of anti-Semitism that those who want to shut down BDS so fear.

    Whether you like it or not, whether the perception is correct or not–it will be perceived by SOME that THE JEWWWWWS are behind the suppression of a basic fundamental right. Such thinking, of course, would be flawed. Many Jews–even those who abhor BDS–object to the trashing of the First Amendment. Unfortunately, their are many who are illogical and some are likely to be emboldened by this opportunity to spread hatred against Jews.

    Supreme Court Justice Brandeis discussed the role freedom of speech played in preventing the spread of hatred. His words in Whitney v. California are worth contemplating

    Begin Brandeis quote—————————

    Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties, and that, in its government, the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end, and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness, and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that, without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile; that, with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty, and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government. [n2] They recognized the risks to which all human institutions are subject. But they knew that order cannot be secured merely through fear of punishment for its infraction; that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination; that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable government; that the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies, and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones. Believing in the power of reason as applied through public discussion, they eschewed silence coerced by law — the argument of force in its worst form. Recognizing the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities, they amended the Constitution so that free speech and assembly should be guaranteed.

    Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears. To justify suppression of free speech, there must be reasonable ground to fear that serious evil will result if free speech is practiced. There must be reasonable ground to believe that the danger apprehended is imminent. There must be reasonable ground to believe that the evil to be prevented is a serious one. Every denunciation of existing law tends in some measure to increase the probability that there will be violation of it. [n3] Condonation of a breach enhances the probability. Expressions of approval add to the probability. Propagation of the criminal state of mind by teaching syndicalism increases it. Advocacy of law-breaking heightens it still further. But even advocacy of violation, however reprehensible morally, is not a justification for denying free speech where the advocacy falls short of incitement and there is nothing to indicate that the advocacy would be immediately acted on. The wide difference between advocacy and incitement, between preparation and attempt, between assembling and conspiracy, must be borne in mind. In order to support a finding of clear and present danger, it must be shown either that immediate serious violence was to be expected or was advocated, or that the past conduct furnished reason to believe that such advocacy was then contemplated.

    ————-End Brandeis quote—————————-

  4. Robin Messing
    Robin Messing says:

    There may be some within the BDS movement who are genuinely anti-Semitic. Just as there are some who are gun owners who are murderers. Squashing genuine debate for the merits of BDS makes as much sense as taking away everyone’s guns because some are murderers. And both actions run counter to the Constitution.

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