UC Regents statement against intolerance is still divisive

Courtesy of UCR Today
Courtesy of UCR Today

The UC Board of Regents recently amended the University of California Statement Against Intolerance. While I applaud this measure, and commend the UC Regents for taking a stand against hatred and discrimination on UC campuses, I have a problem with the document as is.

The UC Regents, in addressing anti-Semitism on UC campuses stated, “anti-Semitism, and anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism” are forms of discrimination. While the problem of anti-Semitism is alive and well, there has been controversy over this statement.

The initial statement claimed that the UC system has no room for anti-Semitism nor anti-Zionism, equating both with hate speech. This is incredibly problematic because the UC Regents, by equating political anti-Zionism with xenophobic anti-Semitism, have actually tarnished their own goals. After much public criticism of the statement, it was amended to read, “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism.” While on the surface, this may look harmless, I conjecture that it is fundamentally problematic.

The statement, as UC Berkeley comparative literature professor Judith Butler recently pointed out, specifically targets anti-Semitism, but ignores other forms of discrimination, such as anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice, or prejudice against Latinos.

Two weeks ago, a graduate office on our campus was vandalized with Islamophobic slurs written all over the walls. Yet, there was no action by the Regents to isolate this type of hatred, which is as real as anti-Semitism. In fact, the UC administration has not adequately addressed intolerance against Arab or Muslim minorities, and has even fueled it with inaction. The UC campus committee in 2013 found that the UC administration, along with UCPD, has been fundamentally insensitive to the speech and activity of Muslim and Arab minorities on their campuses.

By including “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism” in the statement, the UC Regents are effectively challenging a political ideology which is not inherently related to anti-Semitism.

Anti-Zionism is a belief in the integrity of Palestine as a nation and has no real relationship to anti-Semitism.

The equivalent here is claiming that Black Power Movements are inherently racist against white groups. By foregrounding the “anti-Semitic” expressions of anti-Zionism, the UC administration is effectively tethering anti-Zionism to a hateful ideology and creating an atmosphere that is hostile to the voices of pro-Palestine activists.

The UC Regents statement is a working document for all minorities, and is attempting to create an atmosphere safe for all ethnic, sexual, religious and gender identities, and for that reason ought to be lauded. However, the UC administration has always used its power to undermine anti-Zionist activists — when the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement passed divestment through student governments, the UC administration immediately disavowed such activity. In fact, where the statement says that modern anti-Semitism is more coded and therefore more difficult to identify because it manifests in political ideologies, the reverse is true.

Many have undermined the relevance of anti-Zionism as a political movement by claiming that it is “anti-Semitic.”

While the statement of intolerance enshrines principles that are progressive, and fits within the larger narrative of creating safer campuses for minorities, the inclusion of anti-Zionism within this statement is problematic. Moreover, the inclusion of anti-Zionism within this context is proof that the UC administration has been partial toward pro-Israel lobby groups and interests, and has done whatever is in its powers to subtly silence the voices of pro-Palestinian activists.

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