California State Assembly passes resolution equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism

Israel/PalestineUS Politics

School’s out, but that didn’t stop California’s state assembly from passing Resolution HR35 buttressing a controversial report commissioned by the University of California that accuses students and faculty of contributing to an environment fostering anti-Semitism on campus.

The report’s recommendations, which seek to limit criticism of Israeli state policies as a form of “hate speech”, have been criticized as an assault on academic freedom and an attempt to limit student and faculty’s first amendment rights to free speech.

There was no debate by lawmakers prior to approval, nor was Israel even mentioned during the introduction of the resolution.

AP:

An Assembly resolution urging California colleges and universities to squelch nascent anti-Semitism also encouraged educators to crack down on demonstrations against Israel, angering advocates for Muslim students.

With no debate, lawmakers on Tuesday approved a resolution that encourages university leaders to combat a wide array of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel actions.

…….

The Assembly’s actions also drew criticism from free speech advocates. Carlos Villarreal, director of the San Francisco chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, called the resolution irresponsible and dangerous because it combines legitimate condemnations of acts of intimidation and hate with specific objections to tactics used to support the Palestinian people.

“In doing so, it can be seen as having no other purpose than to demonize all those who criticize the nation-state of Israel or support the rights of the Palestinian people,” he said.

Halderman did not mention Israel when she introduced HR35, which passed on a voice vote with 66 of the Assembly’s 80 members signing on as co-authors.

Some of the lawmakers who signed on as co-authors when the resolution was called on the floor seemed surprised to later learn of the references to Israel. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, was one of the few who did not support it.

Linda Halderman, R-Fresno, who co-wrote wrote the resolution, would seem to believe that Israel’s critics have fabricated facts regarding Israeli atrocities:

“California schools need to recognize that anti-Semitism is still a very real issue on college campuses,” said Assemblywoman Linda Halderman, R-Fresno, who wrote the resolution with Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach.

Among the examples Halderman cited was the annual Israel Apartheid Week held on many campuses, in which “students pretending to be Palestinians collapse as if they had been murdered en masse by Israeli Jews.”

zeitoungaza
A Palestinian woman sits on the rubble of a
building in Gaza City’s al-Zeitoun neighborhood.
(Photo: AFP)

In fact, the Israeli military has murdered Palestinian civilians en masse. Just ask Zinad Samouni, who lost a reported 48 family members in the Gaza slaughter of January 2009. But, according to Halderman, if you question Israel’s murder of them you are an anti-Semite.

The resolution invoked United States Commission on Civil Rights’ (USCCR) 2006 and the European Union’s working definition of anti-Semitism.

From the Al Jazeera article “The echo chamber of campus anti-Semitism“:

Although few people are aware of the United States Commission on Civil Rights’ (USCCR) 2006 findings about “campus anti-Semitism”, they have recently been invoked in a growing number of campaigns that threaten to curb students’ First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

The USCCR findings on this issue form part of an echo chamber whereby a network of partisan, Israel-aligned organisations and activists repeat the same claims, often unchallenged, before official bodies that simply take their word as truth.

Like walls in a cave, these bodies publish findings and resolutions regurgitating the partisans’ claims without exercising their own independent due diligence. Despite the apparent sound of many speakers, essentially one voice speaks. The rest, it turns out, are echoes.

The same process has just taken place in the California State Assembly, where House Resolution 35 was quietly rushed through the end of the legislative term and passed without sufficient discussion or debate. HR 35 characterises criticism of Israel as “cloaked” anti-Semitism and is meant to provide political cover to the University of California after widespread criticism of its campus climate reports. Although it creates no new law, HR 35 may embolden university administrators to curb students’ freedom of expression.

Predictably, HR 35 invokes the USCCR findings as evidence of campus anti-Semitism. But its reliance on the USCCR findings is misplaced. A careful review of the USSCR’s transcripts on campus anti-Semitism reveals a lacklustre record of one-sided testimony by only three individuals that rarely went challenged by commissioners.

Nevertheless, Israel-aligned advocates continue to rely on the findings as an authoritative source, presumably hoping to capitalise on the USCCR’s historic prestige and status as an official body. USCCR held its hearing on the matter on November 18, 2005; findings and recommendations were adopted on April 3, 2006; and a full briefing was published in May 2007.

Most shocking about the USCCR hearing is that it consisted exclusively of testimony from three speakers with political agendas. They were Susan Tuchman of the Zionist Organisation of America; Gary Tobin of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research; and Sarah Stern of the American Jewish Congress. All three of these organisations have a record of defending Israeli policies and attempting to silence or smear their critics.

Although Arab and Muslim students were implicitly blamed for the alleged rise of an anti-Semitic climate on campus, no speakers were invited from any Arab, Muslim or Palestinian community organisations. Nor were any student activists from the Muslim Student Association, Arab Student Association, or Students for Justice in Palestine invited to speak, despite the accusations implicitly levelled in their direction. Progressive Jewish organisations were also excluded from testifying, notwithstanding a blog posting by Jewish Voice for Peace reacting to the published report after the fact.

Fortunately, the UC is currently not supporting the proposed resolution because it violates the first amendment, and criticism of the report keeps mounting. After more than 2,200 students, faculty and alumni signed a petition opposing the UC report, President Mark Yudof appears to have distanced himself from the report’s recommendation, a welcome improvement from UC’s recent shameful record of censorship.

The text of the Resolution HR35 is available here.

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