California academics: State assembly resolution on Palestine activism ‘poses clear threat’ to academic freedom

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Irvine A security officer removes a student who disrupted the Israeli ambassador’s speech at the Irvine campus of the University of California  (Photo: UprisingRadio.org)

A group of California academics have slammed the recent move by the state legislature to pass a bill on alleged anti-Semitism on campus.

The open letter, from California Scholars for Academic Freedom, blasts the resolution (HR 35) for posing “a clear threat to academic freedom in the University of California and the California State University systems,” undermining the First Amendment and conflating “criticism of Israel or its policies with anti-semitism.”

The letter was posted by the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and is signed by over 30 scholars working in California.

“The driving concern behind House Resolution 35 is not anti-semitism. Indeed, HR-35 itself is fundamentally anti-semitic because it associates and conflates with Judaism an unending list of well-documented racist policies and crimes against humanity committed by the state of Israel,” the slashing letter reads. “Far from the worthy goal of fighting real anti-semitism, this resolution was written to serve the propaganda aims of the government of Israel at the expense of constitutionally protected rights of California residents.”

The pushback on HR 35 comes about two weeks after it was easily passed, with no debate, in the California Assembly. The resolution, which was drafted with the help of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, encourages colleges to ensure that “no public resources will be allowed to be used for anti-Semitic or any intolerant agitation.” Among the examples the resolution lists as being anti-Semitic is languaging describing Israel as an apartheid state; criticizing Israel of ethnic cleansing; and the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

After HR 35 was harshly criticized by Palestine solidarity activists and free speech advocates, Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal promised that she would introduce a bill affirming free speech rights on campus. Lowenthal’s statement was hailed by student activists and other advocates.

Meanwhile, a California State University (CSU) spokesman says that the college “supported the resolution as it serves to promote tolerance and embrace diversity on campuses.”

While much of the fight over Palestine activism has focused on the University of California, the separate CSU system has also been the site of controversy. One mathematics professor, David Klein, was targeted by the AMCHA Initiative, an Israel advocacy group focusing on college campuses, for expressing support for the BDS movement on a website hosted by CSU. After a public campaign to open an investigation into Klein, the California Attorney General rejected a request to investigate Klein.

A number of CSU scholars signed the open letter blasting HR 35, and now Klein is speaking out against his university’s support for the resolution.

“If implemented by the California State University system, California’s Assembly House Resolution 35 would prohibit on any CSU campus criticisms of the government of Israel,” said Klein, in a statement e-mailed to Mondoweiss. “The CSU administration’s support of HR-35 is not only a direct assault against academic freedom and the First Amendment, it reveals a deep-seated anti-Arab racism and antipathy toward the Palestinian people, who are the victims of Israel’s ethnic cleansing and apartheid system of laws.”

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