Berkeley student assembly condemns state legislature’s conflation of Palestine activism with bigotry

Mock checkpoint
Students for Justice in Palestine protesters at a mock checkpoint in Berkeley
(Photo: Tony Zhou/The Daily Californian)

A graduate assembly at a California university has become the latest body to express condemnation at attempts to hinder Palestine solidarity activism by labeling such activism anti-Semitic.

The University of California, Berkeley’s graduate assembly passed a resolution last Thursday that denounced the California State Assembly’s passing of HR 35.  HR 35 calls on California campuses to ensure that anti-Semitism is not being promoted on campus but that also conflates legitimate protest of Israel with bigotry.

The resolution at Berkeley was passed with only one dissenting voice, according to The Daily Californian, a student newspaper at the school. The graduate assembly represents over 11,000 students at Berkeley.

“This bill [HR 35] could result in the censorship of legitimate criticisms of the state of Israel and…sets a dangerous precedent by threatening to infringe on free speech rights by conflating criticism of political ideology and practice with racism or hate speech,” the student resolution reads. A copy of it was sent to the governor of California and the president of the University of California system.

HR 35, the California assembly bill, was passed with little debate. I reported on the details of the bill for Mondoweiss in early September:

A California Assembly resolution (HR 35)…affirmed support for a controversial report on the campus climate for Jewish students, denounced alleged anti-Semitism on California campuses and condemned the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. The resolution, while non-binding, encourages the University of California administration to ensure that “no public resources will be allowed to be used for anti-Semitic or any intolerant agitation…”

Critics charge that the text of the resolution conflates anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of Israel. The resolution claims to be concerned with “anti-Semitic discourse,” an example of which is calling Israel an “apartheid state.” HR 35 states that the BDS movement has demonized “Israel and seek[s] to harm the Jewish state,” and also claims that there have been student groups that “encourage support for terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah and openly advocate terrorism against Israel and the Jewish people.”

I also reported that the Simon Wiesenthal Center helped draft the bill. The UC administration also cooperated with the legislator who wrote the bill, though backed off from supporting it when the bill was passed due to free speech concerns.

The passage of the UC Berkeley graduate assembly resolution follows a similar resolution condemning HR 35 that was passed by the University of California’s Student Association, which represents students from all the UC campuses. The student association bill likewise condemned HR 35 for calling on “educational institutions in California to directly suppress legitimate criticism of Israeli policy and Palestine solidarity activism.” It also included a plea for “all institutions of higher learning to cleanse their investment portfolios of unethical investments in companies implicated in or profiting from violations of international human rights law.”

The UC student association bill was met with a torrent of criticism from Israel lobby groups. And another common complaint was procedural, as some students felt excluded from discussion of the bill and were caught off-guard when it passed.

But California Students for Justice in Palestine fired back on the procedural complaint, writing in an open letter that “though we suspect their true concerns are with the substance of the bill, their chief expressed complaint has been procedural…It is worth noting that UCSA student leaders did nothing to make this bill less public than any of their other legislative efforts. HR 35’s passage was sudden and unexpected, and the UCSA had a duty to promptly respond in defense of student rights. The suggestion that the Jewish community on campus was selectively and intentionally excluded from the conversation, as has been alleged, is absolutely false.”

UCSA has since taken steps it says will increase communication and transparency with student bodies.

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is an assistant editor for Mondoweiss and the World editor for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.
Posted in Activism, BDS, Israel Lobby, Israel/Palestine, US Politics

{ 3 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. yourstruly says:

    well done, UCSA & UC Graduate Assembly. Your diligence in defending free speech is the antidote to the California State Assembly’s attempt to suppress it. By the way, if my memory is correct here, twenty-some years ago, didn’t this same State Assembly support BDS of apartheid South Africa? How come apartheid S.A. back then, but not apartheid Israel today?

  2. pabelmont says:

    “This bill [HR 35] could result in the censorship of legitimate criticisms of the state of Israel and…sets a dangerous precedent by threatening to infringe on free speech rights by conflating criticism of political ideology and practice with racism or hate speech,”

    Exactly, and since US Berkeley (like the state of California) is a government entity, the US (and state) Constitution presumably forbid it to infringe freedom of political speech (although schools may well be less protected, what with the weird “free speech” jurisprudence of the US S/C). (Private schools are not subject to the Constitution.)

    Conflating political speech with hate speech is hateful (and a neat trick). I’d like to see Calif and UCB legislate against anti-Islamic speech and clarify how anti-non-state-terrorism may be allowed but anti-state-terrorism may not.

  3. Kathleen says:

    The powers that be have held Berkeley in check on this issue for decades