A student who disrupted the Israeli ambassador’s speech at the Irvine campus of the University of California is led out by a security officer (Photo: UprisingRadio.org)
A controversial report on Jewish campus life at the University of California is being slammed as biased and harmful to academic freedom by Jewish Voice for Peace. The progressive Jewish group adds to the chorus of voices that have condemned the report, which activists say conflates Palestine solidarity activism with anti-Semitism.
The report was released earlier in the month, and was sparked by high-profile incidents on campus that have occurred in recent years: the debate over divestment at Berkeley, and the disruption of Michael Oren’s speech by 11 students at the University of California, Irvine. Two separate reports, one on Muslim and Arab students and one on Jewish students, were published. The recommendations contained in the report on Jewish student life have proved to be the most controversial.
Writing in Al Jazeera English, Palestinian-American poet Remi Kanazi outlined some core problems with the report:
In the recommendations section of the report, which has the most potential to curtail the rights of students to speak out and organise, the authors suggest instituting a “hate speech-free” policy that extends beyond the “current harassment and non-discrimination provisions… and seek opportunities to prohibit hate speech”.
A number of students I spoke with believe this is a bold attempt to squash criticism and block action against Israel’s system of apartheid. The advisory council members seem well aware that they are overstepping their bounds when they write, “the Team recognises that changes to UC hate speech policies may result in legal challenge, but offer that UC accept the challenge”.
Jewish Voice for Peace has more on why the report is harmful in this press release:
Jewish Voice for Peace calls on University of California President Mark Yudof to table a recently released report on Jewish student campus climate and to disregard its controversial recommendations until a methodologically sound and even-handed report can be conducted.
The report, co-authored by Anti-Defamation League national education chairman Richard Barton and NAACP California president Alice Huffman, is coming under heavy criticism by a number of groups, including many Jewish students and faculty members, for poor methodology and bias.
Cecilie Surasky, Jewish Voice for Peace Deputy Director: “Rather than offering a genuine exploration of a range of Jewish student life issues—which we would support — the report reads like a blueprint for limiting pro-Palestinian activism and further marginalizing the growing numbers of students, many of them Jewish, who are critical of Israeli policies.”
The report does not reveal the names of individuals or groups who were interviewed or why many meetings were by invitation-only; offers no quantitative data to substantiate anecdotal evidence that the campuses are hostile places for Jewish students; and conflates pro-Palestinian activism with anti-Semitism. While it claims to explore all aspects of Jewish life, it devotes the bulk of column inches to pro-Palestinian student activism and makes recommendations that will have negative impacts on academic freedom for all students.
The report does accurately note that Jewish opinion on Israel and Palestine on campuses is extremely diverse, however it only offers anecdotes about the discomfort of students who support Israel policies, and omits numerous reports of harassment or intimidation experienced by Jewish students and staff who support Palestinian and Israeli rights, many of whom belong to progressive groups including Students for Justice in Palestine, J Street and Jewish Voice for Peace.
Cecilie Surasky: “The UC system is a key battleground for groups that seek to limit criticism of Israeli policies. They are terrified of losing the unconditional support of the next generation and see UC as a testing ground for efforts to silence debate that include intimidating students and professors, making unsubstantiated claims of anti-Semitism against those critical of Israeli policies, encouraging legal action against schools and student protestors and so on.
There is no question that some Jewish students feel uncomfortable with public criticism of Israeli policies, whether articulated by other Jews or non-Jewish students, but that does not make that criticism anti-Semitic. The answer is more speech and enhanced communication, not limiting speech in order to avoid the discomfort of some students.”