University of California officials are proposing to include "anti-Zionism" as a form of discrimination that is unacceptable on campus, according to a long-awaited draft statement on intolerance released Tuesday.Eugene Volokh, a strong supporter of Israel who is a law professor at UCLA and someone I admire a great deal, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post against the proposed language of the guidelines:
The inclusion immediately drew sharply divergent reactions, with pro-Israel groups hailing it as a needed step to protect Jewish students from hostility and those supporting Palestinian rights criticizing it as a naked attempt to suppress criticism of the Jewish state.
Scholars were similarly divided over whether a statement meant to express the UC regents' principles against intolerance should include Zionism -- historically an international movement to establish a Jewish homeland and now viewed as the belief in Israel's right to exist.
One letter signed by more than 130 UC faculty members supported naming anti-Zionism as an expression of anti-Semitism, saying students need guidance on "when healthy political debate crosses the line into anti-Jewish hatred, bigotry and discrimination, and when legitimate criticism of Israel devolves into denying Israel's right to exist."
But another letter from more than 250 UC professors expressed fear that the proposed statement would restrict free speech and academic freedom to teach, debate and research about the complex and tumultuous history of Israel and the Zionist movement.
But I think the regents are flat wrong to say that “anti-Zionism” has “no place at the University of California.” Even though they’re not outright banning anti-Zionist speech, but rather trying to sharply condemn it, I think such statements by the regents chill debate, especially by university employees and students who (unlike me) lack tenure. (For more on that, see here.) And this debate must remain free, regardless of what the regents or I think is the right position in the debate.I am a strong supporter of free speech. I am certainly sympathetic to Volokh's arguments. But there is a fundamental difference between how anti-Zionist rhetoric is espoused and how any of the other issues Volokh lists are discussed.
Whether the Jewish people should have an independent state in Israel is a perfectly legitimate question to discuss — just as it’s perfectly legitimate to discuss whether Basques, Kurds, Taiwanese, Tibetans, Northern Cypriots, Flemish Belgians, Walloon Belgians, Faroese, Northern Italians, Kosovars, Abkhazians, South Ossetians, Transnistrians, Chechens, Catalonians, Eastern Ukranians and so on should have a right to have independent states.
Sometimes the answer might be “yes.” Sometimes it might be “no.” Sometimes the answer might be “it depends.” But there’s no uncontroversial principle on which these questions can be decided. They have to be constantly up for inquiry and debate, especially in places that are set up for inquiry and debate: universities. Whether Israel is entitled to exist as an independent Jewish state is just as fitting a subject for discussion as whether Kosovo or Northern Cyprus or Kurdistan or Taiwan or Tibet or a Basque nation should exist as an independent state for those ethnic groups.
And the difference is hate.
Nearly all anti-Zionist discourse, on campus and off, is based on an irrational hate of the Jewish state. The pseudo-logical arguments that follow are not meant to be sober reflections on whether the idea of Zionism is a valid expression of nationalism for the Jewish people, but as elaborate cover for the hate that animates the discussion.
There is no violence on campus associated with pro-Tibet or pro-Kurdish political activity. There are no death threats, no cursing, no intimidation.
Yes, in theory there is no difference between the idea of Jewish nationalism and Basque nationalism, and in theory there shouldn't be any restrictions on speech about both. But the number of examples of how anti-Zionist discourse on campus is merely a convenient cover for pure hate cannot be ignored.
As UC specifically, here are some examples from the current school year, courtesy of AMCHA:
2015 – 2016This is not free speech. This is hate speech, and it is all prompted by supposedly noble anti-Zionist goals that are used for cover.
• A Jewish member of the UC Santa Cruz student government was warned to “abstain” from voting on an anti-Israel divestment resolution because of his presumed “Jewish agenda.”
• In responding to a pro-Israel post by actress Mayim Bialik, a UCLA student and employee posted vile anti-Semitic comments on social media including, “Fucking Jews. GTFOH with all your Zionist bullshit. Crazy ass fucking troglodyte albino monsters of cultural destruction. Fucking Jews. GTFOH with your whiny bullshit. Give the Palestinians back their land, go back to Poland or whatever freezer-state you’re from, and realize that faith does not constitute race.”
• The online promotion of an anti-Israel UC Berkeley SJP event stated, “No to University Coordination and Strategizing with the ADL, JCRC, AJC, StandWithUS, ZOA...” The targeting of Jewish organizations, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the American Jewish Committee, demonstrates how anti-Israel student groups target and alienate all Jewish groups.
• A male member of SJP at UC San Diego recognized a fellow female Jewish student and followed and harassed her. The female student reported, “They followed me...calling my name...yelling that I was a ‘racist Zionist cow.’ I have never felt so unsafe in my life...I didn’t know anyone would...put me in danger...This problem is way more serious than I had imagined.”
2014 – 2015
• At UC Davis, swastikas were spray-painted on a Jewish fraternity days after fraternity brothers spoke against divesting from Israel.
• At UC Berkeley, “Zionists should be sent to the gas chamber” was scrawled on a bathroom wall in the wake of a student senate campaign to pressure the university to divest from American companies that do business with Israel.
• At UCLA, “Hitler did nothing wrong” was carved into school property after a contentious BDS campaign.
• At UC Davis, “grout out the Jews” was scrawled on the university’s Hillel House following a heated BDS debate.
• At UC Santa Barbara, stereotypical and demonizing statements of Jews were made during a divestment resolution vote. One student explained, "I am disgusted by the normalization of anti-Semitic language so casually thrown around at the [divestment] meeting. In those eight hours, I was told that Jews control the government, that all Jews are rich, that Zionism is racism, that the marginalization of Jewish students is justified because it prevents the marginalization of other minority groups.”
• At UC Santa Barbara, flyers blaming Israelis and all Jews for 9/11 were posted on campus.
• At UCLA, a Jewish student running for office was questioned about her eligibility by anti-Israel activists simply because of her religion.
• At UCLA, campus activists led a pledge drive to keep Jewish students known to support Israel from serving on the student government.
Any time that anti-Israel activity crosses the line into hate - not necessarily antisemitic hate, but hate altogether - it should be regarded to be as offensive as any other hate speech against any other group. The hate of Zionist positions is no less reprehensible than hate against blacks or gays on campus, and must be treated the same.
If pro-Tibetan activists were being followed, harassed and cursed routinely as they went about their day on campus, and anti-Tibetan graffiti were scrawled on areas where they gather, I don't think anyone would object to the idea that they are victims of hate. However, nowadays there is only one group that is being subject to hate for their political beliefs, and those are the people who openly support the State of Israel. The hate is no less odious.
There are two other differences between anti-Israel hate speech and valid political discourse about the idea of realizing other groups' nationalist ambitions. One, which Volokh mentions, is that Israel already exists - alone among all nations it is criticized for its very being. The very nature of the "discussion" is dismantling of one state among all the nations on Earth. Valid criticism of Israel is legitimate, saying that it is uniquely evil and must be destroyed shows that the motivation is not justice but hate.
Finally, evidence that the anti-Israel forces are motivated by hate and not legitimate criticism comes from how they treat pro-Israel speech on campus. Instead of engaging in debate or allowing a multiplicity of views, they do everything they can to shut down any free speech rights of Zionists. Speakers are shouted down and even threatened, and students who want to hear them are harassed.
It is their intolerance that makes them intolerable.
Where to draw the line between hate speech and valid political criticism is always going to be an issue. But theory is one thing, and facts are another. If campuses are going to protect students from irrational hate then there is no difference between the hate associated with anti-Zionism and any other hate.
One may be able to design a reasonable sounding argument to support a return to slavery, but everyone understands that the most soaring pro-slavery rhetoric is just a cover for racist hate. The fact that there is a theoretical way to express anti-Zionist opinions without crossing over into hate speech is wonderful, but it isn't the reality and it cannot be used to support the continuous hate that Zionist Jews experience on campus under the cover of free speech.
We have lots of ideas, but we need more resources to be even more effective. Please donate today to help get the message out and to help defend Israel.