UCSA calls contentious anti-Semitism resolution a limit to free speech

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The University of California Student Association voted Saturday to condemn a contentious state Assembly resolution aimed at combating anti-Semitism at California’s public institutions of higher education, denouncing it as an infringement on free speech and calling on institutions of higher learning to divest funds from companies implicated in human rights violations.

The resolution the UCSA voted on claims that California Assembly House Resolution 35, which was adopted by the state Legislature Aug. 28, calls upon education  institutions “to directly suppress legitimate criticism of Israeli policy and Palestine solidarity activism, and stifles robust political debate on public university campuses.”

“While HR 35 purports to oppose anti-Semitism, much of HR 35 is written to unfairly and falsely smear as ‘anti-Semites’ those who do human rights advocacy focusing on Israel’s illegal occupation, alleging that the UC faculty and staff involved in such work are motivated by anti-Semitism rather than by the political ideals of equality and respect for universal human rights they affirm, ideals UCSA and most California students share,” the UCSA resolution reads.

The student association’s condemnation of the resolution has drawn criticism from Jewish student groups on campus.

Jason Bellet, an ASUC senator and member of  the campus Jewish student center Berkeley Hillel, said the UCSA did not do enough outreach to students before voting on the resolution.

“The UCSA resolution passed on Saturday blindsided the Jewish community,” Bellet said. “When we talk about having a safe and welcoming campus climate, that can’t happen when a bill like the one opposing HR 35 is passed in a nontransparent way, in a way that leaves out members of the community criticizing the process.”

ASUC External Affairs Vice President Shahryar Abbasi, who serves as a UC Berkeley representative on the board, said the resolution was placed on the agenda late last week and was a collaborative effort between UCSA board members.

According to UC San Diego External Affairs Vice President Olamide Noah, the board had been working on the resolution since its congress in August, when newly elected UCSA members prioritized issues.

Emiliano Huet-Vaughn, a member of the Berkeley chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, said in an email that the group hopes the state Legislature and the UC Board of Regents listen to the student voice expressed in the UCSA’s decision.

“The vote is evidence that UC students across the system do not share some people’s moral blindspot when it comes to profiting from Israel’s human rights abuses,” Huet-Vaughn said. “Students for Justice in Palestine welcomes the UCSA’s strong defense of the right of student activists and scholars to tell the truth about Israel’s racist and illegal occupation.”

In the spring of 2010, the ASUC voted 16-4 in favor of a bill encouraging the university to divest from companies that supplied Israel with materials used in alleged war crimes. The resolution was vetoed by then-ASUC President Will Smelko, and a measure to overturn the veto by the senate fell short of the two-thirds required to succeed.

Campus response to the first vote was substantial, attracting about 100 attendees to the senate meeting and speakers who spoke for a total of four hours. Response to the second vote was even larger, with more than 400 attendees present during a nine-hour session.

Contact Jacob Brown at [email protected].