Change the discourse on free speech

UCSA position does not reflect ideas of students within the UC


Last year, I was privileged to serve the student body as its external affairs vice president and as part of my duties, represent UC Berkeley as a voting board member of the University of California Student Association.

I have great respect for the UCSA but am deeply saddened by the resolution it passed both condemning California Assembly House Resolution 35 —which aims to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitism — and endorsing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.

HR 35 is fundamentally about free speech on campuses. As EAVP, I was confronted by several instances of free speech and admittedly, I wrestled with my understanding of its limits. One of my biggest regrets was publicly stating that the Berkeley College Republicans had the right to conduct their now infamous “Increase Diversity” bake sale even while denouncing their tactics, yet later opining that the Black Student Union could not host Minister Louis Farrakhan on campus, who has a history of making racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic comments.

My intention was to protect students and our delicate campus climate, but I now realize that my grappling of what free speech means is the whole point. It is supposed to challenge us, especially in a university setting where ideas are everything — let alone at UC Berkeley, the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement. We are old enough to hear all views, no matter how outlandish or how much they personally sting.

Case in point. Last year while speaking about public higher education — not Israel — at the November Day of Action rally, a banner that read, “Occupy Cal, not Palestine” was intentionally displayed behind me and no one else. I was hurt but if anything, it affirmed that I stand for something. Free speech can be abusive and often it crosses the line to hate speech, but it’s not our place to define what that line is.

I agree that not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, but I take strong objection to the way in which the UCSA took its position. By framing a statement of support for free speech via a resolution about Israel and anti-Semitism, they opportunistically and unnecessarily injected a divisive discourse.

After castigating HR 35 — which many in my community fairly believe is an accurate representation of campus climate issues — the board inserted language endorsing BDS and calling for “all institutions of higher learning” to pursue divestment. By doing so, the UCSA shifted from endorsing free speech for all to explicitly encouraging a particular protest movement that has a history of tearing campuses apart. The UCSA should represent every UC student, not only those with a particular set of views. Chock it out to the fact that this was its first meeting, but this board failed to recognize its power. The UC system is respected around the world and the claim that all UC students endorse BDS could have national and even international repercussions.

The Jewish community was utterly blindsided and excluded from the conversation. Key backers of BDS and Students for Justice in Palestine were not. Somehow these individuals not only knew to be at the meeting but had a presentation prepared for the board. I must say I’m quite impressed by their foresight.

Moreover, the process was deeply flawed. According to a Daily Californian article, the UC San Diego external affairs vice president said board members began working on this issue when they convened in August. Yet to my knowledge, not one board member contacted the Jewish community over the past month.
What amounted to three draining senate meetings, thousands of letters and international media attention three years ago during our campus’s divestment debate, happened in one fell swoop at the UCSA board meeting. What had failed to pass on the campus level, even with the hysteria it created, has now passed on a systemwide level. This time, however, I didn’t even know it was happening.

A board that had a month to inform the Jewish community about this bill and didn’t is not one that represents all UC students, nor is a board that allowed certain individuals to organize a premeditated legislative coup d’etat intentionally excluding large constituencies from systemwide conversations. How ironic that an attempt to protect free speech prohibited the free speech of others.

I served on the UCSA board for a year in a leadership capacity, made friends of a lifetime and took part in achieving major successes for students. The UCSA has the capacity to advance its goal of achieving an accessible and affordable public education for all California students, but at least this time around, this board did not represent me.

Divestment, Farrakhan, HR 35 — this has been a thread of my college career. The conflict is not just political. It has enormous religious and moral implications. We need to change the discourse, or we will be perpetually trapped in a debate that only divides.

I propose holding a systemwide conference in Berkeley during the spring, aimed at identifying ways to build a civil society on campus. Let’s have frank conversations about anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, free speech and hate crime protections, and let’s do it in a way where all voices are heard. Let’s demonstrate that long-standing conflicts can unite, rather than divide. For this to work, we all need to get behind it. Can I count you in?

Joey Freeman was the ASUC external affairs vice president and UCSA finance officer from 2011-2012.

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  • I_h8_disqus

    I don’t think anyone takes the UCSA seriously. Even less so after this stunt. Any Cal student should not be happy when a government group tries to shut out discussion before it takes a vote. The only reason there wouldn’t be a large outcry from our student population is if they are hypocrites.

  • JAX

    You keep mentioning that the “Jewish community” was intentionally left out of the conversation, but what you really mean is the “extreme right-wing, Pro-Israel, Zionist community”, who you seem to believe are the Chosen (and only) Ones deemed worthy to speak on behalf of ALL Jewish students on UC campuses.

    • Samantha Ng

      Many people support Israel on campus that aren’t “extreme right-wing”. There is a strong progressive left that supports Israel, too. Did you happen to notice the hundreds of people who showed up to hear leftist Congressman Barney Frank describe why he supports Israel? It was standing room only. And its not only Jews who support Israel. Israel reflects the American values of individual freedom that many of us cherish, especially those students from countries that neglect these values.

    • Arafat

      the truth, JAX–you’re only a symptom, not the disease. The underlying
      pathology is a society that, shocked by a flock of Black Swans, has lost
      confidence in its center. Under those circumstances, what was once on the
      margins now creeps into the mainstream. Thus, a fanatic, obsessive Jew baiter
      like yourself–retailing your offal about Jews, Zionists and Israel,
      questioning the loyalty of American Jews, asserting the presence of
      conspiracies that are more self-revealing about you than revelatory about the
      subject, are now tolerated.

      Yet, you remain intolerable.

      The good news for Jewish people, especially those residing in Israel, is that
      their fate is no longer in the hands of you and those of your awful ilk.
      Whether you like it or not–and you don’t like it, and I’m delighted that you
      don’t–for better or worse, the Jews now get to decide their own destiny.

      A world managed by the likes of you is not too difficult to envision. One only
      has to see the heaps of dead Kurds murdered by Turks, Sunni Syrians sniped down
      by Butcher Assad, Copts murdered and raped by the MB and their military
      sympathizers, and Iranian kids shot down in the streets of a dozen cities.

      And what, pray tell, from JAX? Silence.

      I can pardon the Jews for not wanting to be the objects of your

    • Calipenguin

      Was a left wing Jewish group invited to speak to the UCSA before the vote? Or were all Jewish groups deliberately left out?

      • stefan

        a left-wing (i guess if that’s what you call someone critical of the occupation?) Jewish student did speak in favor of the vote, because he requested to speak (along with another student). no groups were invited – jewish, arab or otherwise – and i’m pretty sure none of the ucsa reps tried to deliberately leave anyone out. i mean come on can it really be that every rep from every school has some desire to deliberately silence Jewish students? they didnt’ invite any group!

        • I_h8_disqus

          Joey doesn’t agree with what you say in his opinion piece. Joey says that there were presentations from groups that supported the issue.

  • Give me a break

    Anyone else find it hilarious how desperate the ZiZis are getting?

  • Arafat

    I don’t mean to be crude or inflammatory so much as to be honest and to exercise my freedom to speak.
    In every single Islamic country it is standard to see and read violently anti-semetic videos and articles and speeches. These typically are similar to what one would have heard Hitler and Goebbels say. So it is obvious Muslims believe in freedom of speech, right? Even if it means stooping to the levels of Nazis.
    Yet when some guy draws a cartoon, or South Park airs an episode with a Muslim caricature, or some guy makes a film on Islam – even if these caricatures are based on the truth – Muslims go nuts, they cry vicitm status, they burn, wreak havoc and kill.
    When I went to Cal Berkeley I studied hypocrisy and if Muslims are not the definition of it then I’m not sure what is.

  • Dave

    dude, joey, how is some students holding a banner that says “occupy cal not palestine” a statement that can be seen as the realm of “abusive” or bordering on “hate speech,” as you imply. why would it even be hurtful to you that someone else is against occupation? its this kind of smear on anti-occupation speech that HR35 is all about and what the UCSA is protesting. grow up man, its not abusive to have someone share an opinion you dont like. incidentally, i was also at that rally and saw the sign and the dudes holding it were just holding it up front to get it noticed. its sort of a bit of a delusion of grandeur to think they specifically wanted you to see it or be seen with it. even if they did though, you clearly apologize for Israel’s occupation, so don’t cry if someone shows you a sign that conflicts with this view.

    • Samantha Ng

      Its not signs like that that are problematic. Its the belligerent students dressed in fatigues who stopped me by Sather gate last year screamming ” Only Jews can pass”. Its the same few who dragged a girl out of a computer lab last year, offering by way of explanation “This happens to Palestinians all the time, in Israel”. Its nasty insulting and inaccurate “theater”. There is a sense, among many students, that the only way around the divisiveness of this topic is too avoid it all together. I have friends who won’t even admit that they are Jewish here, because they are afraid of opening the door to all sorts of abuse. All in all, I admire the Jewish students and supporters of Israel who never stoop to the other sides level- it would be so easy for them to show up in class dressed as suicide bombers, but they don’t. They keep it classy, and I like that

      • Doug

        you’re a liar. no one stopped you last year because the students involved only stop each other (to simulate the restrictions on freedom of movement that Palestinians experience). i know because i took part in this demonstration and I kept telling the same “Palestinian” actor again and again he couldn’t pass. you may not like the theatrics of it, but its entirely accurate representation of what Palestinians experience. Don’t make stuff up. Come on.

        • Did any of the thespians in your street theater demonstration wear a homocide aka “suicide” bomb vest under their outer garments and then detonate themselves in the campus bookstore? Why not? That would have been meaningful drama worthy of an Oscar or at the very least a free yearbook awarded annually to the protagonist’s parents funded by the UCSA..
          p.s. how many homocide aka suidcide bombs have been detonated in Israel cafes, wedding halls, etc after the wall and passage restrictions were established?

        • Stan De San Diego

          > you’re a liar. no one stopped you last year because the students

          > involved only stop each other (to simulate the restrictions on
          > freedom
          of movement that Palestinians experience).

          More like a way to act out their own Gestapo-like fantasies than react any fabricated “experience”. Samantha is correct – this is absurd street theater by a bunch of out-of-control narcissists who have been fully indoctrinated into the big-bad-Israel-is-picking-on-the-poor-little-Palestinians party line. Hopefully one day one of these little shits will try it on the wrong person and wind up with a broken nose, given that these junior Hitlers in the making only respect force and intimidation.

        • [you may not like the theatrics of it, but its entirely accurate representation of what Palestinians experience.”]

          Is that based on your own first-hand knowledge? Somehow I’m willing to bet you have never been to either Israel proper or the Palestinian territories (FWIW, I have been to both).

        • Alex

          Doug, you forgot to mention that while Israel actively tries to protect its citizens, Hamas and Hezbollah use their citizens as human shields to politicize the death tolls.

          You forgot to mention that Israel was attacked by all neighboring countries 8 hours after it declared independence. And you also forgot to mention that the kingdom of Israel existed 1000 years before the Romans conquered it and changed its name to Palestine in 67 AD. – which was still over half a century before Islam was even created in the 622 AD.

          There is a reason why Israel defends itself – because hundreds of missiles are launched every year from Gaza into Israel. A number that has risen even after Israel gave the Gaza strip to the Palestinians in 2005.

          When the constitutional charter of Hamas declares it wants to put an end to Israel, Israel has no choice but to protect itself.

          Jews are 0.02% of the worlds population, and few people understand the true facts of the history of Israel because their numbers are small. However, jews are classy enough not to resort to producing suicide bombers and killing its own citizens to gather international sympathy. Instead Israel gives Palestinians more rights in Israel than they have anywhere else in the world. It is where Palestinians have the highest standard of living in the middle east, where they have freedom of worship, where they can be gay and marry who ever they want, where women do not need the permission of their husband to leave the country.- In contrast, if someone in the Gaza strip or West speaks against the Palestinians, they will be dead.

          It is people like you Doug, who exacerbate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – that try to get the world to hate Israel, and inspire Palestinians to continue to attack and launch missiles at Israel. If Palestinians realized that Israel wants peace, and that Israeli soldiers dream of the day that jews and muslims can pray in Jerusalem peacefully side by side (which is what Israel allows) , than they would stop attacking Israel, and Israel will not need to defend itself, and the two sides can live peaceful side by side.

          So please Doug, stop making the conflict worse and stop trying to inspire hatred against Israel.

  • Raul

    The shenanigins with the Mohammed cartoons in France, and the very bad youtube trailer show the price of free speech in some communities. Lucky for us its not here yet. Im willing to bet the very same students who slipped this resolution through are also fighting tooth and nail to get the speech they dont agree with removed. Free speech for me but not for thee. Its always that way with tyrants.