Graduate Assembly votes to denounce state assembly resolution

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Following a similar action taken by the UC Student Association, the UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly voted Thursday to pass a resolution denouncing HR 35, a state Assembly measure aimed at curbing anti-Semitism at the state’s higher education institutions.

The Graduate Assembly resolution argues that HR 35 encourages university administrators to censor legitimate criticisms of the state of Israel and infringes upon students’ freedom of speech and academic freedom.

“HR 35 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 resolution reads.

The resolution was drafted to point out the difference between the two issues, said Bianca Suarez, author of the resolution and the Graduate Assembly’s Campus Affairs Committee Vice President.

The Graduate Assembly’s resolution follows a similar one that was passed by the UC Student Association in September — a move that received a heated response from some members of Jewish and pro-Israel communities who felt they did not have enough input in the legislative process.

Unlike the association, however, the Graduate Assembly publicized the upcoming vote by posting the proposed resolution online about a month ago and consulted with various committees within the assembly in the interim, according to Bahar Navab, the assembly’s president.

Still, only nondelegates in favor of the resolution were present at Thursday’s meeting, despite it being open to all campus students, according to Suarez. Only one assembly delegate voted against the resolution.

Tom Pessah, a UC Berkeley graduate student and member of the campus group Students for Justice in Palestine, spoke at Thursday’s meeting in support of the resolution. He argued that HR 35 hindered his academic research and viewed the passing of the Graduate Assembly’s resolution as a step in the right direction for the university.

“Lobbyists working to stifle free inquiry and activism regarding Israel’s racist policies — past and present — cannot intimidate and silence democratic student governments,” Pessah said.

But to Abraham Levine, president of Tikvah: Students for Israel and a campus sophomore, the resolution came as a shock.

“I understand the GA’s desire to confirm the right of students to free speech, but I’m shocked that the GA would oppose a resolution calling on the university to protect Jewish students from discrimination in its entirety,” Levine said in an email.

The resolution stipulates that the Graduate Assembly will send a copy of its text to Gov. Jerry Brown, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and UC President Mark Yudof. In addition, Suarez said she plans to meet with the chair of the Academic Senate to discuss issues with HR 35.

“We are accountable and transparent to take positions from a holistic perspective, and I feel like we did that in this bill,” Suarez said.

Contact Andrea Guzman at [email protected].