Amid growing public concern about issues of anti-Semitism and free speech, the UC Board of Regents Committee on Educational Policy has decided to rewrite its proposed Statement of Principles Against Intolerance.
The statement discussed during Thursday’s meeting defined intolerance as “unwelcome conduct motivated by discrimination against, or hatred toward, other individuals or groups.” But many student groups have called for more specific language in the statement in order to address anti-Semitism, prompting others to express concerns regarding whether such a change would stifle free speech.
“We all recognize that more work needs to be done,” said UC President Janet Napolitano during the meeting.
During public comment, audience members reported numerous instances of alleged anti-Semitism on UC campuses. Many urged the regents to adopt the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, which includes the demonization and delegitimization of the Israeli state.
Some members of the public emphasized the distinction between Israel as a state and Judaism as a religion.
During public comment, Kurt Horner, member of the UC Student-Workers Union, expressed support for the language of the Statement of Principles and maintained that Israel, as a political entity, should not be immune to public criticism.
“We need to remember to distinguish between criticizing a government and targeting a religious group,” said Horner during the meeting.
Several regents spoke to the dual importance of maintaining free speech and academic freedom while ensuring that students do not feel targeted on the basis of their identities.
“Productive discourse does not demand that our words be guarded, but it does certainly demand our respect,” said UC Student Regent Avi Oved as he spoke to the enduring nature of political issues on the UC campuses during the meeting.
But Oved also criticized the UC Office of the President for not including him in the development of the statement, and said that the statement failed to “do justice” for those who had experienced discrimination.
Regent Bonnie Reiss expressed concern over recent events in which a Jewish fraternity at UC Davis was vandalized with Swastikas and the credentials of a Jewish UCLA student government candidate were allegedly questioned on the basis of her religion.
“I hope I’m not the only one feeling chilled by that,” said Reiss during the meeting.
Regent Richard Blum warned of the greater repercussions should the committee choose not to amend their Statement Against Intolerance, speaking particularly with regard to his wife, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, and her ability to criticize the UC system.
The meeting concluded with the announcement by Board Chair Monica Lozano that the committee will convene a working group to revise the university’s Statement of Principles Against Intolerance. The group will comprise a diverse range of “stakeholders,” and will be led by Regent Eddie Island.