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An Open Letter to the University of California Board of Regents: Reject the Anti-Free Speech Resolution

Submitted by Robin Messing on Sun, 03/20/2016 - 7:31pm

I am writing you to ask you to reject the resolution that states that “anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.”  As Jewish Voice for Peace points out, one can be against Zionist without being anti-Semitic.  Conflating the two is wrong and  will lead to an unacceptable infringement of free speech.

First, I urge you to pay attention to UCLA alum, Rabbi Brant Rosen.  He wrote a March 16 editorial in Haaretz that stated:

It is true that some anti-Semites lurk behind the label of anti-Zionism - and when they do they should rightly be exposed and condemned. But it is deeply problematic to label anti-Zionism as a form of discrimination.

In fact, growing numbers of Jews and others identify as anti-Zionists for legitimate ideological reasons. Many profess anti-Zionism because they do not believe Israel can be both a Jewish and democratic state.

Some don’t believe that the identity of a nation should be dependent upon the demographic majority of one people over another. Others choose not to put this highly militarized ethnic nation-state at the center of their Jewish identity.  Far from being discriminatory, their beliefs are motivated by values of equality and human rights for all human beings.

Blurring the distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism muddles the definition of anti-Semitism to the point that it becomes meaningless.  . . .

I can’t help but notice that this report’s broadside on anti-Zionism strongly evokes the right-wing agenda of groups such as the AMCHA initiative. 

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, Director of the AMCHA Initiative has long made it clear that tarring anti-Zionists as anti-Semites is part of a larger strategy to ban Palestinian solidarity groups from campuses across the country.


Second, Zionism was controversial within much of the Jewish community until the 1940's.  Many Orthodox rabbis  believed it was forbidden by the Torah to form a Jewish state in Palestine   A VERY tiny number of Orthodox Jews still believe this.  Take a few minutes to look at the websites of Neturei Karta  or   “True Torah Jews Against Zionism” .  Here is part of the reason why Neturei Karta’s opposes Zionism:


the Torah forbids us to end the exile and establish a state and army until the Holy One, blessed He, in His Glory and Essence will redeem us. This is forbidden even if the state is conducted according to the law of the Torah because arising from the exile itself is forbidden, and we are required to remain under the rule of the nations of the world, as is explained in the book VAYOEL MOSHE. If we transgress this injunction, He will bring upon us (may we be spared) terrible punishment.


Do you really want to call those few Jews who maintain a decidedly unpopular interpretation of the Torah “anti-Semitic”?  Would you want their speech chilled should they come to visit your campuses?

Third, Eugene Volokh, a professor who teaches Free Speech law at UCLA made some very cogent points.  He wrote:


I’m ethnically Jewish (I say ‘ethnically’ because I’m not religious), and I support Israel.  . . .

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.

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 Tawain or Tibet or a Basque nation should exist as an independent state for those ethnic groups.”


Fourth, Israel is a state with Jim-Crow like aspects that runs an apartheid regime in the West Bank.  As an American taxpayer, it is my right to question whether my tax dollars should be supporting such a state. (Personally, I favor helping Israel with purely defensive weapons like Iron Dome and David’s  Sling, but I’m against selling it systems that can be used offensively.  However, those who want us to cut off all support of Israel should be free to make their case.)

Fifth, chilling pro-BDS speech leads to a slippery slope.  If the Board of Regents passes this resolution, then what is next? Will it be deemed anti-Semitic to point out that in 1967, one of Israel’s best lawyer’s, Theodor Meron, wrote a Top Secret memo for Israel’s Foreign Ministry that concluded that civilian settlements in the West Bank  “ contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”?  Will it be beyond the pale to quote what former Shin Bet leader Avraham Shalom said that the IDF?  I urge you to watch the movie, “The Gatekeepers”.  There you will see him mournfully admitting that the IDF is

a brutal occupation force, similar to the Germans in World War II.  Similar, not identical.  And I'm not talking about their behavior toward the Jews.  That was exceptional, with its own particular characteristics.  I mean how they acted to the Poles, the Belgians, the Dutch. . . To all of them... The Czechs.  It's a very negative trait that we acquired, to be... I'm afraid to say it, so I won't.  We've become cruel, to ourselves as well, but mainly to the occupied population, using the excuse of the war against terror. 

Will it be considered anti-Semitic to make Israel look bad by quoting Eli Ben-Dahan, Israel's Deputy Defense Minister in charge of Civil Administration in the West Bank, Eli Ben-Dahan? In 2013, Ben-Dahan said, "[Palestinians] are beasts, they are not human."  He also said, "A Jew always has a much higher soul than a gentile, even if he is a homosexual."

After you rule that pro-BDS speech is anti-Semitic, then will you rule that dwelling on such outlandish, racist speech by Israel’s leaders is also anti-Semitic because it might inflame outrage and erode support for Israel?

I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but universities are the one place in society where we expect vigorous and unfettered debate to be allowed.  Passing this resolution stabs at the heart of free debate and violates the spirit of the University.  Therefore, I ask you to do your duty and protect free speech at California's fine University system.


Update 3/23/16: Highly recommended- Anti-Zionism does not equal anti-Semitism: Someone please tell Hillary Clinton and the University of California by David Polumbo-Liu

Update 3/24/16: A modified version of the resolution passed.  There is a silver lining though.  Read about it here.