Will University of California’s New Anti-Semitism Policy Target Hate Speech or Criticism of Israel?

Will University of California’s New Anti-Semitism Policy Target Hate Speech or Criticism of Israel?

October 21, 2019 22 By Stanley Isaacs


SHARMINI PERIES: Welcome to the Real News
Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Students, activists, professors, and a committee
of the Board of Regents that’s the governing body of the University of California gathered
in a forum on Monday to come up with a better tolerance policy after a version of it was
rejected by Jewish organizations, saying that it doesn’t go far enough to address anti-semitism
on their campuses. Jewish organizations want a more precise definition, and the University
of California president Janet Napolitano, who was the former United States secretary
of homeland security until 2013 under President Obama thinks the university should adopt the
controversial State Department definition of anti-semitism. Now joining me to address all of this from
Los Angeles is Estee Chandler. She is an organizer for Jewish Voices for Peace. Also a producer
and co-host of Middle East in Focus on KPFK. Thank you for joining us, Estee. ESTEE CHANDLER: Thank you for inviting me. PERIES: So let’s get right down to it. Why
did a new policy become necessary on campus? CHANDLER: I think that many pro-Israel organizations
have been pushing the UCs to clamp down on speech in regards to challenging Israel’s
policies and actions, and as has been widely reported in the news there is over $100 million
been raised to combat the BDS movement. That’s Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. Which
is a civil society called by the Palestinian civil society to civil societies around the
world to engage in targeted boycotts, calls to divest their pension plans, and to call
upon their governments to sanction Israel until they meet their obligations under international
law and humanitarian law vis-a-vis their treatment of the Palestinian people. PERIES: Some, of course, on campus argue that
the proposed new definition, this is a definition that the State Department uses, and it is
on their website, amounts to censorship. What are your thoughts on that? CHANDLER: Sure. The State Department definition,
which was instituted in the EU and then ultimately taken away because it’s so problematic, conflates
criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish bias. It includes what have been come to known as
the three Ds, the demonization of Israel, the delegitimization of Israel, and treating
Israel with a double standard. And they would like those things to be seen as anti-semitic.
But clearly that’s a conflation. Israel is a state, not a person. So challenging policies
of a state are not the same as bias against a person or anti-semitism, which is hatred
or bias against a Jewish person or Jewish people. So they would like to say that if you criticize
this nation-state of Israel that that’s anti-semitic. And of course that’s preposterous. But if
you were able to institute a definition like that, of course, you wouldn’t be able to have
any discussion about the policies of the state of Israel or Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.
Or it would even restrict speech about Palestinian human rights. PERIES: Now, some of the Jewish students say
that when there is criticism launched against the state of Israel, often it slips into anti-semitism
in the sense that individual Jews get criticized in the process. What do you make of that? CHANDLER: Well, I think from what we see on
college campuses, and I’ve spent a lot of time on them in the past five years since
I started doing this work, is that there are Jewish students who feel a great affinity
for Israel or are supporters of Israel’s policy who do feel hurt. Their feelings feel hurt,
they feel like criticism of Israel, whether it’s discussion of the number of children
that were killed in the assault on Gaza last year or other policies, hurts them personally. But again, I think that is because unfortunately
they have been taught or they have assumed a conflation between Israel and Judaism, and
they see Israel as part of their Judaism, when that’s possibly on purpose by Israel’s
supporters and the state of Israel, to claim themselves as the Jewish state. The Israeli
prime minister often claims to speak for all Jewish people. I can tell you as a proud Jewish
American whose family is Israeli, my father is Israeli and that whole side of my family
lives there, that they are not one and the same. Not all Jews have the same opinion about
Israel or hold it as part of their Jewish religion. And they don’t have the same feelings
about Zionism. So I think that we have to separate what is really the hurt feelings,
or discomfort, brought to some Jewish students or Jewish educators or administrators on campus
in discussing the policies and actions of the state of Israel with actual anti-semitism,
which is discrimination or hatred of Jewish people. PERIES: Now, could these two things, which
is criticism of Israel and anti-semitism, not simply be separated in terms of, in the
policy, to deal with the two different kinds of issues that the university is now facing? CHANDLER: They should be separated. They absolutely–they
are two separate things. If a Jewish person happens to identify with the state of Israel
then I could see how their feelings would be hurt when the policies and actions of Israel
are criticized. But it’s not the same as fomenting hatred against a Jewish people. The criticisms
of Israel are about their state policy and their actions, not against the people, the
religion, or the ethnic makeup of the people within it. Twenty percent of citizens of Israel
are actually Palestinian, and most of them are Christian or Muslim. So the conflation is really, I think, a cynical
attempt to shut down conversation about Israel. It seems evident from the time I spend doing
this that many, many Americans who get their news through the American mainstream media
are very confused about Israel and the policies, and even what the conflict between Israelis
and Palestinians are. They’re not aware of the fact that when Israel was founded, approximately
750,000 people, indigenous Palestinians, Christians, and Muslims, were driven out of the land.
And it’s their yearning to come back home to their homeland that is in fact at the basis
of the conflict, as well as the way that Palestinians don’t have equal rights. Palestinian citizens
of Israel don’t share equal rights. Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem
have been living under occupation since 1967, and Palestinians living in the diaspora around
the world don’t have the right to freely travel there and go home and see their relatives
that might live in Israel and the occupied territories. PERIES: Now, Estee, isn’t the best policy
of tolerance to encourage debate, discussion, educate, promote a dialog between those who
might be resisting on both sides of this debate? I think a policy that constrains that kind
of a discussion through punitive action might be counterproductive to that. Your thoughts? CHANDLER: We agree completely on that point,
that if people are unhappy with speech, the antidote is more speech. That there should
be more discussion about these things. And I might add that it’s troubling to me as a
Jewish American that within the Jewish community there has been a policy of not having any
discussion about Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. In fact, BDS has become like a bad word in
the Jewish community, and I think that’s bad for the community. I think that it should
be spoken about. Nobody’s going to dictate the position that somebody should take, but
I do agree with you completely that more speech, more discussion, more dialog, more understanding
about what are the roots of the conflict and can only bring for a better future for all
people in that land. PERIES: All right. Estee, I thank you so much
for joining us today and addressing this very important issue with us. CHANDLER: Thank you. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the
Real News Network.