A fierce debate over free speech, academic openness and anti-Jewish sentiment will come to a head on Wednesday when UC regents consider an apparently unprecedented policy statement classifying anti-Zionism — a viewpoint opposing the existence of a Jewish state — as a form of bigotry.
A draft of the statement has been endorsed by Hillel International and other Jewish groups, which argue that the problem has gone unrecognized for too long and that Israel-divestment movements sweeping UC and campuses around the globe have created a hostile environment for Jewish students in both blatant and subtle ways — from spray-painted swastikas to excluding Jewish students from some political discourse.
“I commend the university for taking the initiative to address the problem at its root,” said Liat Menna, a Jewish sophomore at UCLA. “It’s about hatred that manifests itself on the campus.”
But the proposed policy has alarmed others, including faculty leaders and prominent Jewish scholars, who say it will have a chilling effect on academic freedom — and that it conflates anti-Jewish sentiment with legitimate political views, including those advanced over the years by many prominent Jews.
“We don’t deny that there are some people who use anti-Zionism as a smoke screen for anti-Semitic thoughts, but to condemn anti-Zionism as a whole, without making that distinction, is a very dangerous path to go down,” said Kathleen Montgomery, a UC Riverside business professor who heads the systemwide University Committee on Academic Freedom.