In order to protect Jewish students, the UC community has been pushing for a system-wide definition of anti-Semitism
The Free Speech Movement began on the steps of UC Berkeley’s Sproul Hall in 1964 when thousands of student activists insisted the University of California lift its ban on campus political activities and acknowledge students’ First Amendment right to free speech.
Among the student activists was artist and former UC Berkeley student David Goines, whose participation in the student protest led to his expulsion from the university and 60-day jail sentence.
“When you’re 19 years old, that’s a long time,” Goines said.
For Goines, the unrestricted expression of a student’s speech is something he and other Free Speech Movement activists had to “wrestle” away from UC with “fire and blood” in the 1960s. Now, over 50 years later, the issue of whether or not the UC can regulate student speech has come into question once again — this time, with the issue of anti-Semitism.
Several accounts of anti-Semitism have taken place on UC campuses over the last year. In January, students at a UC Davis-affiliated Jewish fraternity found swastikas spray-painted on their building in January, and in February, student government leaders at UCLA questioned the eligibility of a student for a campus judicial panel because of her involvement in Jewish organizations.
In light of these events, over the summer the UC Board of Regents began crafting a statement which outlines their principles against “intolerant” acts such as threats, harassment, hate speech and derogatory language. After failing to draft a statement that satisfied all parties, the Regents called together a working group to form a policy that more adequately addresses anti-Semitism on university campuses.
These rights that I fought for — you want to give them away. You just want to hand them over. You don’t even want to put up a fight. Well, I think that’s disgusting.
– David Goines
Goines, hearkening back to his days in the Free Speech Movement, argues students should not allow the UC to create any sort of policy regulating the content of their speech. This, he says, is surrendering the rights which he and his fellow activists fought for decades ago.
“These rights that I fought for — you want to give them away. You just want to hand them over. You don’t even want to put up a fight,” Goines said. “Well, I think that’s disgusting.”
Santa Barbara Hillel executive director Rabbi Evan Goodman said free speech is not “unlimited” and the Regents need to instate a policy that protects Jewish students from anti-Semitic “hate speech.”
According to Goodman, a line should be drawn — an argument he presented to the Regents at the working group’s forum in October at UCLA. Rabbi Goodman spoke and advocated for the Regents to adopt a policy on anti-Semitism similar to that of the United States Department of State, which states that denying Israel’s right to exist is an action considered anti-Semitic.
In a radio interview with 90.9 WBUR last May, UC President Janet Napolitano also said she personally advocates for the State Department definition of anti-Semitism.
“I have my own personal view, and my personal view is that we should [adopt the State Department’s definition],” Napolitano said in the interview.
The State Department gives several criteria — known as the Three Ds — of the ways in which anti-Semitism “manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel.” The Three Ds include: demonizing Israel, applying a double standard to Israel and delegitimizing Israel. Within these criteria under the state definition, comparing Israeli policies to Nazi Germany, focusing on Israel solely for human rights investigations and denying the right of Israel’s existence are examples of actions that would be considered anti-Semitic.
In his speech to the Regents at the UCLA forum, Goodman recommended the Regents protect Jewish students from hate speech with a policy that categorizes denying Israel’s right to exist as anti-Semitism.
“I urge the Regents to adopt a clear, system-wide definition of anti-Semitism, including some versions of the Three Ds, with explicit policies and procedures that protect Jewish students in the UC system from experiencing a hostile environment,” Goodman said in his speech.
Accusations are made that Jews as a people are responsible for things. For example, last year posters appeared on campus that had a Jewish star and it said that Jews are responsible for 9/11.
– Rabbi Evan Goodman
Goodman, in an interview with the Nexus, said in the past seven years working in Isla Vista he has seen a rise in more “subtle” anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic activities on UCSB’s campus.
“Extreme examples are swastikas on a Jewish person’s possessions or their home or Jewish fraternity,” Goodman said. “Accusations are made that Jews as a people are responsible for things. For example, last year posters appeared on campus that had a Jewish star and it said that Jews are responsible for 9/11.”
According to Goodman, the UC needs to adopt an intolerance policy like that of the State Department to adequately acknowledge the “key role” the state of Israel plays in Jewish identity.
“To me, the State Department definition is not the be-all and end-all,” Goodman said. “It’s a good starting point to recognize that for the preponderance of Jewish students, connection with Israel plays a key role in their own personal, religious and cultural identity.”
Associated Students Letters and Science collegiate senator and third-year psychology major Niki Elyasi said she is also in support of the State Department definition to prevent religious intolerance on campus and to protect Jewish students from discrimination.
“No matter how you feel about Israel, if you value protection of all students on campus and the safety of those students on campus, then you’d value the methods in which those students tell you they feel most safe … the definition under which those students will tell you they feel most safe, not your interpretation of what that definition could mean,” Elyasi said.
What About the First Amendment?
One of the fundamental questions surrounding the debate to create a policy for anti-Semitism in the UC system is whether or not such a regulation would infringe on the First Amendment. There are many like Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (F.I.R.E.) attorney Will Creeley, who finds these “calls for censorship” to be worrisome in respect to free speech rights.
“This is a dispute that is bitter; it is intensely felt by both sides, and I think that has resulted in calls for censorship by both sides,” Creeley said. “I’m really worried because no matter how well intentioned those matters are, they still amount to a plea for official government intervention in response to what is core speech protected by the First Amendment.”
Their stated intent is to choke speech and they’re very open about that.
– Attorney Liz Jackson
Attorney Liz Jackson from Palestine Legal, an independent organization dedicated to protecting the civil and constitutional rights of people who speak out for Palestinian freedom, also views the adoption of the State Department definition of anti-Semitism as censorship of protected speech. Jackson said those who promote such a definition are purposely trying to suspend free speech rights.
“They say it’s just a standard for what is considered anti-Semitic and what is not, but that is completely disingenuous and goes against the demonstrated record of attacks to censor speech on campus,” Jackson said. “Their stated intent is to choke speech and they’re very open about that.”
Goines also said any attempt to regulate the content of speech is contrary to the First Amendment.
“If there are college students who are demanding that the government stop somebody from saying something, they simply have not read the First Amendment and do not understand it,” Goines said.
However, according to Rabbi Goodman, free speech has limitations.
“It should be protected and it has to be protected, but there are limits and we recognize those limits in all sorts of other areas of our lives, particularly when there’s hostility to minority groups,” Goodman said. “The Jews should be afforded the same kind of protections that those other minority groups get.”
Elyasi said she does not think the UC adopting the State Department definition will violate anyone’s First Amendment right to free speech.
“On a federal level everyone is entitled to whatever they want to say for anyone about anything. That is what free speech is,” Elyasi said. “You wouldn’t go into a LGBTQ+ meeting shouting homophobic slurs. Jewish students want the same protection because anti-Semitism is on the rise.”
Creeley noted the United States does not have an official ban on hate speech, as much of it is protected under the First Amendment and hate speech itself is difficult to define.
“It’s such an amorphous concept. One person’s hate speech is another person’s freedom manifesto,” Creeley said. “It really depends on the eye of the beholder and the ear of the beholder. It is difficult to say what can and cannot be said based on the listener’s reaction.”
If you want the government to start regulating the content of speech, welcome to fucking Nazi Germany.
– David Goines
Goines said the First Amendment was created to protect not only the speech people want to hear, but that which they disagree with.
“If you want the government to start regulating the content of speech, welcome to fucking Nazi Germany,” Goines said.
When Does Free Speech Go Too Far?
Controversy surrounds the State Department definition’s proviso on anti-Semitism. Individuals have questioned whether there exists a clear line between criticizing Israel and being anti-Semitic when referencing the Jewish nation state.
According to Goodman, there is a definitive line between speech that is simply criticizing Israel and speech that is anti-Semitic.
“To be critical of Israel is certainly fine,” Goodman said. “To deny the right of the Jewish people to have the same kind of national rights that any other people have is anti-Semitic.”
Past Santa Barbara Hillel student president and fourth-year anthropology and global studies double-major Sarah Tagger said the line between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism should be drawn where people begin to deny the necessity of Israel’s existence.
“It is fair to discuss Israel’s politics as you would any other country,” Tagger said in an email. “However, when the discussion shifts from possible critiques on Israel’s policies to that of its existence that crosses a line.”
However, opponents of the definition argue there is no clear line and what they express as constructive criticism of Israel is considered anti-Semitic hate speech by others. Eugene Volokh, who teaches at the UCLA School of Law and has recently covered the Missouri University protests for the Washington Post, said there is no clear definition of anti-Semitism and people will always question whether the criticism of Israel is similar to that leveled against any other country.
“The overall State Department definition puts people who harshly criticize Israel in a position where they are basically presumed to be anti-Semitic unless their motives are somehow shown to be pure by a comparison of the criticism of Israel with that leveled at other countries,” Volokh said in an email. “But any such comparisons are almost always subjective and highly contestable.”
To be critical of Israel is certainly fine. To deny the right of the Jewish people to have the same kind of national rights that any other people have is anti-Semitic.
– Rabbi Evan Goodman
According to Volokh, people’s criticisms of different countries will vary since the situations each country faces are different.
“The critics might think that some kinds of criticisms are more effective at changing the behavior of one country than another, or just because many people understandably focus their energies on one conflict rather than trying to learn about and talk about many different conflicts,” Volokh said in an email.
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) representative and third-year music studies major Daniel Mogtaderi said there is “danger” in labeling certain criticisms of Israel as anti-Semitic.
“What’s really dangerous about calling the criticism of Israel anti-Semitic is what they’re saying to Jewish students is that any criticism of Israel is criticism of all Jewish people,” Mogtaderi said.
Mogtaderi said people should feel free to safely criticize Israel and other countries without fear of censorship.
“To try to limit that by calling it racist, which is basically what anti-Semitism is, is a disservice,” Mogtaderi said. “We should have that space on campus to talk about countries that we don’t agree with the policies of.”
The Consequences of Speaking Out?
During the UC Board of Regents meeting on Oct. 16, Regent Richard C. Blum stated he and his wife, Democratic California Senator Diane Feinstein, advocate for the UC to adopt a statement on anti-Semitic hate speech and create a set of penalties regulating such speech. According to Blum, Feinstein will publically engage to be “critical” of the UC system if the Regents do not “do the right thing.”
“Students doing the things that have been cited here today probably should have either a dismissal or suspension from school,” Blum said at the meeting. “I don’t know how many of you feel so strongly that way, but my wife does and I do, too.”
According to Jackson, Palestine Legal responded to nearly 300 incidents of alleged accusations of anti-Semitism this year alone, with 85 percent of those incidents targeting students and scholars on over 65 different campuses across the country.
“Over one third occurred in California. Of the nearly 300 incidents we responded to, 159 involved false accusations of anti-Semitism based solely on speech critical of the Israeli government,” Jackson said.
Creeley said enacting the official State Department definition of anti-Semitism would create a “slippery slope” among other minority groups creating their own specialized definition of discrimination against them.
“If you pass the principles of intolerance and allow students to report other people, then pretty quickly people who are on the pro-Palestinian side of things will report the Jewish students for speech they find hateful against Palestinians,” Creeley said. “Then those Jewish students will be investigated under those same measures that were intended to help them and vice-versa.”
According to Volokh, adopting the State Department definition will limit academic discussion through microaggressions, subtle but offensive comments or actions directed at a minority or other non-dominant group that often unintentionally or unconsciously reinforce a stereotype.
“Labeling speech ‘anti-Semitic’ sends a powerful message to faculty members and students, especially ones who weren’t protected under tenure — a message that you had better not express certain views if you want to stay on the administration’s good side,” Volokh said in an email. “That’s a serious blow to academic freedom and to freedom of discourse more generally.”
If you pass the principles of intolerance and allow students to report other people, then pretty quickly people who are on the pro-Palestinian side of things will report the Jewish students for speech they find hateful against Palestinians.
– F.I.R.E. attorney Will Creeley
According to Creeley, principles against intolerance will encourage students and faculty to report one another to the authorities for “policing” opinions they disagree with.
“That’s the wrong lesson to teach students and faculty about life in our democracy,” Creeley said. “The answer to speech we don’t like is more speech, not punishment. The better response is to allow a great deal of political speech, which allows truth to arise.”
Goines said giving the government the ability to regulate free speech, regardless of what topic that speech addresses, is a surrender of one’s valuable free speech rights.
“The content of speech is not important — it doesn’t matter. It takes power to regulate it, and if you voluntarily give that up because I’m saying something you don’t like, you have given away a very precious right for a small gain.”
Who Can Define Hate Speech?
According to UCSB religious studies professor Richard Hecht, defining anti-Semitism is the responsibility of the Jewish people.
“If you were to ask an African American person in the 1960s as to what constitutes racism, they would reject the possibility that the white person has the ability to say, ‘this is racist’ or ‘this is not racist,’” Hecht said. “Ultimately you have to take very seriously the object of hate, which is, in this case, Jews.”
UCSB student Tagger also said only Jewish students should define the parameters of anti-Semitism at the university.
“We are continuously shut down and told what is and what is not anti-Semitic. How can everyone else define that for us?” Tagger said in an email. “If we feel that these comments and demonstrations of ‘free speech’ cross boundaries, then we should be heard.”
UC Student Regent Avi Oved also said it is inappropriate for individuals outside of the Jewish community to define what anti-Semitism is and to dictate how the Jewish community should feel about anti-Semitic activity.
“We must respect the fact that we can only speak to our own experiences, identities, and respective communities and use this opportunity as a platform for education,” Oved said in an email.
According to Hecht, Israel is closely tied to the religious identity of Jews for various historical reasons.
“What has happened in the twentieth century is that Israel has become the central component of Jewish life,” Hecht said. “Israel is integrated into Jewish identity.”
UCSB SJP member Mogtaderi said Israel is not inherently related to Jewish religious identity and thus speech against the policies of Israel as a political entity cannot be considered anti-Semitic.
What has happened in the twentieth century is that Israel has become the central component of Jewish life. Israel is integrated into Jewish identity.
– UCSB religious studies professor Richard Hecht
“Anti-Semitism is something that is against Jewish people for being Jewish. It has nothing to do with the state of Israel,” Mogtaderi said. “We’re criticizing a nation’s policies, not a religion that holds its people’s identity.”
Palestine Legal attorney Jackson said the term “Israeli” should not be conflated with the word “Jewish,” since approximately 25 percent of Israelis are not Jewish.
“The state of Israel does not represent all Jews in the world. It does not represent me. I’m Jewish. It is not my homeland and the majority of the global Jewish population does not live in Israel,” Jackson said. “It’s not a Jewish place.”
Is This About Divestment?
Jackson said the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement would be considered anti-Semitic under the State Department definition. According to Jackson, advocates are pushing for this definition to purposely undermine the BDS movement.
“That would have a chilling affect against First Amendment speech,” Jackson said. “There would be many people afraid to engage in the issue at all and that’s the reason why the promoters are trying to adopt it. It’s very obvious.”
F.I.R.E. Free Speech attorney Creeley said regardless of one’s position on the issue of divestment, the movement is protected by the First Amendment.
“Would the opponents of the divestment movement characterize them as anti-Semitic? Absolutely — I think that would be an almost inevitable result,” Creeley said.
However, UCSB religious professor Hecht said the activists behind the BDS movement are driven by anti-Semitism and have no interest in providing “legitimate criticism” for the state of Israel.
“Legitimate criticisms should be made about Israel’s social life and political life and economic life,” Hecht said. “The people who sponsor the BDS movement are not interested in criticism.”
The First Amendment is not there to protect the government from you. The First Amendment is there to protect you from the government.
– David Goines
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) member and second-year Asian American studies and history of public policy double- major Marjan Kris said he believes Israel-aligned activists who label the BDS movement as anti-Semitic are “pulling a card.”
“If it’s something they don’t like hearing, they’ll say, ‘Oh that’s anti-Semitic,’” Kris said.
Kris said adopting the State Department definition of anti-Semitism is a violation of the First Amendment and an attempt to block divestment from Israel.
“How can we move on and progress with limitations that seem to literally render us voiceless?” Kris said. “Speech translates into action. By limiting our free speech, you’re limiting our action. By limiting our action, you’re limiting our movement.”
At the upcoming UC Board of Regents on Nov. 18 at UC San Francisco, the Regents will further discuss the stance they want to take on the issue of designating certain speech as anti-Semitic.
Former UC Berkeley student Goines argues that all advocates on the issue need to be well-versed on the First Amendment.
“The First Amendment is not there to protect the government from you,” Goines said. “The First Amendment is there to protect you from the government.”
A version of this story appeared on p. 1 of the Thursday, Nov. 12, issue of the Daily Nexus.