Each year at many California universities, pro-Israel students dread the inevitable arrival of “The Wall,”—the centerpiece of Israel Apartheid Week. These programs, sometimes known as Justice in Palestine Week or Palestinian Awareness Week, usually take place sometime between late-winter and spring and focus on charges that Israel is an Apartheid state that illegally occupies Palestinian territories.
But what if the wall wasn’t allowed to go up?
Speculation on the future of anti-Israel demonstrations on University of California (UC) campuses has increased in recent weeks after a mid-July report compiled by the UC President’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate recommended that UC consider banning all hate speech from its nine campuses.
Between October 2011 and May 2012, a group of professionals handpicked by UC President Mark Yudof travelled to six UC campuses (Santa Cruz, Davis, Irvine, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and San Diego) to assess the social conditions of Jewish students as well as Arab and Muslim students.
Jewish student leaders on the campuses were interviewed by the council, which evaluated the students’ biggest concerns as Jews on campus.
A separate report, providing background and recommendations on behalf of Arab and Muslim students was also released in mid-July.
Ultimately, the council recommended that hate speech, particularly anti-Israel demonstrations, be banned because of the unsafe and uncomfortable environment that can ensue on campus.
“UC does not have a hate-free policy that allows the campus to prevent well-known bigoted and hate organizations from speaking on campus such as the KKK,” the council wrote in the report. “UC should push its current harassment and nondiscrimination provisions further, clearly define hate speech in its guidelines, and seek opportunities to prohibit hate speech on campus.”
The council recognized that such a ban, if put in place, almost certainly would lead to legal action challenging it. Already, a petition asking Yudof to table the recommendations has gathered over 2,300 signatures.
Opponents of the recommendation claim that the report, released July 9, does not consider all viewpoints of Jewish students on campuses—particularly those of Jews who are critical of Israel.
In response, StandWithUs started a counter-petition urging the UC Office of the President (UCOP) to accept and implement the recommendations outlined in the report. While the first petition targets the hate speech ban proposal, the StandWithUs petition focuses on implementation of the entire report’s recommendations which include ensuring that kosher food options be available on UC campuses and that anti-Semitism be clearly defined and banned.
The advisory council also recommended that UC staff members receive cultural competency training and that accurate data be kept on Jewish students to better evaluate their needs.
There has been mixed reaction to the report in the pro-Israel community. Sharona Asraf, a StandWithUs Emerson Fellow and board member of Tritons for Israel at UC San Diego, created a Facebook event promoting the petition and said she supports the Council’s recommendation to ban hate speech.
“This will verbalize protocol and will elaborate what the consequences are for hate speech,” Asraf said.
However, Daniel Narvy, President of Movement for Peace in the Middle East at UC Irvine, said that while he thinks hate speech should not exist, banning it on UC campuses could actually make life more difficult for pro-Israel students.
“I can promise that SJP will claim the university is Islamaphobic and complain until they get their way,” Narvy said. “Do I think the hate speech, which it clearly is, should be there? No, but the university cannot use prior restraint and just censor a club just because [some members of the club] are obnoxious .” Richard Barton, who is the national education chair for the Anti-Defamation League, co-wrote the report with Alice Huffman, president of the California NAACP. Barton defended the report in an Aug. 23 op-ed in the San Francisco Gate.
“By including an examination of the climate for Jewish students, the Campus Climate Council has truly advanced the notion of honest and critical examination that lie at the heart of the UC’s core values,” Barton wrote.
Though UCOP is not expected to finish evaluating both the Jewish and the Arab and Muslim reports until late October, Yudof noted that ensuring a right to free speech would remain a priority.
“The Council will continue to address issues for a broad range of campus community members,” Yudof said in an August 8 open letter to the UC system. “None of this is designed to stifle free speech, but rather to ensure that our campuses are welcoming to a broad diversity of students, faculty and staff.”