A new policy aimed at diffusing tensions between Israel's supporters and critics was enacted at the University of California, but free speech advocates say they're worried that the policy conflates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.
The policy was approved on March 23 by a "working group on principles against intolerance" comprised of faculty, administrators and diversity officials.
"Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California," the officials wrote in a 12-page report outlining the new policy.
Zionism is a nationalist movement mostly concerned with Israel, the Jewish homeland, and critics of Zionism typically focus on Israeli policies, such as annexing parts of the Palestinian territories in order to build settlements. Anti-Semitism is defined by the Anti-Defamation League as the "belief or behavior hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish."
In the emotional and political debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel's supporters often accuse anti-Zionist critics of engaging in anti-Semitism. Critics of Israel, however, contend that the other side conflates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism in a deliberate attempt to stifle free speech and debate on Israel's policies.
"We all agree that anti-Semitism and racism must be combated on campus," said Omar Zahzah, a UCLA graduate student who is a member of the group Jewish Voice for Peace. "Where we disagree is in the claim that anti-Zionism is bigotry."
That disagreement is at the heart of the conflict between Israel's supporters and critics at the university, according to the policy's authors.
“In particular,” the report stated, “opposition to Zionism often is expressed in ways that are not simply statements of disagreement over politics and policy, but also assertions of prejudice and intolerance toward Jewish people and culture.”
The report said that schools in the University of California system have reported graffiti hate messages on campuses and discrimination toward Jewish students, among other concerns.
In an attempt to clarify their position, university officials said certain forms of anti-Zionism can be defined as anti-Semitic. The new policy bans speech that falls into that category.
That doesn't sit well with some free speech advocates, who say that legitimate criticism of Israel can't be lumped in with anti-Semitism.
"There has been criticism of Zionism for as long as Zionism has existed, and silencing that debate is harmful to the values of free speech and academic inquiry," Tallie Ben Daniel, an academic advisory council coordinator with Jewish Voice for Peace, told the Associated Press.