California Senate mulls new attempt to squash Palestine solidarity

Growing support in California for calls to boycott Israel has prompted the Zionist lobby to try and suppress free speech. (Alex Chis/Flickr)

The California legislature is once again attempting to formally conflate opposition to Zionism with anti-Semitism.

California Senate Resolution 35 (SCR 35) urges each of the nine University of California campuses to condemn “all forms of anti-Semitism,” including those “justified … as expressions of disapproval or frustrations over political events in the Middle East.”

On 29 April, the California Senate’s education committee approved the resolution after making two changes recommended by opponents. The resolution must pass in the state Senate before going on to the Assembly for a final vote.

“From sea to shining sea one can witness the proliferation of anti-Semitic activity,” the resolution states in alarmist language. The resolution invokes the US State Department’s controversial definition of anti-Semitism that considers “demonizing,” “delegitimizing” or holding Israel to a “double standard” as anti-Semitic. While the resolution contains one clause which condemns Islamophobia, it devotes the entirety of its text to concerns about alleged anti-Semitism.

In 2012, the California House of Representatives unanimously passed House Resolution 35, which condemned all acts that “demonize and delegitimize Israel,” specifically citing the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) as an example of anti-Semitic activities on university campuses.

While the current resolution does not explicitly refer to Israel or the BDS movement, advocates for civil rights and free speech are nevertheless disturbed by the new resolution’s ostensibly more benign wording.

“In substance it does a lot less than HR 35,” David Mandel, a lawyer and member of Jewish Voice for Peace, told The Electronic Intifada. Mandel spoke against the resolution at a public meeting called by the education committee on 29 April.

“Unless you know to read between the lines, it looks fine,” he said. ”But it gives them another hammer to use against Palestinian and student activists.”

“Weapon to stigmatize”

“It is a weapon to use to stigmatize and chill people’s speech. That’s what this is doing. Even though it is less pernicious in actual substance, it amounts to the same function,” Mandel said.

Carol Sanders, a lawyer and member of Jewish Voice for Peace who has been closely watching the resolution, said that HR 35, while currently still in effect, was discredited after coming under a barrage of criticism. 

The non-binding resolution was written by Jeff Stone, a freshman state senator and the lone Republican member of the newly-formed California Jewish Caucus, and co-authored by several other members.

In March, Stone attended the conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington DC, at which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke. Stone described the right-wing Netanyahu as “very charismatic, very humbling.”

On 24 April, Stone, along with StandWithUs, hosted a visit by two Israeli reserve soldiers. StandWithUs is a well-funded, aggressively anti-Palestinian and anti-BDS organization.

While the impetus for the resolution is said to be the discoveries of a swastika found hanging outside a private resident’s home in Sacramento, and another spray-painted on a Jewish fraternity, critics say its real target is BDS and Palestine solidarity activism.

At a rally condemning the swastikas, Ryan Pessah, the executive director of the Jewish caucus, said, “I truly think that the increase in anti-Semitism is directly connected to the BDS movement. I would argue that without BDS, you would not have these swastikas. This is part of a mindset that the movement has brought into the community.”

As The Electronic Intifada reported, no evidence has been found to connect Palestine solidarity activists to the swastikas at UC Davis.

The Lawfare Project is the only supporter of the resolution to be officially listed. The Lawfare Project is another well-endowed organization that facilitates campaigns aiming to shield Israel from legal accountability for its military actions and other human rights abuses against Palestinians.

Registered opponents of the bill include the Asian Law Caucus, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace and the Los Angeles chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

In-house lobby 

At the beginning of 2014, California formed the first-in-the-nation Jewish legislative caucus. Its conception came as student organizing around the issue of Palestine gained momentum, resulting in an increasingly fevered atmosphere among Zionist activists.

The Jewish caucus is currently chaired by Senator Marty Block, who has been an outspoken supporter of Israeli aggression. At the height of Israel’s ferocious attack on the Gaza Strip last summer, for example, Block attended a rally in support of Israel’s actions.

When announcing the Jewish Caucus’ agenda, Block cited the burgeoning student campaigns urging University of California to divest from Israeli militarism, and “anti-Israel” courses taught on UC campuses as issues his lobbying group would address. Block has emphasized that the group is secular, not religious.

Judging by the caucus’s activities during its first year, it appears it will serve as a sort of  in-house Israel advocacy group for California’s state legislature. Immediately upon forming the caucus, the group met Janet Napolitano, the UC president, to discuss “anti-Israel vitriol” on UC campuses.

Last year, the caucus authored a resolution endorsing an agreement between Netanyahu and Jerry Brown, California’s governor. The resolution pledged more collaboration between California and Israel’s lucrative biotech, water and security industries, some of which have been successfully targeted for boycott.

“They tell people you might have these fringe groups that are trying to boycott, there are these groups on campus, but California is firmly stating that we’re open for business with Israel,” stated Block.  

During the education committee’s vote on the resolution, Block accused opponents of the resolution as having “an objective to harm the State of Israel or to change Israel’s actions.”

Neither Stone nor Block would responded to requests for comment.

Opponents make impact 

It is important to note that despite inflammatory and widely covered allegations of a spike in anti-Semitism on California campuses, there is no evidence that such a specter exists.

In fact, the Anti-Defamation League, a pro-Israel group, notes that for the last three years the number of anti-Semitic incidents on campus is the lowest since 1999, when the organization began to keep track. 

While the resolution is moving forward, its opponents have gained considerable traction. In April they sent a letter to the education committee criticizing the resolution and offering three recommendations to alter and improve it.

Heeding their advice, the committee removed a clause in the resolution that called on publicly-funded schools to condemn “any act of anti-Semitism augmenting education programs.”

The amended version of the resolution also adds: “nothing in this resolution is intended to diminish the rights of anyone, including students, to freely engage in any speech or other activity protected by the United States Constitution.” Opponents had originally requested the clause to specifically protect criticism of any country.  

However, the resolution still relies on the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism.

The amended resolution passed out of the education committee with only one abstention, by Senator Bill Monning.




It is not up to demonstrators to prove that they are not anti-semitic (though there may even be nuts amongst them) ; that Palestinians are being killed mercilessly for a land grab is enough motive for their grievance.


I couldn't agree more. Bills of this type, and the atmosphere of intimidation in which they flourish, are meant to distract attention yet again from the real issue. Jews are not being persecuted in the United States. On the other hand, Palestinians are subjected to genocidal policies by Jews, in their homeland. And it's all being financed and politically sustained by the US and European states.


The weakness even of activitists in the BDS and everywhere else is that they use the same language as the Zionist theorists of the Chosen Race, that of "Anti-Semitism."

Please just say "anti-Jewish." This is all you need. Racism against the Jews is not a separate category of metaphyics. All racism should be condemned.

To anyone who comes to me with such an accusation I would hold up a mirror and say: Go away, you have the face of the devil!

Zionism is parasitic and thrives on people fears, hesitancies and uncertainties. Just be clear and don't use the enemy's race jibberish at all.


To Anthony Shaker:

How wrong can you be? You are asking those who suffer, who die, whose homes
are taken, whose people are deprived of views, whose families are murdered,
whose women are raped, whose hospitals, schools and homes are "legally" are asking these people to respond with love.

Zionists who are the oppressors bear the responsibility. All those who claim
every squeak of opposition is "racism" are burying themselves in academic

Why blame BDS for so-called "racism" for protesting? That is absurd.

Anger is more than justified. If one treats a resistor or protester as "racist"
one is himself participating in the racist oppression.

If you persevere, be careful not to tell anyone at all about the
oppression you yourself are protecting.

-----Peter Loeb, Boston, MA USA


Hi Peter,

Thanks for your comment. I always enjoy your comments. Actually, I wasn't commenting on BDS, but suggesting that everyone, including BDS and its organizers perhaps to consider not using the obnoxious term "Anti-Semitism." That's all. I wasn't criticizing BDS at all as a movement, or its strategy or concept.

All I am saying is let us stop ALL racisim. I don't want anyone telling me that Jews have a special corner in heaven and earth as the Chosen Race.

Thanks again for the opportunity to clarify this point, as I don't want to be mistaken for Noam Chomsky shooting my mouth in armchair jibberish, although he is slowly coming around to our point of view about boycotting everything coming out of the racist colony the Zionists have named "Israel," as if this Zionist race colony had anything to do even with biblical myths.

Best wishes,


Thank you for this piece.

As a Californian, Marty Block is actually my state Senator, and I have repeatedly voted to (re)elect him on the basis of local issues and the absence of any other non-Republican candidate on the ballot.

I had absolutely NO idea about his pro-Israel and anti-free speech views/advocacy! I will certainly be contacting him to tell me he definitely does NOT represent my views or the views of most of his constituents on this issue (he represents a primarily blue-collar, ethnic minority area which includes large numbers of Arab-Americans and Muslims) and will pay closer attention to his political activities in the future! And unless he changes his tune I will abstain if necessary rather than voting for him again!


I rang several of the committee and made that important point, mentioned in the article, that there is no evidence of increased anti-Semitism on campuses. It seems to be a concerted and coordinated strategy of the Israel lobby, most recently expressed on the front of the New York Times, to paint campuses as hotbeds of anti-Semitism. This is occurring around the world (Sydney University has been creating inquisitions into anti-Semitism - not finding any but still spreading the impression it exists). At the same time there's an increasing use of legislation to attack supporters of BDS. Resolutions like SCR 35 bring the two strategies together. If the senators were really interested in fighting racism fighting Islamophobia and anti-Semitism on campus would be given equal weight in the resolution.


The manufacture of hate (of protestors against oppression) is " now playing
at a cinema near you "(US advertisement).

Many heartfelt thanks for the kind of accurate information we need (including
bill numbers etc.).

Unfortunately I am far from California but surrounded by the very same
hate thousands of miles away. If you support Palestinian Rights, you are
as well wherever you live.

------Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA


Since no human being is a subhuman, how about devising legislation that is specificallyl against equating anti-semitism with criticism of the Israeli genocide of the native people of Palestine?

Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.