Palestine solidarity organizers, legal defenders of Palestine activism and Jewish activists say that the resolution rightfully condemns anti-Semitism.
However, they are concerned that, in the words of a press release issued Wednesday by Jewish Voice for Peace, the resolution “further enshrines long-standing political efforts to silence legitimate criticism of the State of Israel by codifying its inclusion in the definition of anti-Semitism.”
UCLA’s resolution draws from the US State Department’s “definition of anti-Semitism” which is often referred to as the “European Union Monitoring Centre definition” of anti-Semitism. That 2005 definition was discredited and dropped by the European Union in 2013.
Under the terms of this definition, the EU Monitoring Centre had conflated descriptions of Israeli policies as “racist” with anti-Jewish bigotry — under advice from right-wing Israel advocacy groups which seek to crush criticism of Israel as well as activism supporting Palestinians’ rights.
As Ben White wrote for The Electronic Intifada immediately after the EU body — now called the Fundamental Rights Agency — publicly dropped this definition, “This is certainly not the end of efforts by Israel lobby groups to abuse and manipulate the fight against anti-Semitism in order to target Palestine solidarity work.”
Lawyers with Palestine Solidarity Legal Support (PSLS) say that UCLA’s resolution to re-define anti-Semitism “brands advocates for Palestinian human rights as anti-Semitic by blurring the important distinction between criticism of Israel as a nation-state and anti-Semitism. This false equation censors speech by making it taboo to discuss Palestinian rights.”
PSLS adds, “If the re-definition were applied by the university as policy restricting speech, it would violate the First Amendment.”
Estee Chandler, an organizer with Jewish Voice for Peace in Los Angeles, attended the resolution hearing on Tuesday. She told The Electronic Intifada on Wednesday that ongoing efforts by Israel-aligned organizations to conflate criticisms of Israeli policies with hatred of Jewish people sets a concerning precedent.
“Criticizing policies of the state are not akin to criticizing all Jewish people, or even all Israeli people,” Chandler added. “They are just criticisms of a government — a government that has a troubling human rights record.”
Chandler said that “addressing anti-Semitism has to go hand-in hand with addressing all forms of racism,” including Islamophobia.
Listen to the interview with Chandler via the media player above.
“Long-term political project”
In a document authored by PSLS, lawyers say that there is a “surge of accusations of anti-Semitism against individuals that criticize the Israeli state.”
PSLS adds that using the dropped definition of anti-Semitism — which has “dubious legal authority” — is “the most recent manifestation of a long-term political project attempting to re-define the traditional definition to include criticism of Israel.”
In 2012, the California state assembly unanimously passed HR-35, a non-binding resolution urging university adminitrations to condemn acts of anti-Semitism as well as the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. The resolution’s authors said BDS campaigns “are a means of demonizing Israel and seek to harm the Jewish state.”
It was revealed that the resolution was written with help from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a far right-wing Israel advocacy organization that seeks to curb criticism of Israel.
PSLS says that “Classifying criticism of Israel as ‘anti-Semitic’ works to circumscribe important political speech activities, often in violation of the First Amendment. It is also disingenuous and misleading; it does a great disservice to Jewish victims of genuine anti-Semitism by diluting and confusing the term.”
“It is clear that the purpose of conflating criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism is to censor speech against internationally recognized human rights abuses that Palestinians face,” the letter states. “We refuse to have our Jewish identities co-opted to justify Israel’s actions and policies.”
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