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All BDS activities could be defined as ‘anti-Semitic’ under University of California proposal

Why are some high-profile Jewish groups sitting out a campaign to pressure the University of California to adopt a definition of “anti-Semitism” in line with the U.S. State Department?

A report in Forward gives one possible answer: If enforced, the definition could apply to the entire boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which motivates some of the most common campus activism against Israel.

As The College Fix has noted, the proposal – backed by UC President Janet Napolitano – has united pro-Palestinian activists and civil libertarians who say it would cripple First Amendment rights on campus, yet Israel supporters say they already face a stacked deck in many schools’ curricula themselves.

The pro-Israel group AMCHA Initiative, a leader in the campaign, told Forward it’s not trying to punish anyone’s speech – just register the UC system’s imprimatur against it:

In framing its request to adopt the State Department definition, AMCHA is careful to stress that it does not seek to stifle free speech on campus. …

“We are absolutely not calling for a speech code,” [Director Tammi] Rossman-Benjamin said. “But just as there is common understanding about homophobia or sexism, we want there to be the same sensitivity to this kind of discrimination.” …

Asked by the Forward about specific types of pro-Palestinian protest actions on campus, Rossman-Benjamin said that BDS would, in principle, be seen as anti-Semitic with the adoption of the State Department definition. So would protests in which activists erect a wall to symbolize Israel’s separation barrier, which is used to block Palestinians in the occupied West Bank from entering Israel and parts of the West Bank itself. Demonstrations in which activists distribute mock eviction notices — meant to mimic notices distributed by the Israeli army to Palestinian West Bank residents whose homes are slated for demolition — would also be deemed anti-Semitic, Rossman-Benjamin said.

Curiously absent from letters of support for applying the State Department definition systemwide are Hillel, “the leading Jewish campus network” (though a spokesman told Forward it supports campus-specific efforts to “codify” the definition “to eliminate hate speech”), and the Anti-Defamation League (which simply supports efforts to raise awareness of “anti-Jewish expressions and behavior”).

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg Piper served as associate editor of The College Fix from 2014 to 2021.