On September 17, the UC Regents rejected the proposed “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance” in favor of rewriting the language of the document to better suit the requests made by public speakers at their monthly meeting. The proposal’s purpose is to combat any acts of intolerance across all University of California campuses, especially in light of the many displays of anti-Semitism witnessed in the past year: at UC Davis, a Jewish fraternity was defaced with swastikas, while, at a UCLA student council elections meeting, Rachel Beyda was questioned if she was capable of maintaining “an unbiased view” given that she was “a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community.” These acts of anti-Semitism have been tied to the rising tensions and conflicts occurring between Israel and Palestine.
In light of these recent events, the UC Regents have been faced with requests to rectify the fact that the proposed statement doesn’t mention the phrase “anti-Semitism.” In order to curb anti-Semitic activity, Jewish organizations and leaders have asked that the US State Department’s specify the definition of anti-Semitism, which includes “blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions” or “denying Israel the right to exist.”
Beyond the arguments that adopting such a statement may jeopardize academic expression or criticism on the Israel and Palestine conflict, if the UC Regents follow through with these requests, they will demonstrate preference to only one minority group facing oppression. The “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance” should seek to withstand oppression and hatred to all minority groups — not just the Jewish community.
However, this is not to say that the increasing intolerance upon the Jewish community is not important to this statement. It is, yet what about the one to four women who have been sexually victimized on their university campuses? What about the African-American student’s unequal experience at UC Berkeley, which even Chancellor Nicholas Dirks commented that they “feel the least respected of any group” according to a campus survey due to occurrences like being “excluded from study groups, ignored during class discussions, verbally harassed at parties and social events…” What about the Asian-Americans and Mexican-Americans at UCLA who were blatantly targeted by a flyer filled to the brim with racist and sexist slurs, which was sent directly to the campus’ Asian-American Studies Center. On UC campuses, more instances of intolerance based on religion, ethnicity, nationality, class, gender, sexuality and other characteristics can be named.
With national media outlets like the Washington Post and the Huffington Post paying close attention to this situation, the UC Regents may feel pressure to comply with the requests to specifically include anti-Semitism, yet it must consider all minority groups when it comes to intolerance on its campuses.
Some believe that in order to consider all minority groups within this document that the UC Regents should clearly define each minority group for clarity. However, attempting to define each minority group and what counts as intolerance against said groups can be another form of discrimination. In attempting to define each minority group, another can be forgotten in favor of more publicized minority groups.
Instead, the UC Regents should narrow their focus on the statement’s definition of intolerance, which can be handled a number of ways. They can maintain the current definition from the proposal as it already lists various intolerable acts. They can further specify verbal and physical acts that can result in psychological or physical damage, or specify a differentiation between direct or indirect intolerance that pose a clear and present danger.
In regards to the recent anti-Semitic acts, the UC Regents should consider, as the AMCHA Initiative has urged, “developing initiatives for educating the campus community about anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish discrimination.” Yet, these initiatives should not come in the form of the “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance.” This document must cater to all acts of intolerance thrusted on all minority groups. Despite being one of the most esteemed university systems in the world, the University of California campuses have much to learn if acts of intolerance continue.