UC backs down on intolerance policy

The University of California system’s Board of Regents voted Thursday against implementing a proposed intolerance policy that had drawn criticism for being both insufficient and excessive.

The policy was intended to enhance protections for Jewish students amid claims that acts of anti-Semitism are growing more common on UC campuses, but was shelved after it became clear that the proposal was not acceptable to either Jewish groups or free-speech advocates, The Sacramento Bee reports.

While the policy was being drafted over the summer, Jewish groups had urged the regents to apply the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, which encompasses speech “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist,” as well as statements “calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews.”

Supporters of the Palestinian cause, however, objected to that provision, which they claimed would violate their rights to free speech and academic freedom, according to Electronic Intifada.

In an effort to appease both sides, the regents removed all references to anti-Semitism from the final draft of the intolerance policy, but retained provisions prohibiting several of the behaviors outlined by the State Department.

For example, the policy would have banned “vandalism and graffiti reflecting culturally recognized symbols of hate or prejudice” such as swastikas or nooses, depicting or articulating negative stereotypes of ethnic or racial groups, and “questioning a student’s fitness for a leadership role … on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, citizenship, sex, or sexual orientation.”

The compromise failed to appease either side, though, with Jewish groups claiming the revised version failed to address their fundamental concerns while others insisted that the alterations did not eliminate the most problematic aspects of the policy.

Those criticisms proved persuasive to the regents, The Los Angeles Times reports, prompting Chairwoman Monica Lozano announced that she would create an eight-person working group to craft a new policy acceptable to both sides, drawing input from the regents as well as student and faculty representatives.

In an email sent to supporters of the pro-Israel group UCLA Hillel shortly after the regents’ meeting, Rabbi Aaron Lerner applauded student activists who showed up to oppose the policy, saying, “We are encouraged by today's developments and look forward to continuing to support our students and the UC Regents as they navigate this process with grace and persistence.”

Liz Jackson, an attorney for the Palestine Legal, was more circumspect in a statement released after the meeting, arguing that Palestinian students also face harassment for voicing opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and expressing the hope that any policy UC eventually adopts will not be used “to silence one side of an important discussion.”

She went on to assert that the current conversation “is not about intolerance,” contending instead that “this whole thing is about whether criticism of Israel will be permitted on campuses.”

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