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Letter Emphasizes That Adopting a Definition Does Not Violate 1st Amendment, as Some Critics Have Claimed


Contact: Nicole Rosen


Santa Cruz, CA, Sept. 2, 2015 - As the University of California’s (UC) deliberations on whether to adopt the U.S. State Department definition of anti-Semitism draws near, 214 lawyers today wrote to UC President Janet Napolitano and the Regents, UC’s governing board, in support of the definition and to urge UC to adopt it.

The lawyers, who have spent years upholding the law and studying the constitution, explained to Napolitano and the UC Regents that adopting a definition does not by any means violate the 1st Amendment. “Opponents claim that adopting the State Department definition will silence campus activism and suppress free speech. As legal professionals, we can state with certainty that this claim simply is not true,” explained the lawyers.
The following is a copy of the letter:

Dear Member of the Board of Regents:

We are attorneys from around the country – private practitioners, public sector attorneys, and university faculty – who are deeply concerned about rising anti-Semitism, including on American college campuses. Unfortunately, the University of California (UC) has not been immune to the problem and, indeed, has played host to some of the worst anti-Semitic incidents. Over the last few years, Jewish UC students have reported being physically assaulted, threatened, and discriminated against. Jewish property has been defaced and destroyed. And Jewish student events have been disrupted and shut down.Increasing our understanding of anti-Semitism – including its many, often subtle forms – is a crucial step to addressing the problem. UC President Janet Napolitano took that important step when she expressed her personal support for the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism. At the Regents’ upcoming meeting, we respectfully urge you to follow President Napolitano’s lead and adopt this definition.

The State Department has done an excellent job in defining the problem of anti-Semitism today, recognizing the reality that while not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, some is. When Israel is demonized (by, for example, comparing Israeli policy to that of the Nazis), when double standards are applied to Israel (by requiring of the Jewish State a behavior not demanded of any other country), and when Israel is delegitimized (by denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist), these are ways in which anti-Semitism manifests itself with regard to Israel.

Opponents claim that adopting the State Department definition will silence campus activism and suppress free speech. As legal professionals, we can state with certainty that this claim simply is not true.

If you were to adopt the State Department definition, you would simply be expressing your views about what anti-Semitism is and the many forms it takes today. You would be acknowledging, as the State Department has done, that anti-Semitism is an adaptive phenomenon, and that some criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic because – whether intended or not – it has the effect of promoting prejudice against Jews. How anti-Semitism on the UC campuses is responded to and addressed is a separate question. As always, the Regent’s actions would have to be guided by state and federal law, including respect for rights protected by the U.S. and California Constitutions. But there is nothing in the law that precludes you from expressing your views on any matters affecting the University of California. Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court has confirmed your right to do so. Certainly that would include the right to express your views about any and all forms of bigotry affecting the UC campuses, including anti-Semitism.

In a speech in May, President Obama talked about “a deeply disturbing rise in anti-Semitism” and cautioned against ignoring this problem. The President said, “Anti-Semitism is, and always will be, a threat to broader human values to which we all must aspire. And when we allow anti-Semitism to take root, then our souls are destroyed, and it will spread.” We share the President’s concerns. That is why we urge you – as trustees for the people of the State of California and as stewards for the University of California - to adopt the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism at your next meeting. Clearly defining and identifying the many facets of anti-Semitism is the first step to eradicating it, in all its ugly forms.


A list of the lawyers who signed the letter can be seen here. Counsels from multiple advocacy groups also sent a letter to Napolitano and the Regents earlier this week explaining the research that went into developing our government’s definition and why it is a valuable definition for a university setting. The legal groups’ letter also reiterates how the State Department definition would not violate freedom of speech or academic freedom. That letter can be seen here.

Earlier this week, many of the world’s preeminent scholars of anti-Semitism and more than 100 UC professors wrote to Napolitano and the UC Regents in support of the State Department definition and to urge UC to adopt it.

UC will be discussing the adoption of a “Statement of Principles” against various forms of intolerance, including anti-Semitism, at its next meeting on September 16 & 17. Many Jewish leaders, scholars, groups, students and faculty have stated that before UC can properly condemn anti-Semitic behavior, it must accurately understand anti-Semitism. They have urged UC to include in its “Statement of Principles” a reference to the full U.S. State Department definition, which recognizes that contemporary anti-Semitism has assumed various disguised forms and, as the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found is often “camouflaged as anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism.” The State Department definition acknowledges activity that demonizes and delegitimizes Israel and denies its right to exist as anti-Semitism.

In the past six months, nearly 50 Jewish organizations, including ADL, Hillel, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, ZOA and AMCHA, have written to UC in support of the State Department definition and have urged UC to adopt it as a standard, campus-wide tool for identifying and educating against anti-Semitism. In addition, thousands of UC students, faculty and alumni and California rabbis, Jewish day school principals and residents have also written to UC leaders, calling on them to adopt the State Department definition.

This past academic year, swastikas were spray painted on a Jewish fraternity, “grout out the Jews” was carved into school property, a Hillel event was protested and disrupted, flyers blaming Jews for 9/11 were plastered on campus and a Jewish student running for office was questioned about her eligibility simply because of her religion. UC Jewish students report feeling afraid to tell fellow students they are Jewish, walk to the Hillel house for Sabbath dinner and wear a Jewish star necklace. Many report being bullied, harassed, intimidated and, in some cases, assaulted.

AMCHA Initiative is a non-profit, grassroots-based, organization, dedicated to monitoring, investigating and combating anti-Semitism at institutions of higher education in America.



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