California Assemblywoman Targets Anti-Israel Campus Activism, Or: Five Criticisms of Israel that Are Inherently Not Anti-Semitic

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Steve Rhodes/Flickr Creative Commons
A protest against the 2009 Israel-led incursion on Gaza. 
The California Assembly recently passed a resolution that calls upon college and university leadership to condemn anti-Semitism on campus. Assemblywoman Linda Halderman (R-Fresno) authored the resolution, which demands "no public resources will be allowed to be used for any anti-Semitic or any intolerant agitation." 

University of California officials promptly denounced HR 35 as "problematic" because of First Amendment concerns. Meanwhile, those of us familiar with this tired old game from UC Irvine (like myself: Go Anteaters!) rolled our eyes.

Halderman cites a recent study commissioned by the University of California which examined a percentage of Jewish students ' college experiences, some of whom felt that demonstrations critical of Israeli policies on campus crossed the line into hate speech. The recommendations, which ask the UC to "adopt a hate-speech free campus policy" and "define anti-Semitism" were highly criticized by a wide-ranging group of Jewish students and faculty who asked the president's office to table the report. 

But maybe it would do some good for the UC administrators to define anti-Semitism, because while anti-Semitism still exists, (and not only on college campuses--we're looking at you, Institute for Historical Review), the label is far too liberally applied and some clarity is in order. Here is a list of five things that are mislabeled as anti-Semitic by the likes of Halderman: 

1. Calling for a Boycott, Divestment and Sanction Campaign Against Israel is not Anti-Semitic
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NDNG/Flickr Creative Commons
Caterpillar Inc. supplies bulldozers like this one to Israel.

A national boycott of companies that provide services and products, mostly militarily-rooted, to Israel, like Caterpillar, Motorola and Veolia, is at the core of the BDS movement. The movement has gained steamed in recent years, especially on college campuses. Long touted as a form of nonviolent resistance, the BDS campaign has garnered support from Jews and Palestinians alike. Its goal is simple--put economic pressure on Israel to stop expanding illegal settlements, end the siege on Gaza, and the occupied territories overall. To call the campaign anti-Semitic is to demonize a legitimate resistance tactic borne out of criticism, and normalize a disregard for multiple violations of international law and human rights. 

2. Holding "Israel Apartheid Week" on College Campus is not Anti-Semitic
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monad68/Flickr Creative Commons
Students protest during Israel Apartheid Week.

Many college campuses hold a week of events in spring dubbed "Israel Apartheid Week." The goal is to raise awareness about the plight of Palestinians, problematic policies of the Israeli government, and the United States significant role in funding the occupation. Some students protest the week by holding signs that read "hate speech." When it comes to raising awareness about home demolitions, checkpoints that impinge freedom of movement, and the daily hardships--that ain't hate speech, that's the truth of modern-day Israel, and it sounds a lot like the apartheid days of South Africa.

3. Calling for a Two-State or One-State Solution where Palestinians and Israelis Live Side by Side as Equals is not Anti-Semitic.
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The Advocacy Project/Flickr Creative Commons
A checkpoint to a village in the West Bank.

There is varying rhetoric surrounding arguments regarding the one-state or two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. Some Israelis fear that a unified Israel, where not just Jews but also Palestinians can be citizens, will compromise Israel's Jewish majority; meanwhile, Palestinian activists fear a viable two-state solution is harder to imagine as Israel continues to expand illegal settlements in the West Bank. But that isn't the point. There is nothing anti-Semitic about advocating for Palestinians to have equal rights--the right to enfranchisement, freedom of movement, free elections and decent living conditions. 

4. Protesting Israeli Diplomats is not Anti-Semitic.


Whenever the case of anti-Semitism on UC campuses is brought up, the case of the Irvine 11 seems to be mentioned shortly thereafter. In short, protests directed against Israel, through whatever means, seem to consistently be deplored as anti-Semitic. The protest of a representative who serves a state by prettying its problematic policies that lead to the repression of an entire people, including its own citizens, is not anti-Semitic. Full disclosure: I married one of the Irvine 11, and he's a nice guy!

5. Being Anti-Zionist is Inherently not Anti-Semitic
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danny.hammontree/Flickr Creative Commons
Orthodox Jews protesting Zionism.

Israel's creation is rooted in Zionism, not Judaism, and although the two are inextricably linked, one doesn't equal the other. Do I need to bust out the Encyclopedia Britannica for y'all? Of course I do! It defines Zionism as a "Jewish nationalist movement that has had as its goal the creation and support of a Jewish national state in Palestine." The key word is nationalist, which unites a community based on nation and race, and not on faith. It inherently positions one people over another, the philosophy of which has created inequality and injustice by viewing Palestinians and other minorities as not worthy of belonging to Israel. Judaism, like any religion, advocates for the opposite--justice, peace and respect for all human beings.

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