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August 31, 2015 3:07 pm

Scholars Urge UC Regents to Adopt State Department Antisemitism Definition

avatar by Algemeiner Staff

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Students rallying for divestment from Israel at UC Santa Barbara. Photo: UCSB Divest Facebook Page. 

Some 34 academic specialists in antisemitism signed a letter calling on University of California President Janet Napolitano and UC regents to adopt the State Department definition of antisemitism and use it on campuses to identify antisemitic behavior and educate about discrimination against Jews.

The academics, which included professors from schools across the U.S., but also Europe, as well as Jewish organizations like the Simon Wiesenthal Center, “Urged UC to include in its ‘Statement of Principles’ a reference to the full U.S. State Department definition, which recognizes that contemporary antisemitism 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 UC Board of Regents will discuss various forms of intolerance, including antisemitism, at its meeting in September. While Napolitano has said she supports adopting the State Department definition of antisemitism, some have expressed concerns over the part concerning the demonization, delegitimization and holding of a double standard of Israel, warning it could shut down debate over politically sensitive issues.

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Included in the letter was a quote by the late professor Robert Wistrich, a preeminent scholar in antisemitism, who said that anti-Zionism has become “the most dangerous and effective form of antisemitism in our time.”

“Anti-Zionism becomes antisemitism when the rhetorical and physical manifestations of hatred towards Jews as a people are directed towards Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Like classic antisemitism, anti-Zionism uses false and baseless claims and mendacious argumentation to propagate hatred of, and bring harm to, the Jewish state,” read the letter, which was sent out by the AMCHA Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to battling the recent surge in antisemitic incidents on UC campuses, from antisemitic graffiti scrawled on a Jewish fraternity to flyers blaming Jews for 9/11. 

The AMCHA Initiative said some 50 Jewish groups — including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League, the Zionist Organization of America and others, among them “thousands of UC students, faculty and alumni, as well as California rabbis, Jewish day school principals and residents” — have also written to the UC regents asking for the 10 California campuses to utilize the State Department definition.

Groups such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Students for Justice and Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace are among those urging the University of California to adopt a different definition of antisemitism, with Jewish Voice for Peace even sending out a petition calling on the State Department to consider revising its own definition.

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