California law denies free speech rights to those criticizing Israel on campus

An Open Letter

From California Scholars for Academic Freedom

 To California Assemblymembers Linda Halderman, Bonnie Lowenthal, and 66 Co-authors of California House Resolution 35:

 Coauthors: Assembly Members Achadjian, Beall, Block, Blumenfield, Butler, Cook, Fong, Furutani, Galgiani, Gatto, Gordon, Hagman, Mansoor, Miller, Monning, Portantino, and Williams, Alejo, Allen, Atkins, Bill Berryhill, Bonilla, Brownley, Buchanan, Charles Calderon, Campos, Carter, Cedillo, Chesbro, Conway, Davis, Dickinson, Donnelly, Eng, Feuer, Fletcher, Fuentes, Beth Gaines, Garrick, Gorell, Harkey, Hayashi, Roger Hernández, Hueso, Huffman, Jeffries, Jones, Lara, Ma, Mendoza, Mitchell, Morrell, Nestande, Olsen, Pan, Perea, John A. Pérez, V. Manuel Pérez, Silva, Skinner, Smyth, Solorio, Swanson, Torres, Valadao, and Wagner

Dear California Assembly Representatives;

California Scholars for Academic Freedom** opposes in the strongest possible terms House Resolution 35, a resolution which lists each of you as introducers or co-authors, and which was approved, with no debate, by the California State Assembly on August 28, 2012 [1].   The resolution poses a clear threat to academic freedom in the University of California and the California State University systems.

HR 35 does not create new law, but it calls upon university administrators to deny First Amendment rights to students and faculty.   The Assembly resolution states,”[university] leadership from the top remains an important priority so that no administrator, faculty, or student group can be in any doubt that anti-Semitic activity will not be tolerated in the classroom or on campus, and that no public resources will be allowed to be used for anti-Semitic or any intolerant agitation.” The resolution erroneously gives as examples of “anti-semitism”:

  • Discourse on a campus that describes Israel as a racist or an apartheid state. HR-35 implicitly calls for the censorship of lectures and presentations critical of Israel such as might be given by Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, and Mairead Maguire, all of whom have used the term “apartheid” in their descriptions of Israel or its policies [2]. Acclaimed author Alice Walker, along with other members of the prestigious Russell Tribunal [3], could also be potentially barred from California campuses if university administrators follow the recommendations of HR-35.
  • Speech that charges Israel with crimes against humanity or ethnic cleansing. HR-35 implicitly calls for the exclusion, from university classrooms, of reports that document crimes against humanity or ethnic cleansing, as from leading human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.  The resolution could also lead to the ban of academic speakers from Israeli universities who have published evidence of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity by the state of Israel.
  • Student and faculty-sponsored boycott, divestment, and sanction campaigns against the state of Israel.  HR-35 thus seeks to ban nonviolent resistance to the apartheid system of laws in Israel, a resistance analogous to the now celebrated boycott of Apartheid South Africa of previous decades.

Public universities have a special responsibility to protect academic freedom and freedom of speech. Academic freedom allows professors to conduct and disseminate scholarly research, to design courses and teach students in the areas of their expertise, and to enjoy First Amendment protections for extramural speech.   These are essential activities for any credible university.

The conflation of criticism of Israel or its policies with anti-semitism has become a standard tactic by those who seek to censor criticism of Israel.  By way of comparison, it would be unthinkable to equate criticism of the government of China or the Free Tibet movement with anti-Chinese racism, despite the identification that many Chinese students feel with China and Chinese culture.  Similarly, it would be absurd to equate criticism of governments in Africa with racism against African Americans. It is almost inconceivable to imagine an Assembly resolution that would conflate criticism of EgyptÕs government with anti-Arab racism. HR-35 is no less ridiculous for its conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-semitism.  Censorship is not the proper way to counter speech with which one does not agree.  Rather, the proper response is to argue with evidence and persuasion – in short – to engage in free speech.

House Resolution 35 undermines the First Amendment and calls for restrictions on speech critical of Israel that go far beyond any such restrictions in Israel itself.  Criticisms of Israel that are proscribed by HR-35 are routinely aired in the mainstream Israeli press.  We emphasize, however, that we are notsuggesting that the boundaries of acceptable criticisms of Israel should be defined by the limits of discourse within Israel.  California faculty and students have the right to unrestricted inquiry in this matter, and for that purpose, Palestinian voices are essential, though rarely given the opportunity to be heard on California’s university campuses.

The driving concern behind House Resolution 35 is not anti-semitism.  Indeed, HR-35 itself is fundamentally anti-semitic because it associates and conflates with Judaism an unending list of well-documented racist policies and crimes against humanity committed by the state of Israel.  Far from the worthy goal of fighting real anti-semitism, this resolution was written to serve the propaganda aims of the government of Israel at the expense of constitutionally protected rights of California residents.

We urge you in the strongest possible terms to publicly renounce House Resolution 35, and to vote to rescind it.


[1] Text of House Resolution 35,  Press coverage includes: U.C. report on Jewish campus climate: Results marginalize, misrepresent students critical of Israel

UC rejects anti-Semitism resolution

[2] CarterTutuMaguire

[3] The Russel Tribunal on Palestine


California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact Persons:

David Klein
Professor of Mathematics
California State University, Northridge

Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi
Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies
Associate Professor of Race and Resistance Studies
Senior Scholar, Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative
College of Ethnic Studies, San Francisco State University

Ece Algan
Associate Professor of Communication Studies
California State University, San Bernardino

Kevin B. Anderson
Professor of Sociology, Political Science, and Feminist Studies
University of California, Santa Barbara

Houri Berberian
Professor of History
California State University, Long Beach

Edmund Burke III
Research Professor of History
University of California, Santa Cruz

Judith Butler
Maxine Elliot Professor of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature
University of California, Berkeley

Michael Cooperson
Professor of Arabic

Samera Esmeir
Associate Professor
Department of Rhetoric
University of California, Berkeley

Gary Fields
Associate Professor
Department of Communication
University of California, San Diego

Caudio Fogu
Associate Professor of Italian Studies
University of California, Santa Barbara

Manzar Foroohar
Professor of History
California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo

Aranye Fradenburg
Professor of English and Comparative Literature
University of California, Santa Barbara

Nancy Gallagher
Professor of History
Study Center Director for the Middle East, UCEAP
American University in Cairo
University of California, Santa Barbara

Jess Ghannam
Clinical Professor
Department of Psychiatry, and Global Health Sciences
School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco

Gerry A. Hale
Professor Emeritus
Department of Geography
University of California, Los Angeles

Nubar Hovsepian
Associate Professor, Political Science & International Studies
Chapman University

Mary Husain
Mass Communication & Journalism and Communication Departments
California State University, Fresno

Suad Joseph
Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Women and Gender Studies
University of California, Davis

Dennis Kortheuer
Department of History
California State University, Long Beach

Rose Marie Kuhn
Professor of French
California State University, Fresno

Mark Levine
Professor of History
University of California, Irvine

Ahlam Muhtaseb
Associate Professor of Communication Studies
California State University, San Bernardino

Edie Pistolesi
Professor of Art
California State University, Northridge

Ismail K. Poonawala
Professor of Arabic & Islamic Studies
University of California, Los Angeles

James Quesada
Associate Professor
Department of Anthropology
San Francisco State University

Rush Rehm
Professor, Drama and Classics
Artistic Director, Stanford Summer Theater
Stanford University

Lisa Rofel
Professor of Anthropology
University of California, Santa Cruz

Vida Samiian, Dean
College of Arts and Humanities
California State University, Fresno

David Shorter
Associate Professor and Vice Chair
World Arts and Cultures/Dance
University of California, Los Angeles

Susan Slyomovics
Professor of Anthropology and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures
University of California, Los Angeles

Judith Stevenson, Phd Anthropology
Assistant Professor, Department of Human Development
Director, Peace and Social Justice Program
California State University, Long Beach

Baki Tezcan
Associate Professor of History, and Religious Studies
University of California, Davis

Howard Winant
Professor of Sociology
University of California, Santa Barbara,

Stephen Zunes
Professor of Politics and Chair of Middle Eastern Studies
University of San Francisco

**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a group of more than 134 academics who teach in more than 20 California institutions of higher education. The group formed as a response to a rash of violations of academic freedom that were arising from both the post-9/11/2001 climate of civil rights violations and to the increasing attacks on progressive educators by neo-conservatives. Many attacks were aimed at scholars of Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern descent or at scholars researching and teaching about the Middle East, Arab and Muslim communities. Our goal of protecting California Scholars and students based mainly in institutions of higher education has grown broader in scope. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere.

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