Monday, September 21, 2015

On UCSC Move-In Day, Activists Greet Students with Message: Free Speech For Palestine

On September 17, the first move-in day for Fall quarter at UC Santa Cruz, students and community members at the main entrance of campus displayed signs opposing Senate Concurrent Resolution 35 (SCR 35), which was introduced this year in the California Senate. On its surface SCR 35 is legislation that addresses anti-Semitism on the University of California campuses, but critics caution the measure has the potential to limit the free speech activities of those seeking justice for Palestine.

To communicate to both new and returning students, community members displayed signs at various locations leading up to campus. A sign that read "Palestinian Lives Matter" was placed on the pedestrian overpass that crosses Highway 1 near Mission Street, and at the main entrance of campus, community members held a large banner that read "Free Speech For Palestine."

Another sign placed at the entrance to campus proclaimed visitors were, "Entering Occupied Territory."

The demonstrators say academic freedom is under attack, as well as student activism on campus, as is the ability for those at the university to discuss issues related to their own economic freedom, and to participate in the BDS campaign. BDS stands for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel in response to its occupation of Palestinian land, and human rights violations and war crimes against the Palestinian people.

According to one student who was demonstrating to oppose SCR 35, her take on the legislation is that, "any time you are critical of Israel, it is anti-Semitism."

"So that would include BDS too," she said.

The student, a senior at UCSC, said she criticizes the United States government in the same manner she criticizes the Israeli government, and she holds both to the same standards, regardless of where she is a citizen.

Critics say the introduction of the measure has been part of a pro-Israel orchestrated political campaign to restrict free speech in the University of California system.

SCR 35 urges each of the UC campuses to adopt a resolution condemning all forms of anti-Semitism and racism, but critics oppose various segments of the measure that link hate speech to political debate, and the discussion of events in the Middle East.

One line in the measure that could stifle debate has many critics particularly concerned: "The Legislature joins with people everywhere in unequivocally condemning all forms of anti-Semitism and rejecting attempts to justify anti-Jewish hatred or violent attacks as an acceptable expression of disapproval or frustration over political events in the Middle East or elsewhere."

SCR 35 has been opposed by legal organizations across the state.

In April, Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the National Lawyers Guild-Los-Angeles, sent a letter to the California Senate Education Committee urging them to amend the resolution.

"SCR 35 fails to distinguish between constitutionally protected political speech and unlawful acts; and it perpetuates a mischaracterization of critiques of Israeli policies as anti-Semitic. We are concerned that the legislation as written can be used to stifle political expression. Moreover, the resolution’s vague language and reference to an over-broad definition of anti-Semitism serve to trivialize instances of actual hatred, making them harder to recognize and confront," the letter states.

The main entrance to the UC Santa Cruz campus

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