UC Santa Cruz has been singled out by some critics as a campus especially hostile to Zionism. (Photo/ucsc.edu)
UC Santa Cruz has been singled out by some critics as a campus especially hostile to Zionism. (Photo/ucsc.edu)

UC regents consider policy to keep anti-Zionist statements off official websites

As strident debate over the Israel-Hamas war continues at college campuses across the country, the UC Board of Regents is looking at ways to stop faculty members from using university websites and other official channels to condemn Israel.

At two days of meetings on Wednesday and Thursday in San Francisco, the board considered a policy recommended by UC President Michael Drake called “Use of University Administrative Websites.”

The recommended policy does not specifically mention Israel, Jews or Zionism but comes at a time when anti-Zionist faculty members have increasingly been using university resources to disseminate their views.

“While individual members of the University community are free to express constitutionally protected viewpoints through all non-official channels of communication,” the recommended policy states, “they may not associate the official administrative units of the University with their personal viewpoints.”

Palestinian supporters spoke against the measure during the public comment period and rallied alongside UC students and faculty outside the meeting.

The board, which governs the 10-campus UC system, opted to postpone a vote in order to consider changes to the proposed text. The vote has been set for its next meeting in March.

The recommendation followed Monday’s publication of a letter that criticized UC’s governance for letting faculty use the school system’s resources, such as departmental websites, to promote anti-Zionist views. It was signed by 405 current and emeritus UC faculty members, including 50 distinguished professors.

“We are … deeply concerned about the growing hostility and harassment targeting Jewish members of the campus community in the wake of Hamas’ October 7th massacre of Israeli civilians,” states the letter, addressed to the regents. “Of particular concern is the role played by individual faculty members and whole departments in fomenting the hostile, antisemitic climate that exists on many of our campuses.”

Three UC professors — Judea Pearl of UCLA, Ilan Benjamin of UC Santa Cruz and Shlomo Dubnov of UC San Diego — drafted and circulated the letter. It was published online in full by the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.

It’s not just UC Santa Cruz. It’s all the campuses, and all over the country.

In an indication of how divisive the situation has become, the majority of the letter’s 405 signatories are professors of science, engineering or medicine, Benjamin, a distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry, told J. in a phone interview. They’re not the type, he said, who typically speak out about highly charged political issues.

“Usually, it’s hard to get the scientists off their lab benches and computers,” Benjamin quipped.

The letter calls out UC Santa Cruz’s Critical Race and Ethnic Studies (CRES) department as among the most “glaring” examples of the problem. Faculty from UC Santa Cruz’s CRES, according to the letter, have “been engaging in anti-Zionist advocacy and activism, as a department, since at least May 2021.”

Such activity has “dramatically increased in frequency and intensity,” according to the letter, since the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre that started the current war.

“It’s not just UC Santa Cruz,” Benjamin said. “It’s all the campuses, and all over the country.”

Pointing to the emergence of groups such as Faculty for Justice in Palestine, the letter calls on the regents to “take decisive action to ensure that University policies proscribing such behavior are robustly enforced…[thereby] addressing a problem that threatens to do great harm not just to Jews, but to the entire University.”

In the aftermath of Oct. 7, college campuses have emerged as hotbeds of anti-Israel activity, with recurring demonstrations from pro-Palestinian activists, including one at UC Santa Cruz that blocked traffic for hours. Anecdotally, accounts of antisemitic acts against Jewish students, such as bullying, harassment and assault, have been wide-ranging. And social media posts from some UC faculty have crossed the line into threats.

UC faculty members, including those working in their campuses’ ethnic studies, feminist studies and Asian American studies departments, routinely express criticism of Israel and support for the Palestinians, according to Benjamin.

Although free speech protections give them the right to do so, the letter criticizes political advocacy that appears to be articulating a university — or institutional — position on issues including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which the letter describes as a “complex topic of global importance.”

“The students, especially the students, get the impression that the university is behind those intimidators,” Pearl, a chancellor’s professor in the computer science department at UCLA, told J. in a phone interview.

Pearl is an Israeli American computer scientist and philosopher. Daniel Pearl, his son, was kidnapped and killed by terrorists in Pakistan 2002 while working for the Wall Street Journal.

Since at least 2021, Pearl has been calling on UC leadership to monitor anti-Zionism more effectively among faculty who clearly harbor political agendas. In 2021, for example, the Asian American Studies department at UCLA posted a statement on its website accusing Israel of “settler colonialism, racial apartheid and Occupation.”

The next regents meeting is set to take place from March 19 to 21 in Los Angeles.

Ryan Torok

Ryan Torok is an L.A.-based freelance reporter and former Jewish Journal staff writer.