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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Judith Butler's Statement on UC Regents Proposed Principles Against Intolerance

Most of this text was read at the UC Regents Public Comment session this morning in San Francisco.  Following public comment, the regents rejected the original text of the "Principles Against Intolerance" to which this statement refers. The new preamble text reads, "Anti-Semitism, Anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California" (the underlined phrase is the modification). The new language was suggested by the Academic Senate Universitywide Committee on Academic Freedom (UCAF); its recommendation to modify "other forms of discrimination" to "other forms of unlawful discrimination" seems not to have been taken up.

Statement by Judith Butler, Maxine Elliott Professor of Comparative Literature, UC Berkeley

We would like to congratulate the Regents for trying to develop principles that can guide us as we identify and oppose intolerance and bigotry on the UC campuses.  Any document that seeks to elucidate those principles, however, should be as comprehensive as possible, identifying and opposing all forms of discrimination.  This document goes part of the way in doing that, but by foregrounding anti-Semitism, it backgrounds other forms of discrimination, including those suffered by racial minorities and Arab and Muslim students who too often encounter prejudice on campuses.  We oppose anti-Semitism of all kinds, just as we oppose all forms of racism and discrimination.   The problem at the center of this document is that anti-Zionism is conflated with anti-Semitism. Anti-Zionism names a political viewpoint that individuals have a right to express under the First Amendment and to debate according to the principles of academic freedom; indeed, the topic is at the center of many public debates on and off campus.  Anti-Semitism, on the other hand, is a despicable form of discrimination, and it has no place on college campuses, and must be clearly opposed as we would oppose any and all forms of racism and discrimination.  The university is a place where contested views can be articulated and understood, and where we stand a chance of gaining an informed understanding of conflicts at the center of public debate.  If the Regents accept the language of the preamble that names anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism, they agree to the censorship of particular viewpoints, and that is viewpoint discrimination; further, they undermine the role of the university as a place where free and open inquiry can take place on matters of common public concern, even when those matters are contentious.

If accepted, the language of the preamble becomes the official position of the University of California, and provides a rationale for anyone to decide that a particular criticism of the Israeli state or its policies constitutes anti-Semitism.  If this language is accepted, what would be the implications for instructors who wish to include the work of Edward Said, the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, or the early reflections of Martin Buber or Hans Cohen, all of whom might be deemed anti-Zionist in contemporary terms?  Would students who seek rights for Palestine be banned from organizing on campus?  Would scholarship deemed critical of Zionism be dismissed as discriminatory writing, undermining chances of tenure and promotion and destroying hallowed principles of academic freedom?

 [Let us remember that Zionism and anti-Zionism have been part of Jewish life for more than a century, that debates about Zionism have broken up many a Jewish dinner table and constituted a matter of ongoing dispute within the Jewish community. Jewish internationalists, communists, and those who favor binational or federated forms of government for Israel and Palestine, and many orthodox Jews have openly opposed some version of Zionism – do we no longer count that as part of Jewish history?  Even the respected Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, sponsors debates for and against Zionism. What grounds, then, do we have for censoring such debates on the UC campus?  Our mission at the university is to consider all points of view and make informed decisions and grounded judgments on the basis of what we hear and read. We do not censor viewpoints from the start. That leaves us ignorant and ill-equipped to interpret our complex world.   Rather than produce an instrument for censorship and limit the activities of students, staff, and faculty, ban meetings and debates, and demean scholarship that represents a range of views about Palestine and Israel, we should instead be safeguarding this most important task of the university as one of the few places where conflictual issues such as these can be articulated, debated, and understood over time.  Let us not betray this most important public task of the university.]

We respectfully submit that the Regents accept our proposal to amend the document before you, deleting those sentences referring to anti-Zionism and replacing the first reference with the following formulation: "Anti-Semitism, all forms of racism, and other forms of unlawful discrimination have no place at the University of California."  These strong and inclusive principles would claim wide consensus and would give us balanced and fair guidance rather than sacrificing basic rights of political expression and academic freedom.

  Additional remark:

  If we think that we solve the problem by distinguishing forms of anti-Semitic anti-Zionism, then we are left with the question of who identifies such a position, and what are their operative definitions?  These terms are vague and overbroad and run the risk of suppressing speech and violating principles of academic freedom. We have principles that oppose anti-Semitism on the same grounds as we would oppose all forms of discrimination. There already exists University policy and state and federal law, developed over many years that provide an effective framework for resolving these issues. If we start to associate anti-Semitism with specific political positions, then perhaps we should include forms of anti-Semitism that are associated with, say, the Republican Party, Christian evangelicals, right wing Catholicism, various forms of nationalism and fundamentalism, versions of anti-capitalism as well as versions of anti-communism.  The list would be long, so why stay focused on anti-Zionism, a position that now includes a number of Jews, such as those represented by Jewish Voice for Peace, who seek to affirm principles of justice and equality over and against a state structure engaged in discrimination and dispossession. Indeed, it is probably important to note that some groups that favor Zionism, including some forms of Christian Zionism, seek to separate Jews from Christians as a way of purifying the population – a clearly anti-Semitic action.  So it is not only arbitrary to associate anti-Semitism with a political position called anti-Zionism, it misrepresents the meanings of anti-Zionism as a political set of views. And it ignores the various places where anti-Semitism actually exists.   The abuse of the allegation of anti-Semitism deprives it of its power and meaning. It ought not to be exploited for political purposes.

  Finally, let us remember that in August 2013, the Department of Education's (DOE) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) closed three investigations against three University of California schools, at BerkeleySanta Cruz, and Irvine, which falsely alleged that Palestinian rights activism created an anti-Semitic climate. The complaints underlying the investigation claimed that student protests and academic programing in support of Palestinian rights and critical of Israel "created a hostile environment for Jewish students."  There was no evidence to support this claim, and the Department of Education rightly dismissed the charges.  As with the current proposal, there is no sound empirical evidence to support the claim that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.


Subversive Scribe said...

Here's something to consider, Judith. If the state of Israel is dissolved and there is no longer
a Jewish 'homeland' how would this affect the vulnerability of Jewish people not only in Israel
but throughout the world vis a vis ant-Semitism, which is a growing phenomenon, once again?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the regents should ban anti-anything. All references to the anti-proton should be banned. Disavow the Nobel Prize of Chamberlain and Segre.

For completeness, ban pro-anything too, because discussing pro highlights the complementary anti position.

And then the University would be absolutely perfect: no-one could say anything and we could shut it down as superfluous, saving billions.

Chris Newfield said...

This blog welcomes comments, but please try to keep them on topic. The topic of this post is an analytical distinction between two positions that an earlier version of the Principles had equated. the approved language appears to be "The regents unanimously approved the statement that "Anti Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California." http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-uc-regents-intolerance-20160322-story.html

California Policy Issues said...

I am not sure why the Butler statement is the only view placed on this blog. She testified against the report in its original form (before the amendment) at the public comments session of the Regents meeting. So here - for balance - is a statement from an organization that testified on the other side:

Anonymous said...

Well, to me the whole banning of anti-Semitic comments or anti-Zionism is absurd. Simply absurd. Chris, you can restrict discussion to a swath so narrow it makes the discussion even more absurd. To me, again, this discussion makes UC into a laughing stock.

A huge fraction of faculty on UC campuses think all religion is bogus. We politely keep our mouths shut, and we appreciate the importance of religion in most world cultures and we appreciate that psychotic hatred of different religions drives atrocities. No sane person wants to support that psychotic behavior.

But that doesn't mean that the very basis of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, etc... is unempirical mythology. Lots of us wouldn't spend a nanosecond thinking about it. But the possibility that we'd get punished for letting our true thoughts out is quite frightening.

Chris Newfield said...

This blog is about universities. To put it informally, universities accept the presence of constitutionally protected speech, and actively welcome heterodoxic ideas, as they are usually the source of intellectual breakthroughs. In a next step, which defines academic life, these ideas are subject to rigorous analytical and evidentiary procedures. Anti-Semitism doesn't survive this second step. It isn't politically "banned" from campus--it is discredited through the same intellectual methods that over time have discredited flat-earth astronomy. These two functions, call them airing and analyzing, are intertwined but distinct. Universities have lots of para-academic settings for airing--political clubs, dining halls, free speech areas, office hours, and so on--where academic airing happens in the partial forestalling of academic analysis. This is "good enough rigor" for many purposes and ordinary social life. Offensive things are said there, and people have to attack and defend ideas, and often feel personally challenged or even threatened (universities try to minimize threats while supporting challenges, which is tricky in practice). New ideas are tried out and new experiences are undergone, which is key to the experimental, improvisatory, inventive atmosphere that universities try to sustain. The "analyzing" that rejects anti-Seminism (and huge number of other ideas that still circulate in the world) coexists with the "airing" of a range of ideas, many of which wouldn't survive analyzing, or have already been discredited by analysis. So I think our language has to be nuanced to reflect what universities try to do with multiple modes and spaces that they often accomplish.

Chris Newfield said...

which is not to say that anti-Semitism is really even aired at UC, having been so widely if not universally discredited. Like any other idea, it can always be reargued or re-tried in a university. I just can't picture an academic group or context in which it would survive for more than 60 seconds. This obviously doesn't apply to the wide range of debates about policy, politics, religion, and society in the Middle East, which will carry on, hopefully with less reduction and stereotyping than has occurred in the past.

Anonymous said...

To many and maybe even most scientists, religion itself fails very basic (not even rigorous) evidentiary procedures. Many scientists are in Universities. Many, many, scientists on UC campuses self-censor already, out of either politeness or respect for the non-evidentiary thinking of the majority of the public and also most non-science faculty.

Is disdain and disrespect for all religions something that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic? I don't know. I hope not. Most science professors grant exceptions due to religious needs of students in large classes; our very academic schedule itself is defined largely to work around christian holidays (like Good Friday tomorrow and Easter this Sunday). So not providing exceptions for Diwali, Yom Kippur, Eid, etc seems already biased. But frankly disallowing them all as vestigial remains of a superstitious past might make the most sense.

But arguing that would surely open a faculty member to penalization... so me and others just stay quiet and be practical.

Chris Newfield said...

we should seriously consider disallowing all religious holidays

Anonymous said...

God forbid we should be exposed to theological diversity!

Chris Newfield said...

we can teach theology and religion in all its diversity without religious holidays

Unknown said...

Just hateful sophistry smothered in opaque jargon to disguise its malign intent. It's poorly disguised hate speech and should be prosecutable.

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