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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

California bill equates student activism with anti-semitism...

One of the many complaints about HR 35, a California bill that conflates activism in solidarity with Palestinians with anti-Semitism, is that it passed quickly with no debate. Now, video has emerged from the vote in late August that shows just how little discussion preceded the vote, which has been decried by students and Palestine solidarity and civil rights groups. It's the perfect example of how U.S. democracy works when it comes to the question of Israel. 

The video was recently dug up and posted on YouTube by Rebecca Pierce, a Jewish student activist and member of the University of California (UC), Santa Cruz's Committee for Justice in Palestine.

The vote passed easily: 66 members of the California State Assembly signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, which decries the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and states that calling Israel an "apartheid state" is an example of anti-Semitic discourse. In a September interview, Rachel Roberts, civil rights coordinator for the California branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations, criticized the manner in which the bill was passed. "This happened in the middle of the summer, when all of the California college campuses were out of session," said Roberts, who noted that legislators were not properly informed on the issue.

As Pierce notes, "author [of the bill] Linda Halderman (R-Fresno) made unsubstantiated and vague claims connecting student criticism of Israel to violence and vandalism targeting Jewish students." But in a letter sent to the U.S. Department of Education, the American Civil Liberties Union noted that instances of violence against Jewish students "appear to be isolated incidents and/or carried out by unknown persons. They are not part the expressive activities of the SJP and MSA, like Apartheid Week." Halderman, though, sought to make student activists' connection to anti-Semitic incidents explicit without any evidence.

Halderman also praised the Simon Wiesenthal Center's support for the bill, which was first disclosed by Mondoweiss.

Another legislator in support of the bill, Tim Donnelly, says that the legislation helps to defend "free speech." But a core complaint of activists organizing against HR 35 is that the bill may chill the speech and activism of students voicing support for Palestinian rights. "Although HR 35 does not create any new law, it effectively encourages university administrators to infringe upon students’ free speech rights. By equating legitimate political debates about geopolitics with anti-Semitism, the resolution emboldens administrators to take action to chill and prevent such speech," a letter authored by a coalition of progressive groups reads. 

After activists decried the bill and raised concerns about its impact on free speech on campus, legislator Bonnie Lowenthal said that another resolution will be put on the table to address the concerns that have been raised.

The video is a perfect example of how the issue of Israel is treated in U.S. legislative houses. Time and time again, whether its' Congress or a state legislature, a bill expressing support for Israel is taken up with little debate and is rubber-stamped. For instance, a Louisiana state bill in support of Israel passed 36-0 in the Senate last May.
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