In 2015, there should be no doubt that consenting adults have equal rights to marry the love of their life.
Worshipers should be safe at Emanuel AME Church, or any other sanctuary where they give praise to their god, and Confederate symbols should be erased from Southern flags.
And in 2015, anti-Semitism should be called out for what it is, although what should be so simple somehow is complicated.
In the coming week, the California Assembly will vote on a straightforward statement urging each University of California campus and other publicly funded schools to adopt resolutions condemning “all forms of anti-Semitism and racism, including Islamophobia.”
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“My goal is to stop hate in all its forms, including Islamophobia,” said Sen. Jeff Stone, a Riverside-area Republican and the author of Senate Concurrent Resolution 35.
Stone, a first-term legislator, wears the Star of David on a chain around his neck and tells how his great-grandmother on his father’s side was murdered at Auschwitz. He’s not sure how many of ancestors died in the Holocaust, but his great-grandmother was one of nine children who lived in a shtetl in Poland.
“The entire family,” he said.
Lawmakers almost surely will approve his resolution overwhelmingly. Jewish organizations, educators and organized labor support it. Former Speaker John A. Pérez, a University of California regent, returned to the Capitol last week to testify for it at committee hearing. The resolution isn’t binding. The Legislature can only urge UC campuses to act.
But Stone’s resolution faces surprising opposition from one of the more influential public employee unions, the California Faculty Association. In a letter dated June 17, the California Faculty Association boasts that it represents 25,000 teachers, coaches, counselors and librarians at the 23-campus, 437,000-student California State University system.
The faculty association explained its opposition by citing the resolution’s definition of anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
Stone uses the U.S. State Department definition, one also adopted by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia. In other words, it’s good enough for U.S. presidents and prime ministers of European nations, where ancient prejudices toward Jews too often turn to violence.
The California Faculty Association has a different view, saying: “This definition has come under criticism as expanding beyond a definition of anti-Semitism as hatred, violence, intimidation or discrimination targeting Jews because of their ethnic and religious identity to encompassing political speech and activities critical of policies related to the State of Israel.”
Written in the passive voice, the statement fails to specify who criticizes the definition, or what their motivation might be. I’d give a C-minus, or worse.
Lillian Taiz, a Cal State Los Angeles history professor who is chairwoman of the faculty association’s political action committee, told me there was “no dissent” on the committee that made the decision to oppose Stone’s resolution.
“There was complete agreement,” she said. The resolution “could have a chilling impact on discussion.”
However, she could not come up with an example of any discourse or lesson that might be affected by the resolution.
“If a policy comes up that seems to hold the potential to dampen free speech, I don’t know that you need to have it happen first and then decide that is a bad idea,” Taiz said.
No doubt, faculty association leaders were pleased when the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed marriage equality on Friday. After the murders at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the union issued a statement saying “we need to be more than a social justice organization, we need to be an anti-racist organization.” Evidently, in the professors’ estimation, anti-Semitism doesn’t warrant equal concern.
Stone’s resolution does nothing to limit legitimate analysis. People could criticize Israel and its policies. They could advocate for a two-state solution. They could criticize Israeli treatment of Palestinians. But all too often, debate about Israel veers into ugly stereotypes.
Stone and other advocates point to the movement on campuses to boycott Israel and divest from companies doing business there. They cite blatant acts of anti-Semitism: swastikas spray-painted on a Jewish fraternity at UC Davis; UCLA students questioning whether a Jewish student should be eligible to serve in student government; fliers discovered at UC Santa Barbara blaming Jews for 9/11.
“There is a change, a coarsening of the tenor that we really have to guard against,” Pérez said.
The faculty association is part of the influential coalition that advocates for public education funding. Since 2010, it has spent $2.9 million on lobbying, and donated $8.3 million to California ballot measures and candidates, virtually all of them Democrats, including some of the most adamant supporters of Stone’s resolution.
Taiz said she didn’t know whether legislators who support SCR 35 would face a “litmus test” when the union decides about whom to support in future elections. Here’s a thought. Legislators should take into account the union’s stand on SCR 35, make it a litmus test, and shun its money.