Students and Civil Rights Groups Caution Against Efforts to Silence Student Activism

(SAN FRANCISCO, CA - 07/12/12) The National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, (NLGSF), and the San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-SFBA), this week submitted a letter to UC President Mark Yudof on behalf of six elected student body officers and seventeen Arab, Muslim, Palestine and Palestinian rights activist organizations at the University of California, (UC). The letter calls on President Yudof to exercise caution and adopt a more even-handed approach while considering possible changes in campus free speech rules.

The letter follows a number of reports from task forces recently convened by President Yudof as part of his effort to investigate a perceived negative environment on UC campuses with respect to race relations generally, but more specifically focusing on student speech and discourse on Israel and Palestine issues. This follows the creation earlier in 2010 of the President’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion and increasing student activism at UC campuses in support of Palestinian rights. The letter criticizes President Yudof’s Council for considering the possible adoption of new rules limiting speech critical of Israel at UC.

“While claiming to be motivated by a desire to introduce greater civility in campus discourse on these issues, UC may be on the verge of adopting unlawful policies limiting speech critical of Israel due to political pressures,” said Carlos Villarreal, Executive Director of the NLGSF. “This is an unacceptable infringement of the students’ Free Speech rights and may plunge the University back into another Free Speech fight similar to the Free Speech Movement which roiled UC and drew national attention back in the 1960s.”

Tom Pessah of Cal Students for Justice in Palestine explains, “Speech critical of Israel targets the policies of a nation state. To call it ‘anti-semitic’ is just as absurd as calling speech critical of Iran ‘anti-Muslim.’ The UC must protect the right of all students to engage in robust debate about state policy and human rights protections in all countries, regardless of the national religion of those countries.”

Meanwhile, students of color – including Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students - have raised serious issues and incidents of racism on campus that are receiving little attention or official recognition

SEE: Letter to President Yudof (pdf file)

Additional Background: This dispute over new rules at UC impacting student speech occurs against the backdrop of a recent lawsuit filed against the University of California, Felber v. University of California Board of Regents, in which Israel advocacy-engaged Jewish student groups claimed that their civil rights were infringed at UC because UC allegedly tolerated speech signaling out Israel for harsh criticism. The parties in Felber have recently settled the lawsuit, but the terms are unknown.