Chancellor Henry Yang | Credit: Courtesy

The end of the academic year at UC Santa Barbara offers an opportunity to assess the university’s handling of surging anti-Semitism on campus. The facts are ugly. Pro-Palestinian protesters verbally assaulted the Jewish student body president, illegally occupied the MultiCultural Center, illegally occupied Girvetz Hall, set up an illegal outdoor encampment, and violated the civil rights of Jewish students in myriad other ways.

A small number of UCSB faculty also intimidated Jewish students. One egregious example was the shocking anti-Israel statement issued by the Department of Feminist Studies following the Hamas massacres, rapes, and sexual violence last October 7.

The UCSB administration tolerated these outrages, either doing nothing or waiting far too long before taking only feeble action.

UCSB’s administrators, like their colleagues at countless other universities around the country, hid behind the façade that the pro-Palestinian, pro-Hamas protesters were simply exercising their free speech rights and not threatening Jewish students or promoting antisemitism.

Let’s be clear: Factually accurate criticism of Israel’s government and its policies is perfectly legitimate. But those who spew falsehoods about Israel (“deliberately starving Gazan children,” “committing genocide against the Palestinian people,” etc.) are engaging in the same form of anti-Semitic blood libel as the authors of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Moreover, calls for Israel’s destruction, including calls to “free Palestine from the river to the sea,” fall outside the realm of legitimate and factually accurate criticism of Israeli policy. Instead, such calls are a form of anti-Zionism, meaning the denial of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their ancient homeland, a right that the Council of the League of Nations unanimously recognized and legitimized on July 24, 1922, in the Mandate for Palestine, and that the United Nations General Assembly reaffirmed in Resolution 181 on November 29, 1947.

Anti-Zionism is therefore a manifestation of anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish hate. It doesn’t matter that the UCSB protestors who espouse anti-Zionism claim it isn’t the same as anti-Semitism. What matters is how Jewish audiences perceive “River to the Sea” rhetoric and other calls for Israel’s destruction. Most Jewish students on the UCSB campus felt threatened by calls for Israel’s destruction. They perceived such calls as macro-aggressive and blatant forms of anti-Semitism.

Despite the increasing prevalence of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism on campus, the UCSB administration regards Jewish students and faculty as falling outside the protective umbrella of the university’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) policies. The DEI mantra seems to be that Jews are “white” and therefore “oppressors.” Jews, however, are a distinct and constitutionally protected minority group. Jews are also multiethnic and multiracial. More than half of Israel’s Jewish population are non-European and non-white. American Jews (including the UCSB Jewish community) live under increasingly uncomfortable conditions of unequal treatment and threats to our safety.

The UCSB administration therefore should treat Jewish students and faculty the same way they treat black students and faculty (and other protected groups). This is not only the right thing to do, but also the administration’s legal responsibility as public university under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

The UCSB Administration has also failed to enforce other applicable UCSB and UC Regents policies on an equal basis when it comes to Jewish students and faculty. One key UC Regents policy that seems to have been forgotten is 2301, first adopted in 1970, which forbids the university and its faculty from indoctrinating students to political ideologies. Unfortunately, there have been far too many examples of antizionist indoctrination in UCSB classrooms and elsewhere on campus, even prior to October 7, 2023. The university must recommit to enforcing 2301 and all other relevant policies on an equal and nondiscriminatory basis.

Finally, there seems to be a great deal of confusion inside the UCSB administration regarding the nature and extent of First Amendment free speech and free assembly rights. Freedom of Assembly and the right to protest are sacrosanct, but only if conducted “peaceably.” Not “mostly” peaceably, but “peaceably.” The administration has every right to ask law enforcement to arrest or forcibly remove non-peaceful protestors, including from public property and/or from public events. Unfortunately, they repeatedly failed to do so.

The administration also has every right to enforce reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions to ensure protestors do not block or disrupt campus events and activities, including speakers with whom the protestors disagree. And the administration has a moral responsibility to condemn hateful rhetoric, regardless whether the First Amendment protects such rhetoric.

UCSB’s failure to comply with its legal and constitutional obligations to protect its Jewish students prompted the U.S. Department of Education to launch an investigation, which remains ongoing as of today. The Anti-Defamation League recently graded the university’s handling of antisemitism on campus as “D.” The sad truth is that the university has proven itself either unwilling or unable to protect its Jewish students.

It is, therefore, time for change. Chancellor Henry Yang, who served with distinction for several decades but utterly failed to protect UCSB’s Jewish students, must resign. If he refuses to resign, then the UC Board of Regents should fire him. The Regents should appoint not only a new chancellor, but also an outside, independent monitor to oversee and enforce UCSB’s compliance with its obligations to Jewish students under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution.

Only these steps can restore public confidence in UCSB’s commitment to protecting its Jewish students.

Steven E. Zipperstein is a Santa Barbara resident and a former U.S. federal prosecutor.

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