SACRAMENTO, CA – A state lawmaker on Wednesday promised to introduce a fix to an Assembly resolution that stirred controversy a day earlier because it urged California colleges and universities to crack down on demonstrations against Israel.
Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal said she would work on a resolution that affirms free speech rights on campus when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
“I’m not sure what all it’s going to say, but I think it will boil down to a celebration of the First Amendment,” the Long Beach Democrat said in a statement. “And it will make clear in no uncertain terms that students in our universities should feel safe to have differing opinions.”
Lowenthal and 66 of the Assembly’s 80 lawmakers provoked a storm of criticism after they approved a resolution Tuesday that condemned anti-Semitism but also asked administrators at California’s public colleges and universities to combat anti-Israel actions.
Republican Assemblywoman Linda Halderman did not mention Israel when she introduced House Resolution 35, which is symbolic and does not carry policy implications.
Most of the instances of anti-Semitism the resolution cited were related to the Israel-Palestine debate on college campuses. Among other things, it condemned the campaign to pressure the University of California system to divest from Israel and the suggestion by some students that Israel is a “racist” state.
Free-speech advocates and Muslim groups took umbrage because the resolution appeared to label criticism and protest of Israel as anti-Jewish hate speech. On Wednesday, several groups sent letters to lawmakers condemning the resolution, including the Council on American Islamic Relations, the National Lawyers Guild and Jewish Voice for Peace.
Adel Syed, a spokesman for the council, applauded Lowenthal’s quick response and reiterated the group’s initial dismay with Tuesday’s resolution.
“We’re certainly looking forward to seeing a resolution early next session that will reassure college students of their First Amendment rights, especially those with dissenting opinions on critical topics such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said. “No individual, organization or government agency should have the power to stifle legitimate debate on college campuses.”
Lowenthal said she regretted that the resolution had drawn controversy but also noted that Halderman, its author, lost family in the Holocaust.
“If she overshot the mark, I’m certainly not going to criticize her for it,” Lowenthal said.
Halderman, who is retiring at the end of this legislative session, dismissed critics’ concerns.
“I’m unclear why there is such an uproar over a resolution that simply protects students from victimization based on religious faith,” she said.
The Fresno Republican’s resolution urged educators to take action against anti-Semitism with “due respect” for the First Amendment.
Pro-Palestinian protests are a fixture of many University of California campuses and sometimes include attention-grabbing stunts such as simulated checkpoints.