x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

US politician vows to stop clampdown on anti-Israel protests at universities

Bonnie Lowenthal said she would work on a resolution that affirmed the right to free speech on campus to be tabled when the legislature reconvenes.

SACRAMENTO, CalifORNIA // A state legislator has promised to fix a resolution that stirred controversy by urging Californian universities to clamp down on protests against Israel.

Bonnie Lowenthal said she would work on a resolution that affirmed the right to free speech on campus to be tabled when the legislature reconvened in January.

"I'm not sure what it's all going to say but I think it will boil down to a celebration of the First Amendment," Ms Lowenthal, a Democrat, said on Wednesday.

"And it will make clear … that students in our universities should feel safe to have differing opinions."

Ms Lowenthal and 66 of the assembly's 80 members provoked a storm after they approved a resolution on Tuesday condemning anti-Semitism and asking university administrators to take action against anti-Israel protests.

Linda Halderman, a Republican, did not mention Israel when she introduced House Resolution 35, which is symbolic and does not carry policy implications.

Most of the incidents of anti-Semitism the resolution cited were related to the Israel-Palestine debate on 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 describe criticism and protest against Israel as hate speech.

On Wednesday, groups including the Council on American Islamic Relations, the National Lawyers Guild and Jewish Voice for Peace sent letters to politicians condemning the resolution.

Adel Syed, a spokesman for the council, applauded Ms 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," Mr Syed said.

"No individual, organisation or government agency should have the power to stifle legitimate debate on college campuses."