Hillel, a campus religious group, hosts a rally calling for the release of Israelis kidnapped by Hamas at UCLA’s Wilson Plaza in Los Angeles on Nov. 7, 2023. Photo by Lauren Justice for CalMatters

As the Israel-Hamas war rages on and more Palestinian civilians die in Gaza, the response is getting louder, especially on California’s college campuses. 

CalMatters’ higher education reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn takes a deep dive into the tensions, fears and free speech debates surrounding the students who are vocal supporters of Israel and Palestine.

Last week at UCLA, some students held a demonstration to call on Hamas to return the Israelis taken hostage during the Oct. 7 assault. The next day, hundreds of other students rallied together calling for a Palestinian state.

Emotions ran high during both protests, but for college administrators, it’s an ongoing challenge to strike a balance between the ideals of free speech and safeguarding the emotional and physical well-being of students. 

Fears of antisemitism and Islamophobia, for example, have spread throughout campus communities as advocacy groups report upticks in antisemitic incidents in the U.S. and worldwide. And a UCLA student Mikhail spoke to was afraid he would end up on a website called Canary Mission, which collects student statements that are antisemitic or critical of Israel and posts their names and images in a searchable format. 

And while debates over what should be considered divisive or anti-semitic rhetoric continue on campus, some academics argue that disputes such as these pale in comparison to the physical conflict overseas.

  • Ussama Makdisi, UC Berkeley history professor who teaches courses on the Middle East and Palestine: “You just need to be able to watch and see what’s going on in Gaza to realize that that is the true horror of where we should be focused, rather than condemning students for actually advocating for justice and equality.”

For more on what’s happening, read Mikhail’s story.

The Gaza conflict is reaching even younger students in California — there are scattered reports in K-12 schools of hostility among students and staff. A student from Corona Del Mar Middle and High School who said “Free Palestine” during an incident with another student was recently suspended, and two teachers in the Los Angeles area were placed on leave after giving a lesson to first graders about Palestine, reports the Los Angeles Times. And in Oakland, teachers pushed back against a union directive that urged educators to incorporate pro-Palestienian curriculum into their teachings, according to the San Francisco Chronicle

For one kindergarten teacher, it was reason enough to leave the union: “I don’t want to pay dues into what I thought was an education association… I don’t need them to pick my politics and my sides for me,” she told the Chronicle.

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Documenting hate in CA

Protestors march at a rally against Asian hate crimes near the Los Angeles Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles on March 27, 202
Protestors march against Asian hate crimes near the Los Angeles federal building on March 27, 2021. Photo by Damian Dovarganes, AP Photo

From Felicia Mello of CalMatters’ California Divide team:

Californians have reported more than 500 hate incidents to a new state hotline in its first six months of operation, the state Department of Civil Rights said Monday. The hotline, CA vs Hate, was set up to provide a non-law-enforcement response to bias events that includes offering legal services and counseling to survivors.

State officials hope the hotline will also help them better understand where and how such incidents take place after hate crimes in the state rose by 20% in 2022, reaching their highest level since 2001. Nationwide, Jewish and Muslim civil rights groups are reporting spikes in harassment of their communities amid the ongoing war in Gaza.

  • Mary Wheat, Civil Rights Department acting director, in a statement: “Whether it’s because of conflict abroad or here at home, it takes real strength to stand in solidarity in the face of bias and discrimination.” 

Calls to the hotline came in from more than three quarters of California’s counties, officials said, and more than 60% of callers accepted the services offered to them. Race and ethnicity were the most common reported motivations for bias incidents, at 27% and 18%, respectively, followed by religion (13%) and sexual orientation (11%).

Monday marked the beginning of United Against Hate Week, in which local communities around the state will host anti-discrimination events, including exhibits, bystander trainings and rallies.

The world comes to SF

People attend a protest against the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco on Nov. 12, 2023. Photo by Carlos Barria, Reuters

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, also known as APEC, is well underway, bringing more than 20,000 visitors to San Francisco. It’s the city’s biggest gathering of global leaders since the establishment of the United Nations in 1945 and runs through Friday.

With so many top government officials in attendance (President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jingping, for example, are expected to meet Wednesday on the sidelines of the conference), the city has been busy clearing encampments, setting up security barricades and putting more police officers on the streets (though some APEC visitors are still being affected by crime). 

The cleanups have displaced many unhoused people — and have California Republican leaders questioning why the same fastidiousness isn’t carried out year-round for the city’s own residents. In response, Mayor London Breed told Bloomberg Technology Monday that San Francisco has “continuously worked on” addressing its homelessness crisis, and that it is “not an issue that we have been sitting around waiting to solve” until APEC.

Breed also hosted an evening reception on Sunday at City Hall to welcome dignitaries over champagne and music, while thousands of protestors advocating for various causes marched earlier in the afternoon. Some demanded climate justice, others called for the liberation of Palestine and still others rallied against APEC in general.

The event has disrupted small businesses and senior residents living near the conference area, but tensions are running particularly high among the city’s Chinese American residents, who find themselves navigating the fraught international relationship between the two countries, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Nevertheless, San Francisco Chinatown’s night market held festivities Friday, which included lion dancers and food vendors, to welcome summit attendees.

CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The leaders at the APEC conference have a lot riding on the outcome. So does San Francisco, the host city.

Rolling back California’s environmental regulations won’t solve the problems of struggling small cannabis growers, write Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, a senior fellow at the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, and Michael Sutton, former president of the California Fish and Game Commission.

Other things worth your time:

Some stories may require a subscription to read.

Massive 10 Freeway fire in LA caused by arson, officials say // Los Angeles Times

Paul Pelosi testifies about hammer-wielding attacker // NBC News

Liberal donor group targets CA and New York House Seats for 2024 // The New York Times

International student enrollment rebounds; CA stays No. 1 // Los Angeles Times

Community college students can take classes in their native language // EdSource

Mountain House may become a city, a rare event in CA // San Francisco Chronicle

A carrot boycott targets corporate growers in Cuyama Valley // Los Angeles Times

Sacramento soldier among five killed in helicopter crash in Mediterranean // The Sacramento Bee

Monterey Park survivors who weren’t hurt say they’re left out of funds // Los Angeles Times

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Lynn La is the WhatMatters newsletter writer. Prior to joining CalMatters, she developed thought leadership at an edtech company and was a senior editor at CNET. She also covered public health at The Sacramento...