COC board members condemn hate, vote against resolution supporting Israel 

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Trustees unanimously vote against community member’s request to sign statement in support for Israel against Hamas 

The Santa Clarita Community College District board of trustees unanimously voted against a resolution to instruct Chancellor Dianne Van Hook to sign a statement in support of Israel against Hamas at Wednesday’s regular meeting, but not before board members used nearly 40 minutes of discussion time to condemn hate in all forms. 

Israel has been at war with Hamas, a terrorist group operating out of Gaza, since Hamas attacked civilians, including those attending a music festival, on Oct. 7. Israeli officials have estimated that approximately 1,200 people died in the attack. 

The argument made by board member Sebastian Cazares was that, as a community college board representing COC, he wasn’t sure that it is the board’s place to take a side on an international issue. 

“I want to say, full stop, any form of antisemitism or anti-Jewish statement, I fully condemn on this campus,” Cazares said. “Any statement that denies the Holocaust or offends descendants of the Holocaust of Jewish descent, I fully condemn. And at the same time, I also fully condemn any human rights abuse against Palestinians, against Islamic groups, Arabic groups, whatever it may be … To have this full conversation, I think it’d be more appropriate if I was a U.N. diplomat or a member of Congress, but us being a community college board, I don’t believe that we should be going too fully into that.” 

The resolution was brought up as an action item at the request of Steve Petzold, a community member who sent a letter to Van Hook and board President Edel Alonso asking the board to vote on instructing Van Hook to sign a statement in support of Israel. He spoke at Wednesday’s meeting with a Hannukah menorah — Wednesday also marked the seventh night of Hannukah — and posters of hostages in Gaza at his seat. Some of those posters, he said, were defaced and taken down after he posted them on COC’s campus. 

Petzold also had an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal showing the more than 100 institutions of higher learning that have joined the coalition known as Universities United Against Terrorism. 

“I believe that this is a very modest proposal,” Petzold said. “I would rather have you stand with these colleges, which include the University of Texas, a number of community colleges, Arizona State University. What side do you want to be on? Do you want to be on the side with these people that are saying, ‘We condemn the actions taken by a terrorist group Hamas.’” 

Board member Jerry Danielson wondered if signing the resolution would set a precedent for COC. He, like Cazares, condemned violence of any sort, but did not want to see the college wade into every international issue. 

Danielson mentioned the war in Ukraine and genocides in Sudan as examples of international issues on which COC has not made public remarks. 

“The issue is whether the college should be taking a stance on foreign affairs and foreign wars,” Danielson said. “That feels like a slippery slope to me, because where does that end? And our college is concerned about the Santa Clarita Valley. That’s where we have sway, that’s what we’re all about.” 

Board member Joan MacGregor said she doesn’t know of any resolutions from her time on the board that have ended up making a difference. Instead, she said she wanted the board to consider a change in policy after watching Petzold only have three minutes to speak on the agenda item that he requested. 

“I would rather see some concrete changes, and I do think there are some things that have come from these incidents that should be changed,” MacGregor said. “One of them may be, and I think it’s important and it just happened tonight, and I haven’t really thought about it, but if someone brings up an agenda item to the board of trustees, I think they should be allocated more than three minutes. And that’s something we need to look at in our board policy.” 

At the end of the meeting, MacGregor asked for an agenda item to be placed for a future meeting that would see the board review its policy on public comments when a community member requests an agenda item. 

Upon completing the vote, a second motion was then brought to the table to have the board draft a statement to be sent to local media explaining the board’s position on the matter. The proposed statement would be written in conjunction with the COC public information office, Van Hook’s office and the college’s legal counsel. 

“I hate to just see this totally dropped,” MacGregor said. 

MacGregor called for Alonso’s prepared statement that she made before voting against signing the resolution to be used, as the Santa Clarita City Council did when then-Mayor Jason Gibbs wrote a letter condemning hate and violence that was released by the city on Monday. 

“In Santa Clarita, we stand together against hate, discrimination and bigotry in any form,” Gibbs’ letter reads, in part. “As a city, we strive to provide events and forums that allow our cultures and heritages to be shared, understood, appreciated and valued for being part of our incredible community.” 

Alonso was reluctant to do so, saying she knows everyone has their own personal opinions and she would not want to have her words speak for the entire board. 

The second motion did not pass. 

In her statement, Alonso said that board positions are nonpartisan positions, and for the board to take a side — whether for Israel or otherwise — would be to take a political stance. 

“Unfortunately, the world is a dangerous place, subject to the cruelties of individuals and groups of people and governments,” Alonso said. “And sometimes these circumstances encroach on our own campus. And yet this college has never made a statement of political affairs, not in the conflict in Bosnia, not in the stealing of children by Russians in Ukraine, not in the massacres and past wars around the world, nor up to now on what everyone can agree was a horrific act on Israel on Oct. 7, nor on the innocent civilians heard in multiple conflicts around the world.” 

While the motion to sign the resolution did not pass, Cazares wanted to ensure that students feel comfortable on campus and asked if discussions on the topic could be had in classrooms. 

Van Hook, while not disagreeing that the issue at hand is a relevant one to discuss with students, said that faculty cannot be directed to do things such as that. 

“We can certainly encourage faculty to do those kinds of things, and I’m sure that they already do,” Van Hook said. “I’ve heard from several faculty on this topic, but we can’t direct them to do that. That is academic freedom, and that is up to them.” 

Van Hook went on to say that almost every time she hears students speak, whether in front of the board or elsewhere, she gets the feeling that they do feel supported at COC. 

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