By Kristin Szremski
(CHICAGO 10/06/2011) — Zionists have ratcheted up their attacks on free speech on America’s college campuses this fall by conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism and then lodging – or threatening to lodge – complaints with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
The Electronic Intifada reported in a blog post by Ali Abunimeh yesterday that an investigation has been launched at Columbia University in New York, two weeks before the first national conference for the Students for Justice in Palestine is set to begin there.
“Recently, The Electronic Intifada discovered that Israeli officials had even played a direct role in a planned civil rights complaint against another US institution, Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, where students had passed a resolution supporting divestment from Israel,” Abunimeh wrote.
This is not the first time pressure has come from Israel. The Israel Law Center (Shurat HaDin) sent hundreds of letters to university presidents and chancellors in the United States at the start of the school year warning them their institutions could “fall foul of stringent U.S. laws,” if they allowed pro-Palestinian activism on campus, the Jerusalem Post reported on Aug. 9, 2011.
Israel’s supporters are exploiting the U.S. Department of Education’s re-interpretation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which now allows Jewish students, as members of a religious group, to claim discrimination under a provision that previously applied only to racial and ethnic bigotry.
Major Zionist organizations such as the Zionist Organization of America and the Anti-Defamation League had lobbied the education department for at least seven years for the change, which finally came in October 2010. The reason why this re-interpretation has the potential to shut down pro-Palestinian activities on college campuses is because the institutions could lose their federal funding if they are found to be in violation of Title VI. In other words, universities may be less apt to allow events – including class lectures — that question Israel’s occupation of Palestine because they are afraid they could lose significant federal funding if someone complains.
AMP reported earlier this year, in an article first published on Electronic Intifada, that in March 2011 the Education Department’s civil rights office used this new interpretation to launch an investigation into charges of anti-Semitism filed by lecturer Tammi Rossman-Benjamin against the University of California, Santa Cruz in June 2009.
Dr. Hatem Bazian, a Palestinian-American professor of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, who co-founded the Students for Justice in Palestine there in 1993, takes issue with the amended understanding of Title VI. While he agrees that Jewish students, as well as Muslim students, should be protected from discrimination based on their religious identity under Title VI, he believes the reinterpretation is actually being used to silence debate about Israel.
“Attempts to silence opposition to the illegal Israeli occupation and policies is un-American and amounts to political and academic censorship,” said Bazian, who is also AMP chairman. In addition to the ongoing and pending investigations mentioned here, there have been similar warnings at Rutgers University and elsewhere.
In March 2011, the ADL, along with the American Jewish Committee and the Bay Area Jewish Community Relations Council, protested an academic conference at the UC Hastings College of the Law in March titled “Litigating Palestine: Can Courts Secure Palestinian Rights?” Their protest was so effective the university board voted to remove its name and endorsement for the event and it prevented university Chancellor Frank Wu from making opening remarks.
In perhaps the most chilling assault on free speech yet, 10 students from the University of California, Irvine and UC Riverside were found guilty in September of the misdemeanor charges of conspiracy to disrupt a public meeting and disrupting a public meeting for their role is protesting a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren in February 2010.
Supporters and defense lawyers still contend the arrests, charges and trial were the result of anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian bias. In fact, early in the proceedings an Orange County judge removed three districts attorney and the lead investigator from the case because of their anti-Muslim bias.
The students are appealing their convictions.
The pro-Palestine movement, particularly Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, is growing quickly throughout the nation’s universities, and Zionist organizations are working harder at combating the movement’s success. A 100-page booklet named, “The Hasbara Handbook: Promoting Israel on Campus,” first published in 2002, has been making the rounds again. And the Jewish Federations of North America, during its annual conference in November, will be promoting its newest campaign, the Israel Action Network, part of the Israeli Advocacy Initiative, which aims to garner support for Israel by creating networks with members of other faith communities.
This article was first published on the website for American Muslims for Palestine.