Tag Archives: free speech

Anti-Defamation League attempts to marginalize pro-human rights activities

(CHICAGO 10/13/2011) – The American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) is a key focus in a new report released by the Anti-Defamation League, which labels AMP as an “extreme anti-Israel organization.” The report goes on to call all activism that raises awareness about Israel’s continuous violations of international law and deprivation of Palestinians’ human rights as “anti-Israel.”

The report, which was released just days before Students for Justice in Palestine chapters convene their first national conference in New York, appears to be a desperate attempt to shut down the event and smear everyone involved with it. The ADL, furthermore, tries to link AMP to this conference and decries AMP’s outreach to college students.

Framing human rights advocacy for Palestinians as “anti-Israel” completely ignores Israel’s occupation, its siege on Gaza and its ongoing and flagrant violations of international law, quite an irony for an organization that says it protects rights for all people.

“We reject the ADL’s attempt to frame this discussion in such a way that ignores Israel’s atrocities against Palestinians and instead tries to demonize those who raise awareness about Israel’s violation of international law and human rights abuses,” said Dr. Hatem Bazian, AMP chairman and professor of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. “Trying to label activists is a typical MO for the ADL. We at AMP are actually heartened by their scurrilous report because it shows that our work is effective and is starting to make a difference.”

Dr. Bazian co-founded the first SJP chapter on the Berkeley campus in 2001. However, each chapter is an autonomous unit and none is associated with AMP, which acts as a resource for students by providing speakers and materials.

The ADL’s report is actually just one component of a widespread network of tactics employed by Zionist organizations to shut down all Palestinian human rights activities on college campuses. Other tactics have included sending letters to hundreds of college presidents, threatening the loss of federal funding if they allow Palestinian advocacy – or even instruction – to take place; the training of Hillel students to conduct “pro-Israel” educational activities; and the funding of the “Israel Action Network,” an offshoot of the Israel Advocacy Initiative, a blatant public relations plan to sell the occupation to the American people.

“The ADL has a long history of questionable activities, which fly in the face of their moniker of standing for civil rights for all people,” Dr. Bazian said, “They’ve been caught spying on nearly 2,000 American citizens and organization, have worked against Affirmative Action, and employed stringent censorship tactics to try to keep the truth about the occupation from the American people. We are heartened by this new report because it shows our work is being effective and making a difference on the American landscape.”

AMP calls on all people of conscience to educate themselves about the how Zionist organizations function in this country and to expose their tactics that aim to maintain the occupation of the Palestinian people.

For more detailed information about the ADL, please click here.

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Zionists ratchet up attack on campus free speech

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.

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By Kristin Szremski
AMP director of media and communications

This article first appeared on July 29 on the Electronic Intifada.

A number of new initiatives to curtail freedom of speech by conflating opposition to Israeli crimes with anti-Semitism are underway in the United States and Canada.

The Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA) issued a report in early July recommending the adoption of strict new standards defining anti-Semitism and the types of speech and campus activities that would violate them. Its report urged the Canadian government to adopt the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia’s definition of anti-Semitism (“Report on the Inquiry Panel,” 7 July 2011 [PDF]). That definition suggests that any questioning of whether Israel has the right to exist as a state that privileges Jews over people of other religions or ethnic backgrounds amounts to anti-Semitism.

 

Though the Canadian group is not linked to the Ottawa government, it has 22 parliamentarians as members. Activities it deems as anti-Semitic and, therefore, calls to be banned, include events such as the Israeli Apartheid Week that was founded in Toronto and now takes place on college campuses internationally every March.

The Canadian report is just the latest attempt at stifling public discourse about Israel. Free speech and the unimpeded exchange of ideas are also under attack on America’s college campuses. Pro-Israel supporters have targeted federal funding for academic institutions, including support for research and academic conferences, under the pretext that criticism of Israel is “hate speech.”

Federal authorities from the Office of Civil Rights with the US Department of Education are investigating charges of anti-Semitism against the University of California Santa Cruz, as well as at other institutions within the California university system, according to published reports. These are the first investigations taking place since Title VI of the Civil Rights Act was re-interpreted in October 2010, allowing Jewish students, as members of a religious group, to claim discrimination under a provision that previously applied only to racial and ethnic bigotry.

A “dear colleague” letter issued by the Office of Civil Rights in October 2010 said that discrimination against a student who is a member of a religious group violates Title VI when the discrimination is based on the group’s “actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics … or when it is based upon the student’s actual or perceived citizenship or residency in a country whose residents share a dominant religion or a distinct religious identity,” David Thomas, a US Department of Education spokesman, explained by email.

Bowing to the Zionist lobby

Major pro-Israel organizations such as the Zionist Organization of America and the Anti-Defamation League have lobbied for this re-interpretation for years. Title VI now can be applied to Jewish students who claim universities create hostile campus environments if they allow pro-Palestinian events or even class lectures critical of Israeli policies.

In other words, since Israel bills itself as a Jewish state, of which all Jews everywhere are automatic citizens, Jewish students can file complaints of anti-Semitism and discrimination based upon their perceived ethnicity and citizenship or residency in a country that has a “dominant religion.”

Dr. Hatem Bazian, a Palestinian-American professor of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, who founded the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) there in 2001, 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,” Bazian said via email. (Bazian is also the chairman of American Muslims for Palestine, the organization with which this writer is employed).

The Title VI reinterpretation and the subsequent case against Santa Cruz is part of a growing trend of stifling of protected political speech on college campuses. Several lecturers and professors have been censured and even denied tenure because they openly criticized Israeli policies or advocated for Palestinian rights.

Perhaps the most widely publicized cases are those of former DePaul University professor Norman Finkelstein and North Carolina State University professor Terri Ginsberg, both of whom were not given tenure because of their open criticism of Israeli policies in 2007 and 2008, respectively. Ginsberg initiated legal action against North Carolina State and her case is currently on appeal.

Freedom of information denied

The new interpretation has rejuvenated a 29-page complaint brought against the University of California Santa Cruz in June 2009 by lecturer Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, the contents of which have been kept secret by the Department of Education and university officials.

On 13 April, American Muslims for Palestine filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the complaint with the San Francisco Office of Civil Rights. Federal authorities declined the request on 22 April, saying that supplying the complaint would “constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” and that it could “reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings,” both of which are listed as exemptions under the federal FOIA statute.

What is so troubling in the University of California Santa Cruz investigation is that the amended interpretation is being applied retroactively to Rossman-Benjamin’s complaint, which she filed more than one year before the October 2010 “dear colleague” letter. No one contacted from the university or the Department of Education would discuss how an institution can be held liable for something that was not considered to be a violation at the time it occurred.

“[The Office of Civil Rights] received the UC-Santa Cruz complaint … on 25 June 2009,” Thomas wrote in an email to American Muslims for Palestine. “On 7 March 2011, OCR formally notified the university and the complainant that OCR was opening for investigation the allegations that a hostile environment existed for Jewish students at the university in 2009 in violation of Title VI and that the university had notice of the hostile environment but did not have a process to adequately respond to hostile environment complaints.”

Thomas failed to respond to American Muslims for Palestine’s direct question about how the new interpretation could be applied retroactively, though it was posed three times in three separate emails on 13 and 15 April.

Jim Burns, a University of California Santa Cruz spokesman, also would not address that issue and instead referred it back to the Department of Education’s civil rights office. He did tell American Muslims for Palestine in an email, however, that the Office of Civil Rights is reviewing a complaint that “speech on campus that is critical of Israel creates a hostile environment for Jewish students.”

“We believe that [the Office of Civil Rights’] investigation will ultimately conclude that [the University of California Santa Cruz] diligently enforces laws, policies and practices that protect our students’ civil rights. But we also believe that our review of the matter with OCR will provide us with an opportunity to examine our relevant policies and practices to ensure that is the case,” he added.

If federal investigators find a university to be in violation of Title VI and the institution does not remedy the situation satisfactorily it could lose federal funding. This is a worst-case scenario to be sure, but it is one that seemingly threatens the open exchange of ideas on college campuses.

“While some of the recent allegations … might well raise a claim under Title VI, many others simply seek to silence anti-Israel discourse and speakers. This approach is not only unwarranted under Title VI, it is dangerous,” Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Presidents (AAUP), and Kenneth Stern of the American Jewish Committee, wrote recently in an open letter on AAUP’s website.

“The purpose of a university is to have students wrestle with ideas with which they may disagree, or even better, may make them uncomfortable. To censor ideas is to diminish education, and to treat students as fragile recipients of ‘knowledge,’ rather than young critical thinkers,” they added.

American Muslims for Palestine’s Hatem Bazian said the implications of the re-interpretation go far beyond free speech in the classroom and at extra-curricular events. Funding for scholarly research and academic conferences that bring up “legitimate criticism of Israel” may be at stake, he said.

“The new interpretation will directly, first and foremost, impact those who administer Title VI funding, and they for sure will be more hesitant and will engage in self-censorship in funding research or activities that are critical of Israel,” Bazian said.

Indeed, the Anti-Defamation League was one of 12 national organizations that urged the Department of Education to amend its Title VI interpretation. It may have just been a co-signer in that battle but the ADL has taken the lead in many high-profile cases to stifle free speech and public debate in its hundred-year history.

In March, 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 entitled “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.

Challenging Israel on campus

Writing about the incident in the San Francisco Chronicle, Cecilie Surasky, deputy director of Jewish Voice for Peace, stated that “Perhaps for the first time in US history, there is an aggressive challenge to a one-sided narrative that covers up or justifies ongoing Israeli repression of Palestinians” (“Pressure on law conference threatens free speech,” 21 April 2011).

Surasky added, “The center of that challenge is on campuses, which is why those who have traditionally adopted knee-jerk defenses of Israeli policies are attempting to stigmatize or shut down alternative viewpoints.”

The same threats of losing federal funding because of an “anti-Semitic and hostile environment” are being leveled at Rutgers University in New Jersey, thanks in large part to a 15-page letter written to the university by Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein, and copied to the state’s governor, its US senators and representatives and other officials.

These recent moves, according to Surasky, “suggest that legitimate criticism of Israeli policy is being conflated with anti-Semitism. If this is allowed to happen, then serious debate on Israel’s illegal actions in the Palestinian territories will be shut down.”

Rossman-Benjamin’s complaint against University of California Santa Cruz could very well be a test case under the new interpretation of Title VI. The reinterpretation, when viewed against the backdrop of professors being censured or denied tenure because of their political views, could have an adverse affect on the free exchange of ideas on college campuses at a time when debate and concrete examinations of US foreign policy in the Middle East is needed more than ever.

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Breaking: Feds subpoena two more Chicago activists – National Call-In Day today!

Take time out from your busy day to call U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and demand he call off the grand jury and stop political repression that is inhibited the rights of free speech and assembly for anti-war and other social justice activists, including those working for Palestine.

UPDATE: Two more people were subpoenaed on Thursday Dec. 8. That brings to total number of subpoenas to 19. Look for an update later today or tomorrow.

Below is the appeal from that National Committee to Stop FBI Repression, taken from the blog Sherry Talks Back.

Stop FBI Repression! Call U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald
312-353-5300, on Thursday, December 9
1. Call off the Grand Jury!
2. Stop FBI repression of the anti-war and solidarity movements
 

Fitzgerald Expands Repression with 3 New Subpoenas in Chicago
Under the direction of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s office, the FBI is expanding their repression of anti-war and Palestine solidarity activists in Chicago.  On Friday, December 3, 2010, the FBI targeted three young women who traveled together to Palestine last summer.  After the FBI called to question a young Jewish-American woman, Sarah Smith, FBI agents knocked on the door of two young Palestinian-American sisters.  One sister was already on the phone with lawyer Jim Fennerty and handed the phone to the FBI, causing the FBI to leave.  The FBI agents soon returned with subpoenas to the Grand Jury targeting anti-war and solidarity activists, dated for January 25, 2011.  The three are standing strong with the other 14 subpoenaed activists from Illinois, Minneapolis and Michigan.  Over 100 people protested in Chicago on Monday against the expanding repression.

Help Keep 3 Minneapolis Women Out of Jail
Fitzgerald’s new wave of repression comes a week after the re-activation of subpoenas for three Palestine solidarity activist women in Minneapolis.  Tracy Molm, Anh Pham and Sarah Martin are being asked to appear before the Grand Jury again, despite refusing to speak in October.  In Minneapolis and other cities a week of actions demanded “Protest to keep Anh, Tracy, and Sarah, out of jail!” Lawyers for each of the three are meeting with Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox this week.  However, on orders from Fitzgerald’s office, the FBI shenanigans continue with visits to anti-war activist’s homes.

So please stand with the 17 subpoenaed anti-war and solidarity activists and make a phone call to Fitzgerald at 312-353-5300.

Also, please sign and circulate our petition at http://www.iacenter.org/stopfbi/
For more information visit www.StopFBI.net or write to StopFBI@gmail.com or call 612-379-3585.

Thank you,
Tom Burke, for the Committee to Stop FBI Repression

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Chicago activists protest latest round of FBI subpoenas – CNN iReport

Vodpod videos no longer available.

A  group of about 100 activists braved frigid temperatures to protest the latest round of FBI subpoenas in front of the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago Monday night.
The FBI issues summons to appear before a federal grand jury to three college students Friday. They are scheduled to appear on Jan. 25, said their attorney Jim Fennerty of the National Lawyers Guild. The women are being targeted because they traveled to the Palestinian occupied territory of the West Bank, he added.
The new subpoenas bring to 17 the number of activists throughout the Midwest that have been targeted by the FBI for their Palestinian and Colombian solidarity work. On Sept. 24, the FBI raided several homes in Minnesota, Chicago and Michigan and issued to subpoenas to 14 people.
To date, all 14 have refused to testify, causing Patrick Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, to withdraw the summons. However, he has since reissued subpoenas to three Minnesota women, who are facing “indeterminate imprisonment” if they refuse to testify again, said Maureen Murphy of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression.
The national committee was formed in response to the Sept. 24 FBI raids.
Grand juries are used to determine whether to charge a person with a crime. They differ from juries in criminal trials in that they are not screened for bias, according to the website Grand Jury Resistance Project. In addition, grand juries are conducted in secret without a judge and defense lawyers are not allowed into the room with their clients. However, they may confer with their clients outside the courtroom.
Many people claim that grand juries are misused to silence political opposition.
“Because of their broad subpoena powers and secretive nature, grand juries have been used by the government to gather information on political movements and to disrupt those movements by causing fear and mistrust,” the Grand Jury Resistance Project website states.
That’s a stance the National Lawyers Guild takes. According to its website, the Guild denounces the recent FBI actions.
“The Guild denounces the attacks on free speech, freedom of association, and the right to dissent that these actions represent,” the website states. “The raids and summonses reflect escalating hostility toward individuals and groups working in solidarity with the Palestinian and Colombian people and are blatantly political attacks on peaceful activists.”
The NLG has established a hotline for activists contacted by the FBI and has issued a Know Your Rights brochure and other information.
Murphy was upbeat about the event. The “push back” against the government has show results. Rallies and demonstrations have taken place in at least 60 cities nationwide, she said.
For more information on this issue:
Committee to Stop FBI Repression,
http://www.stopfbi.net
National Lawyers Guild,
http://www.nlgchicago.org
Grand Jury Resistance Project,
http://www.grandjuryresistance.org
For action items:
American Muslims for Palestine,
http://www.ampalestine.org.
Full Disclosure: I am the director of media and communications for the American Muslims for Palestine, which endorsed Monday’s rally.

Published first on CNN iReport http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-526337

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AMP urges supporters to hold fast to First Amendment rights in face of FBI raids

(CHICAGO 09/26/2010) – The American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), a national grassroots organization, whose mission is to educate the American public about issues related to Palestine, is deeply concerned about the implications of the recent FBI raids on anti-war activists throughout the country.

AMP stands strongly in support of our First Amendment rights to the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly, which includes rallies and demonstrations protesting U.S. support of Israel and its occupation of Palestine. We are concerned about the ramifications of the searches of private citizens’ homes on Friday in so much that ordinary citizens may become afraid to speak out against unjust U.S. policies for fear of this kind of retribution. AMP urges its supporters to stand strong and to hold fast to all rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

“It is important to remember that we have the right of free speech and we must not allow the events that transpired on Friday to divert us from our efforts to raise awareness in this country about the unjust occupation of Palestine,” said Dr. Hatem Bazian, AMP chairman and professor of Near East and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

AMP also demands that those involved in the search and seizures be afforded due process and we ask for transparency in these proceedings In accordance with the Fifth Amendment.

AMP is an American organization working in America for Americans. The Constitution gives all Americans the right to speak freely and to gather in assemblies. We assert it is possible to assert these rights while at the same time acting within the parameters of U.S. laws.

“It is of tantamount importance that due process be granted to all those whose homes were searched and who were summoned to appear for the Grand Jury.” Dr. Bazian said. “Due process is the cornerstone of our great legal system and we must be vigilant that this right is not eroded. It is also of tantamount importance that all work for the just cause of Palestine be done within the laws of the United States of America. AMP is a transparent, non-profit organization that works within the parameters of U.S. law, and we support all law-abiding activists in this cause.”

It is AMP’s position that the search of the activist’s should not and cannot allow be viewed as a statement as to any wrongdoing by those individuals, rather, as a Nation built on laws and justice it is paramount that we recall that all people are innocent until proven guilty.  That presumption of innocence is more far reaching than any FBI warrant or search.
AMP is a national grassroots organization whose mission is to educate the American people on issues relating to Palestine and its rich, cultural heritage. For more information, go to http://www.ampalestine.org.

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