Tag Archives: Title VI

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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New publication examines Anti-Defamation League

The following is an excerpt from the news publicatio, “The Anti-Defamation League: Protector of civil rights or silencer of free speech?” from the  American Muslims for Palestine:

In March 2011, under pressure from Israeli authorities, Facebook shut down a page created by Palestinian students calling for a march of Palestinian refugees to demand their rights to return to their homeland. The Anti-Defamation League wasted no time in taking credit for the social network’s action, issuing a statement that it “is continuing to monitor Facebook for other problematic cause pages and continues to be in touch with Facebook officials on the issue.”

 That’s no surprise. The ADL has grown from an organization founded nearly 100 years ago to fight anti- Semitism to a powerhouse intent on stifling any discourse critical of Israeli policies stemming from its occupation of Palestine. In fact, some, like New York Rabbi Shea Hecht, argue the ADL – a $60-million-per-year organization – manufactures charges of anti-Semitism where none exists in order to justify its existence.

 New Anti-Semitism

Particularly troubling is the ADL’s use of the term “New Anti-Semitism,” which equates even the questioning of Israeli policy to hatred for all Jews. Throughout the years, ADL leadership have been all too willing to attack and discredit those who support Palestinian self-determination or who criticize Israeli policies. Conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism was apparent in Arnold Forster’s and Benjamin Epstein’s 1974 book, “The New Anti-Semitism,” and in the 1982 book, “Real Anti-Semitism in America,” by Nathan Pearlman and his wife Ruth. Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s current director seems obsessively preoccupied with anti-Semitism.

 Throughout the argument for New Anti-Semitism is the idea that “Israel’s interests – understood implicitly as the interests of a rejectionist Greater Israel that denies Palestinian rights – are the ‘Jewish interests,’ so that anyone who recognizes Palestinian rights or in other ways advocates policies that threaten ‘Israel’s interests’ as the authors conceive them is … ‘objectively’ anti-Semitic,” Professor Chomsky writes in his book “Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and The Palestinians.”

 It was this concept of anti-Semitism that so troubled an Israeli filmmaker, he produced a documentary on the topic.

 “Being an Israeli Jew, I’ve never experienced anti-Semitism itself, but it’s a phrase that always seems to be in the air,” Yoav Shamir says at the onset of “Defamation.” “Three words seem to appear over and over again: Holocaust, Nazi and anti-Semitism. Living in a country that was founded to give the Jewish people a safe place to live in, I found this really disturbing so I decided I wanted to learn more about this subject. … I wanted to find out how the ADL actively fights anti-Semitism.”

The next scene takes place in the ADL’s New York headquarters, where Regional Director Bob Wolfson tries to define anti-Semitism for Shamir. On a large easel he draws a triangle and divides it horizontally into three sections. Pointing at the base, he said, “It starts with an insult, or a denigrating statement,” and then drawing a large circle at the pinnacle he continues, “At the very top what you have is genocide. And everything in between is every bad thing that can happen to somebody.”

 Shamir inquires about the 1,500 incidents of anti-Semitism per year the ADL says it investigates. New York Director Joel Levi asks an employee to recount all the reports of anti-Semitism the office received over a two-week period. The clerk finds three complaints from people who were denied time off work for a religious holiday, one call about a purported anti-Semitic website and one about a newspaper article that had “anti- Semitic undertones.”

Levi shrugs his shoulders. “Five in two weeks,” he said. “It’s impossible to predict.”

 The ADL would need to investigate about 28.8 cases per week to reach 1,500 cases in a year.

 The ADL is an enormous organization with annual revenue of $55.7 million, according to its 2009 IRS 990 tax form, the last year for which reliable data is publicly available. It has a staff of 473 in 28 offices nationwide. Included on the tax form is its mission, summed up as “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.”

 If the ADL is tasked with stopping the ‘defamation’ of the Jewish people and to secure justice for all, one has to wonder then, why it works to train thousands of law enforcement officers around the country every year; why it sends newsletters to more than 40,000 of them; why its national director Foxman — who survived the Holocaust by being given protection by a Christian family — spends so much time in Israel and meeting with heads of state around the world; and why the organization spends so much time lobbying Congress on everything from legislation to judicial appointments, and why Foxman spends so much time smearing with McCarthy-like precision anyone advocating for Palestinian rights.

The ADL did not return AMP’s repeated requests for comments.

To dowload the booklet, click here.

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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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