FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 9, 2013
UC STUDENT PETITION SUPPORTING UCSA’S RESOLUTION AGAINST HR-35 SURPASSES 1,000 SIGNATURES
Students voice their united opposition to California Resolution HR-35 and thank the UC Students Association for vocally opposing it while taking a morally consistent stand against racism. HR-35 proposes broad bans on student speech supporting Palestinian rights and criticizing discriminatory Israeli policies.
Today a petition signed by UC students and recent graduates who support the University of California’s Student Association (UCSA) resolution regarding HR-35 surpassed 1,000 signatures. Signers applauded UCSA “for standing up on behalf of the UC community and defending [their] right to advocate for human rights,” and for representing the “majority viewpoint at the UC which opposes racism in all forms, whether it be anti-Jewish acts by anti-Semites or anti-Palestinian policies undertaken by Israel in its discriminatory and illegal occupation.” The petitioners thanked the UCSA for its robust rebuke of State Assembly bill HR-35.
HR-35 is a non-binding resolution passed through the California State Assembly over the summer. The bill inappropriately labels criticism of Israeli state policy as anti-Semitic and recommends broad forms of censorship of students and faculty at the UC to prevent criticism of Israel.
Attorney Liz Jackson, cooperating counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights characterized HR-35 as “an anti-democratic attempt to intimidate and silence students from expressing pro-Palestinian views.” Jackson explained, “HR-35 mislabels advocacy for Palestinian rights as inherently anti-Semitic. This is a complete distortion of students’ human rights advocacy. To argue that such speech should be restricted, as HR-35 does, is to decimate the principle of free speech and it is plainly unconstitutional.”
HR-35 is part of a well-documented pattern of intimidation against those speaking out in support of Palestinian rights on UC/CSU campuses, noted in a recent letter from civil rights groups to the UC Administration. Its passage comes shortly after the release of a controversial Campus Climate report that recommends similar forms of censorship of pro-Palestinian students, ranging from limiting the pro-Palestinian speakers allowed on campus to “enforcing balance” when pro-Palestinian speakers do come to campus.
Both the climate report and HR-35 have been widely criticized and opposed by civil rights groups such as the National Lawyers Guild and Center for Constitutional Rights, community organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace and the Council on American Islamic Relations, and academic groups such as the California Scholars for Academic Freedom and the Middle East Studies Association. The ACLU of Northern California recently warned of the “chilling effect” that related federal lawsuits targeting Palestine human rights activists are having on UC students’ constitutionally protected speech rights.
UC Berkeley student Ley Cerezo added that “HR-35 inevitably encourages a climate of fear in a student body whose dedication to activism ought not to be censured nor even reserved for mere toleration, but celebrated in a system of public universities. Just as we speak out against the many injustices sustained by various bodies of government, so too do we continue our opposition to any illegitimate limitations on our speech.”
Today’s petition, signed exclusively by current and former UC students in the space of a few weeks, demonstrates the breadth of public opposition to censorship and attacks on the pro-Palestine community. Students say that as a new year starts and students return to campus, they look forward to collecting more signatures and building public awareness of threats to pro-Palestinian advocacy.
Read full petition here: https://sites.google.com/site/ucstudentsagainsthr35/ and find a link to this press release and other relevant backgroud information at www.ucsjp.posterous.com.
August 22, 2012.
AUDIO: In this recording, previously not available online (the last televised meeting of this committee appears to be from the month prior), the California State Assembly Higher Education Committee deliberates on HR 35, presented by author Linda Halderman (R-Fresno). The bill equates campus criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish hate crimes and violence, a premise that is never questioned during the hearing.
Speakers representing the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the University of California, and California State University express their support for the bill, with the UC rep stating they will “support if amended”. The UC’s suggested amendment regarding first amendment rights and the allocation of public funds is not included, but they appear to still support the “spirit” of HR 35.
Beyond the UC’s “support if amended” statements no formal opposition to the bill’s content is presented, and no UC students or faculty speak or discuss HR35’s potential impact. There is some deliberation among committee members about the free speech issues the bill may create, and author Linda Halderman acknowledges that student speech will be targeted. But HR 35 ultimately passes unanimously through the committee.
HR 35 Supporters:
2:33:Cliff Berg, President of Governmental Advocates, speaks on behalf of the Simon Wiesenthal Center
6:38: Steve Juarez Associate Vice President and Director for State Government relations, on behalf of University of California.
8:25:Andrew Martinez Legislative Advocate for the California State University Advocacy and State rep
Alex Kane, Mondoweiss:
In a letter sent to supporters of the Louis D. Brandeis Center, Kenneth Marcus boasts that his organization is instilling “fear” into Palestine solidarity activists. While student activists have previously reported being intimidated on campus, it is noteworthy that the head of an organization allegedly concerned about anti-Semitism on campus is trumpeting the fact that he is intimidating political opponents.
Marcus, the president of the Brandeis Center,sent a letter to supporters recently asking for donations for the Brandeis Center’s work. “We are hitting a nerve,” he writes. And after mentioning that there are activists opposing his efforts, Marcus writes: “These organizations fear us, because they know we are having an impact.”
What does Marcus do in his capacity as head of the Brandeis Center? As I explained here,“Marcus and the center have been leading advocates for the use of the 1964 federal civil rights act to investigate allegations of anti-Semitism on campus, which often times has been conflated to mean Palestine solidarity activism.”
A letter sent by dozens of California student groups to a federal government agency looking into the civil rights situation for Arabs and Muslims in the U.S. criticized Marcus and his organization for “celebrating” threats to their rights on campus. “His organization has celebrated all of the aforementioned threats on our campuses: the UC report, the California State Assembly resolution, and the baseless, Islamophobic Title VI complaints,” the letter reads.
Interview with Liz Jackson of the National Lawyers’ Guild and the Center for Constitutional Rights about how civil rights groups are challenging the University of California as a climate of fear silences pro-Palestinian speech.
Israel lobby groups are attempting to use US civil rights law to stifle speech critical of Israeli policies and clamp down on Palestine solidarity student activism across US campuses, claiming such speech and activism is “anti-Semitic.”
But a strongly-worded letter sent on Monday directly to the Department of Education from a major US civil rights organization states that such usage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act “raises constitutional red flags that are significant and alarming.”
As The Electronic Intifada has reported, several complaints have been made by Israel-aligned organizations to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (DOE-OCR), claiming prejudice against Jewish students because of Palestine solidarity-related activism — what they say is a violation of Title VI, which protects students against discrimination based on race or ethnic background.
This “lawfare” tactic has been pioneered and coordinated by Kenneth Marcus, a pro-Israel activist who previously headed the DOE-OCR, which handles such complaints.
As I reported several months back, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan responded to campaigns by Israel lobby groups (including the Zionist Organization of America and the Anti-Defamation League) by announcing a new set of guidelines in 2010 that specifically applies Title VI to the protection of Jewish students from perceived “anti-Semitism” on campuses.
Since then, Title VI complaints have been filed by Israel-aligned groups and individuals, who claim that Jewish students on campuses face anti-Semitism, harassment and intimidation because of activism by Students for Justice in Palestine and Muslim student groups. Most notably, the DOE has started its investigation into a complaint filed by Jewish-Zionist students at the University of California at Berkeley last July.
The original complaint, filed against the University of California itself, attempted to make connections between SJP and the Muslim Student Union and Hamas, and compared the climate on UC Berkeley campus to that of the Holocaust. The lawsuit was thrown out by a judge because of a significant lack of evidence. However, undeterred, the students re-filed the complaint as aTitle VI claim with the DOE.
ACLU’s letter to Department of Education
On Monday, Alan Schlosser, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC) sent a letter addressed to Gemini McCasland of the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, on the topic of the Title VI complaint filed by the UC Berkeley students. The ACLU has, until now, been relatively silent on the topic. (Though, ten years ago, the ACLU did send a letter to the then-Chancellor of UC Berkeley condemning the University’s punitive and selective reaction to a Students for Justice in Palestine sit-in on campus, classifying it as having a “chilling effect on free speech.”)
In this week’s letter, Schlosser states that the Office of Civil Rights’ investigation into the Title VI complaint “does not take place on a blank slate” and refers back to the fact that the original lawsuit was dismissed, and that student activism speech was upheld as protected speech under the First Amendment.
The letter ends with a very strong analysis of the impact that such lawfare tactics are having on students who wish to engage in Palestine solidarity activism on their campuses. The ACLU’s stance against repression of students’ free speech rights comes at a very important time. As state legislative bodies pass resolutions upholding the dangerous notion that criticism of Israel is an act of anti-Semitism, and as University administrations contribute to a climate of fear and intimidation of Arab and Muslim students on campus, now is the time when counter-pressure by civil rights groups upholding Constitutional rights and free speech matters most.
Students filed into the Board of Directors meeting this week to voice their opposition and frustration with California’s HR35 Resolution. HR35 was passed by the California Assembly in August to encourage university officials to increase their actions to stop anti-Semitism on campuses.
The problems with HR35 stem from the language used in the resolution. It has led to the interpretation that any student who protests against the Israeli government should be condemned and punished for their ethnic and hateful motivations.
Members of Students for Justice in Palestine spoke at the meeting to express their contempt for HR35. They believe students should have their basic First Amendment rights on a public university campus to challenge Israel’s governmental policies.
Secretary for Cultural Diversity, Ojaala Ahmad, coauthored a resolution in opposition to HR35. She urged senators to understand the importance of overturning HR35. Ahmad said, “HR35 mainly circulates around free speech and education. It stifles robust political debates and curbs freedom of expression because they claim it is anti-Semetic.”
ASI Vice President Jonathon Bolin added, “I usually try to remain unbiased, however I have to say that this is especially troubling because freedom of expression should be encouraged on university campuses.”
The passionate public comments of students and careful explanation of HR35 from Ahmad led senators to pass the resolution against HR35 in its first reading. There were suggestions for revising particular portions of the resolution, and will be further analyzed in the meetings to come.