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.
Writer should have been transparent about involvementDaily Californian (UC Berkeley) letter to the editor 11/30/2012
We were perturbed upon reading Baruch Nutovic’s op-ed, “The hope for a lasting peace.” The problem does not lie with the author’s political stance itself. Rather, the problem is that this student has received a Hasbara fellowship and that his status was not disclosed.
Hasbara is an Israeli government-sponsored propaganda vehicle that funds students to deliver pro-Israel messages across North American campuses, with a special emphasis on getting Hasbara Fellows into leadership positions in the media and in student government.
Hasbara generously subsidized expensive flights to Israel for more than 1,000 fellows in this last year alone. There, students meet members of the Israeli government and “undergo a ‘practical activism’ curriculum,” developing strategic tools to communicate effectively about Israel” including: “how to … build important relationships with student leaders and administration” and develop “media and marketing skills.” Hasbara Fellows are required to pay a $250 deposit that they only receive back if they successfully complete a contractual obligation to perform “two semesters of dedicated Israel activism on campus as a Hasbara Fellow.”
Under the resources tab on Hasbara’s website, there is listed an Islamophobic film titled “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” a film that has been endorsed by Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.This does not appear to be a grassroots organization dedicated to making peace but an organization dedicated to spreading Islamophobic and racist propaganda. Baruch is anything but representative of an entire community of Jewish students — he is one of just a few Hasbara fellows on campus.
Baruch’s participation in such an organization is his right. It is also his right to express whatever he sees fit in our student newspaper. However, readers in the U.S. — who have the expectation that our press is not the mouthpiece of any state — deserve to know when an op-ed writer is state-sponsored.
Sadly, this is not the first time this has happened. The Daily Californian’s Noah Ickowitz wrote an article, “Tyranny of the majority, UCSA style,” criticizing the UCSA resolution on divestment. Since then, however, Ickowitz stated in his blog post, “In the interest of transparency,” that he had previously associated with Hasbara. Since Ickowitz made an effort to disclose his status, it seems dishonest for a Hasbara Fellow writing for the Daily Cal not to state this affiliation.
Baruch is correct to say that peace is long overdue — but it can only come about when Israel and its supporters comply with international law, end the illegal occupation and apartheid and stop the brutalization of the Palestinian people. We believe Baruch’s article is nothing other than an attempt at engineering a mobilization of students under the false pretense that this is a Jewish identity issue. Supporters of divestment include Jewish Voice for Peace and M.E.Ch.A., among many others. We remind all students that this is a human rights issue, not an identity issue.
Standards of ethical journalism behoove the Daily Cal to issue a public apology in the paper for not disclosing this invaluable information to its readers and ensure that this lack of transparency does not continue.
— Taliah Mirmalek,
UC Berkeley student;
Berkeley City College student
By Tom Pessah:
Imagine you are a student activist trying to get tobacco products banned from your university. You insist that cigarettes cause cancer, as so much research has shown. Your opponents are other students who claim the connection is tenuous and controversial, that student government should not make judgments on complex health issues, and that some students are so attached to their cigarettes that their very identities would be under attack if such a measure were passed. What if these students called themselves regular smokers, but were in fact trained and sometimes paid representatives of Philip Morris and Marlboro? How much credibility would they have on campus?
The answer depends on whether opponents of tobacco products buy into the frame of two symmetrical student groups – “pro-smokers“ and “anti-smokers,” or whether they call out their opponents for being representatives of external bodies.
One of the biggest failings of pro-Palestine student movement in many U.S. schools is buying into the symmetry frame. We’ve largely accepted the idea that efforts to divest from Israeli apartheid are promoted by pro-Palestine student groups, and opposed by pro-Israel ones (“the Zionists”) – as if these are two symmetrical parties.
But this is a completely false picture. Groups like Students for Justice in Palestine truly are grass-root organizations. Despite persistent rumors about their secret Saudi oil money, SJP chapters hold bake sales to send students their national conferences. On the U.C. Berkeley campus, attention was diverted from SJP’s cookies and brownies by the College Republicans, who put on a lavish spectacle involving students in swimsuits. The SJP sale raised a little under $6.
Such financial improvisation is one of the hazards of truly independent student organizing. But contrast that with a recent complaint from a “pro-Israel” student: “students are bombarded with funding opportunities to engage in pre-formed activities from a dozen different organizations. There is little opportunity to be creative and scant motivation to develop programming that comes from students themselves.”
It is in fact misleading to characterize this student as simply “pro-Israel,” or “Zionist,” any more than a representative of Philip Morris is simply “a smoker.” She is a Hasbara Fellow, atrained advocate for an external organization founded in 2001 by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She will be paid back a deposit of $250 if her activism is considered satisfactory. The program is currently run by Aish HaTora International, a huge international Jewish outreach organization with private donors that works closely with the Israeli government. Aish operates “dozens of full-time branches and programs on six continents.” It is based not in the U.S. but in East Jerusalem, and supports continued settlement of the West Bank. This organization tells its members that the occupation is nothing more than a “myth,” and disseminates hardcore islamophobic materials, like the films Obsession and Third Jihad (which wereproduced in millions of copies by an offshoot of Aish International).
One of the features of Hasbara Fellows’ activism is a relentless attempt to smear pro-Palestine students as anti-Jewish. In a failed lawsuit against her former university, U.C. Berkeley, this student claimed that Jewish students’ experiences, especially as a result of protests against checkpoints, are comparable to “incitement, intimidation, harassment and violence carried out under the Nazi regime and those of its allies in Europe against Jewish students… during the turbulent years leading up to and including the Holocaust.”
When routinely compared to Nazis (a comparison considered extremely offensive if made in the opposite direction), pro-Palestine students often get defensive. They protest that they’ve succeeded in drawing the line between anti-semitism and anti-Zionism, and display some of their Jewish members as proof. By doing so they implicitly accept the idea that what is at stake here is the feelings of Jewish American students, and that these students should therefore be the main parties to the debate. This framing doubly undermines our own work: first, it reproduces the very structures of power and prejudice that marginalize Palestinians in the first place. Secondly, by obscuring the voices of Palestinian American students it contributes to the perception that human rights abuses happen far away – an international issue so complex that U.S. students cannot form an opinion about it, much less act on it. But the most compelling arguments are the ones that draw connections between companies our schools are invested in and human rights abuses suffered by students in those same schools – from H.P.’s equipment for checkpoints to General Electric’s parts in helicopters which are used to attack civilians in Gaza. Palestinian students who’ve been impacted by these horrors are the experts, and they are students on our campuses. They are our best advocates.
A better way of countering these endless accusations of anti-Semitism would be to clearly distinguish the diverse community of Jewish students in each university from advocates of particular external groups. Many accusations of anti-Semitism are made by Hasbara Fellows, members of an organization that disseminates extreme islamophobic materials, as mentioned above. Similar accusations of antisemitism come from student representatives of AIPAC, whose group seeks tocut aid to Palestinian refugees, is pushing the U.S. towards war with Iran, and hasa long history of preventing recognition of the Armenian Genocide. In 2010 after a divestment resolution was initially passed at UC Berkeley (before it was vetoed), an AIPAC official promised “we’re going to make sure that pro-Israel students take over the student government and reverse the vote…This is how AIPAC operates in our nation’s capital. This is how AIPAC must operate on our nation’s campuses.”
This year, a student body representing the University of California system passed a resolution distinguishing anti-semitism from criticism of Israeli state policies and affirming the legitimacy of calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. In response, several current and former student senators published an open letterthat contained the following language:
“UCSA’s resolution refers to “Israel’s illegal occupation” and charges Israel with “racism and Apartheid in the context of Israeli policies” without recognizing the level of debate and dissension constantly occurring around this hostile rhetoric. Furthermore, the resolution takes a stance “in strong opposition to…the racism of Israel’s human rights violations” and “encourages all institutions of higher learning to cleanse their investment portfolios of unethical investments” in companies that do business with Israel. This extreme language alienates a significant portion of the campus community, especially those whose identities are closely tied with the Jewish state. As a governing body, it is the responsibility to create a safe campus environment and avoid making comprehensive statements that can be perceived as an attack on those UCSA claims to represent.”
This letter is being disseminated by the AIPAC representatives in each school. Imagine students openly representing Exxon disseminating a letter that called any talk of global warming “extreme language” that creates an unsafe environment for students whose identities are closely tied to purchasing oil. Most students would see this as absurd. But pro-Palestine students have been very hesitant to draw these connections. Part of the reason lies in conflict avoidance: why criticize fellow students who already say (or are told to say) we are hurting their feelings? Shouldn’t we be gentler with them?
Again, being gentle to trained representatives of an advocacy group makes as much sense as reaching out to a Bank of America employee who is about to foreclose your home. Of course there is no need to deliberately offend. But if external advocacy organizations are like big corporations, pro-Palestine students can borrow from the rich traditions of anti-corporate activism. Where are our adbusters? What can we learn from Naomi Klein’s No Logo? Why should paid advocates of external bodies have unrestricted access to student newspapers, without providing full disclosure? Shouldn’t we be demanding a protocol to pre-empt that? What transparency do they owe if they serve in elected student bodies? How can the Freedom of Information Act be used to expose their typically covert lobbying? You’ve seen Shit Zionists Say – how about Shit AIPAC Says? What about a “Who Advocates?” website, modeled on Who Profits? When will “Hasbara Fellow” become a familiar term that every student associates with a tiny group of advocates for external anti-Palestinian groups – instead of seeing them as representing the voice of Jewish students? In 2011 there were only 250 Hasbara Fellows in 80 U.S., universities, an average of 3 students per school, yet they consistently speak in the name of entire Jewish communities.
While Hasbara Fellows themselves are concerned that their student groups could be seen as “a façade for multi-million dollar organizations,” the pro-Palestine movement has rarely attempted to call out the Israel Lobby on our campuses. We cannot tell our local AIPAC representatives from the Hasbara Fellows. We do not even know the names of other external advocacy groups. Serious and well-documented research on each school can engender new and creative strategies to challenge these champions of the status quo, who are blocking crucial action to end Israeli apartheid in all its forms. There is no time to waste, especially after the latest slaughter in Gaza. It’s time to call out the campus Israel Lobby.
Following a similar action taken by the UC Student Association, the UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly voted Thursday to pass a resolution denouncing HR 35, a state Assembly measure aimed at curbing anti-Semitism at the state’s higher education institutions.
The Graduate Assembly resolution argues that HR 35 encourages university administrators to censor legitimate criticisms of the state of Israel and infringes upon students’ freedom of speech and academic freedom.
“HR 35 sets a dangerous precedent by threatening to infringe on free speech rights by conflating criticism of political ideology and practice with racism or hate speech,” the resolution reads.
The resolution was drafted to point out the difference between the two issues, said Bianca Suarez, author of the resolution and the Graduate Assembly’s Campus Affairs Committee Vice President.
The Graduate Assembly’s resolution follows a similar one that was passed by the UC Student Association in September — a move that received a heated response from some members of Jewish and pro-Israel communities who felt they did not have enough input in the legislative process.
Unlike the association, however, the Graduate Assembly publicized the upcoming vote by posting the proposed resolution online about a month ago and consulted with various committees within the assembly in the interim, according to Bahar Navab, the assembly’s president.
Still, only nondelegates in favor of the resolution were present at Thursday’s meeting, despite it being open to all campus students, according to Suarez. Only one assembly delegate voted against the resolution.
Tom Pessah, a UC Berkeley graduate student and member of the campus group Students for Justice in Palestine, spoke at Thursday’s meeting in support of the resolution. He argued that HR 35 hindered his academic research and viewed the passing of the Graduate Assembly’s resolution as a step in the right direction for the university.
“Lobbyists working to stifle free inquiry and activism regarding Israel’s racist policies — past and present — cannot intimidate and silence democratic student governments,” Pessah said.
In response to the “UC Leaders Letter”
The UC Students Association should be commended for courageously standing in opposition to HR 35, the recently passed California Assembly bill that equates legitimate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism and seeks to censor free speech and political activism across California’s public universities.
It should go without saying that all forms of racism and bigotry, including anti-Semitism, should be vigorously opposed by all members of the University. But one glance at the language of the bill reveals that HR 35 is less concerned with combating bigotry than it is with claiming that criticism of Israeli state policy is anti-Semitic, a position that is strongly opposed by many prominent Jewish groups on both sides of the political spectrum.
HR 35 is an attempt to silence and intimidate the growing student movement for Palestinian equal rights and, more specifically, to stifle the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against Israel for its continued violations of human rights and international law.
While HR 35 bypasses decades of academic and legal scholarship in order to stifle criticism of Israel at the University (a space whose most intrinsic function is to allow for the free exchange of ideas), groups like Students for Justice in Palestine base their positions on equal rights and international law. We believe that HR 35 is a reaction to the growing public consensus that Israel’s behavior towards the Palestinians is wrong.
The brutal military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the systematic discrimination against Palestinians inside Israel’s own borders and the denial of the right to return for civilians who endured ethnic cleansing in 1948 are objectionable behaviors that increasing numbers of students are standing up against on campuses across the United States.
The effort to stifle criticism of Israel on campuses has already resulted in attacks on the academic freedom of professors at UCLA and other campuses.
And now, as groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and the National MEChA have endorsed calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions, defenders of Israeli apartheid have become so desperate as to support criminalizing free speech.
The UCSA was quick to respond to this, expressing their “strong opposition to HR 35 and expressing the UCSA’s opposition to all racism, whether it be the racism of campus and global anti-Semitism or the racism of Israel’s human rights violations, neither of which our campuses should tolerate, support, or profit from.”
The UCSA isn’t the only group opposed to HR 35 and other attempts to stifle criticism of Israel on campus. California Scholars for Academic Freedom, Jewish Voice for Peace, the Berkeley Free Speech Movement Archives, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the Asian Law Caucus, the National Lawyers Guild, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the UC Student-Workers Union, Angela Davis and, most recently, David Myers, chair of the UCLA history department, have all weighed in to criticise HR 35 or other similar efforts.
As UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof put it, “One can object deeply to the policies of Israel. Our students should have a right to protest what they believe to be an unlawful and immoral action.”
When our critics oppose fake checkpoints and mock walls on campus because they make students uncomfortable, we remember that the discomfort felt by looking at the wall or seeing a student dressed up as a soldier is just a fraction of the discomfort felt by Palestinians who face real checkpoints, real walls and real soldiers on a daily basis.
When they argue that boycotts are extreme measures, we reply that boycotts are a tactic that UCLA students have used many times before, most notably to pressure the South African government to abandon its apartheid policies.
And when opponents of Palestinian rights claim that we are singling out Israel for special criticism, we remind them that this was a common claim made by defenders of apartheid in South Africa.
As Desmond Tutu wrote in 2010, “The same issue of equality is what motivates the divestment movement of today, which tries to end Israel’s 43-year long occupation and the unequal treatment of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government ruling over them. The abuses they face are real, and no person should be offended by principled, morally consistent, nonviolent acts to oppose them. It is no more wrong to call out Israel in particular for its abuses than it was to call out the Apartheid regime in particular for its abuses.”
Hodali is a graduate student in comparative literature and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA.
Written by SJP members at UC Berkeley and published in the Daily Californian on October 2nd
Last month, the UC Student Association, a coalition of the UC student governments across each campus, expressed its principled opposition to anti-Semitism but deep concern with the language of a state Assembly bill purportedly about the topic, HR 35. The concern stems from language in the bill that conflates anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of Israeli state policies. For example, HR 35 equates anti-Semitism with statements that Israel’s policies may be racist or constitute apartheid, as Nobel Peace Prize winners Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu and Mairead Maguire, among many others, have suggested, or with advocacy for boycotting Israel and complicit companies until the state ends such policies. Civil rights groups and faculty members have already recognized the threat such a definition of anti-Semitism poses to free speech and academic freedom on our campuses, and through its vote, the UCSA now has too. We applaud the UCSA for speaking up for the free speech rights of students.
We also applaud the UCSA for calling on the UC Regents to “cleanse their investment portfolios of unethical investments in companies implicated in or profiting from violations of international human rights law, without making special exemptions for any country.” Rather than singling out Israel for criticism, as some have suggested, the UCSA vote helps to correct HR 35’s efforts to singularly protect Israel from criticism that would be directed at any other nation engaging in similar practices. As the UCSA resolution makes clear, all states should be held accountable for their human rights violations, with boycotts or divestment being legitimate nonviolent tools to do so. SJP supports an ethical investment policy that would broadly target human rights abuses in multiple countries. We recognize the importance of naming Israel in that list because the United States has given more in military aid to Israel than any other country in our lifetimes, giving United States residents a special responsibility for the human rights abuses Israel commits and a special opportunity to make change.
Specifically, SJP advocates using boycott and divestment to target companies that are directly complicit in the human rights abuses attending Israel’s occupation, such as Caterpillar Inc., a company in which our school invests more than $5 million, according to the most recent end-of-year investment report. Caterpillar supplies massive weaponized bulldozers to the Israeli Defense Force that are routinely used to demolish Palestinian homes and farmland as part of Israel’s ongoing theft of Palestinian land taken to establish exclusionary Jewish-only settlements that are illegal under international law. These are not “alleged” human rights violations, as some have recently impugned, but the honest reality affirmed by myriad human rights groups, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and the United Nations, all of whom decry the human rights abuses perpetrated by Israel with America’s support. The UCSA view that we should not be profiting from these human rights abuses should hardly be controversial, and, in most corners of the university, it clearly is not, as evidenced by the overwhelming majority votes in the UCSA and in in all three divestment votes at Berkeley in 2010.
Since the UCSA vote, however, some — including the editors of this paper — have raised objections. Though we suspect their true concerns are with the substance of the bill, their chief expressed complaint has been procedural. In response, it is worth noting that UCSA student leaders did nothing to make this bill less public than any of their other legislative efforts. HR 35’s passage was sudden and unexpected, and the UCSA had a duty to promptly respond in defense of student rights. The suggestion that the Jewish community on campus was selectively and intentionally excluded from the conversation, as has been alleged, is absolutely false. In fact, a Jewish Israeli student was one of two students to address the UCSA on the day of its vote, a fact conveniently ignored by those attempting to craft a narrative of Jewish exclusion. This student approached the UCSA because his own research on Israel’s ethnic cleansing is threatened by HR 35, and he hoped his student government would stand up for him. There’s nothing devious about petitioning your elected representatives to protect your rights — and it’s not really reasonable to demand that a student invite those who seek to restrict his free speech rights to a hearing about his right to speak freely. But there is something worrying about some people’s attempt to lend their marginal viewpoint defending Israel’s occupation the moral weight of an entire ethnic and religious minority, disregarding the many Jewish students on campus who firmly oppose Israel’s policies in the process.
Due to institutional features of the UCSA — UCSA representatives from across the state are only in the same city to cover all business matters for a full day once a month — the UCSA forum is not an ideal forum for long debates about HR 35 and divestment. To those wishing for more robust debate, we can relate. The longest public debates on the topic of Israel/Palestine on this campus came about as a result of the 2010 divestment hearings in the ASUC, initiated by SJP members. Though we recognize that fewer and fewer students stand in opposition to granting Palestinians universal human rights, we are eager to engage with those who do not yet share this opinion. In fact, on numerous occasions, our members have sought out a debating partner among those who defend American support for Israel’s policies, only to find no one willing to debate on the other side. We hereby extend an open invitation to any remaining critics of the recent UCSA resolution, including recent opinion writers Joey Freeman and Noah Ickowitz, to participate in a respectful, academic debate with fellow students regarding HR 35 and the ethicality of boycotting and divesting from Israel and complicit companies. We would like this debate to be moderated by a mutually agreed upon unbiased party — and failing that, we’d even be willing to settle for a moderator like The Daily Californian.
As published in the Daily Californian on Oct. 2nd, 2012