Free speech is being attacked throughout the University of California (“U.C.”) and at public and private college campuses across the country. Speech and association rights of the student groups Students for Justice in Palestine (“SJP”) and the Muslim Student Association (“MSA”) are being threatened by University administrators, a baseless lawsuit, and problematic Department of Education investigations.1 Speech activities clearly protected by the First Amendment that grapple with important political questions relating to Israel’s policies are being improperly characterized as anti-Semitic. These “legal bullying” tactics must be recognized and stopped. While the focus of this briefing is on speech at the University of California at Berkeley (“Cal”), other troubling incidents of repression of expressive speech have taken place across the country, including the criminal prosecution of students at the University of California at Irvine, and administrative responses to students at Columbia University, Florida Atlantic University, and many other campuses.
Federal officials are investigating a complaint filed against UC Berkeley alleging that protests staged on campus have created an anti-Semitic environment.
The U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office confirmed this week that it is investigating allegations from a complaint filed in July by attorneys representing UC Berkeley alumni Jessica Felber and Brian Maissy.
“(The civil rights office) received a complaint alleging that Jewish students at the university were harassed and subjected to a hostile environment on the basis of their national origin,” reads a statement released by the U.S. Department of Education Press Office. “And, that the university failed to respond promptly and effectively to notice of the hostile environment. The complaint is under investigation.”
The complaint alleges that the campus has persistently failed to curtail anti-Semitic behavior from annual Israeli Apartheid Week demonstrations, which are organized by the campus group Students for Justice in Palestine to raise awareness of the conditions of Palestinians in Israel.
The complaint cites a 2010 Apartheid Week demonstration in which students from SJP and the campus Muslim Student Association participated in a mock checkpoint that included fake barbed wire and fake AK-47 firearms.
SJP member Tom Pessah said the aim of Israeli Apartheid Week is to demonstrate inequalities in Israel.
“No one is stopped at checkpoints other than the actors in the demonstration — everyone knows that,” said SJP member Mariah Lewis.
Felber and Maissy filed a lawsuit against the university in March 2011 alleging that it had failed to mitigate a climate averse to Jewish students. The suit was dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in December of 2011.
“The administration has engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the opposing parties in an attempt to ensure that the rights of all persons are respected, and to minimize the potential for violence and unsafe conditions,” the dismissal ruling stated.
UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said campus officials have remained committed to maintaining a safe and welcoming climate for all students and to protecting free speech rights.
“Speech criticism of Israeli governmental policy is not necessarily anti-Semitic,” Mogulof said. “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.”
Mogulof said that the campus will provide the same information to the civil rights office that it provided judges with during the Felber and Maissy lawsuit and said the complaint seems to be a way to shop for more venues and courtrooms to tell the university to violate the constitutional rights of students involved in the demonstrations.
“The real story here is a massive assault on free speech and a coordinated effort to silence the legitimate political speech of students critical of Israel,” said Liz Jackson, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild, in an email. “The factual allegations are simply untrue.”
Ben White: Israel lobby uses discredited anti-Semitism definition to muzzle debate
Top administrators at the University of California are considering what action to take against speech and activities alleged to be anti-Semitic. As part of their discussions, the university may endorse a seven-year-old document, which — despite not having an official status — is often called the European Union’s “working definition” of anti-Semitism.
Although the administrators have indicated that their motive is to protect Jewish students, a careful examination of the definition indicates that the real agenda may be to stifle Palestine solidarity activism and criticism of Israel in the classroom.
In early July, a report commissioned by the University of California’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion was published (“U. of Calif. Weighs Banning ‘Hate’ Speech,” Forward, 2 August 2012).
The council has been co-directed by Richard Barton, national education chairman of the Anti-Defamation League — one of the most powerful groups in America’s pro-Israel lobby. Its report claims that Palestine solidarity activities were “undermining Jewish students’ sense of belonging” and creating a hostile environment.
The report’s recommendations include the adoption by the administration of a definition of anti-Semitism that could be used to “identify contemporary incidents” which would then “be sanctioned by University non-discrimination or anti-harassment policies.”
Specifically, the report mentions “a working definition of anti-Semitism” developed by “the European Union,” a reference to the 2005 draft working definition of anti-Semitism published by the European Union’s Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. Based in Vienna, the center has subsequently been renamed the Fundamental Rights Agency.
One of the Zionist groups to enthusiastically welcome the findings was StandWithUs, whose chief executive Roz Rothstein called the idea of a definition of anti-Semitism “one of [the report’s] most important recommendations” (“StandWithUs Welcomes UC Report On Campus Climate For Jewish Students,” 23 July 2012).
Rothstein noted the reference to “the EU’s working definition,” which she claimed “recognizes that anti-Israel extremism is a form of what is called the ‘new anti-Semitism.’”
The month after the publication of the report, at the end of August, California’s assembly passed a non-binding resolution “urging California colleges and universities to squelch nascent anti-Semitism … [and] to crack down on demonstrations against Israel” (“Calif lawmakers denounce anti-Semitism in colleges,” Associated Press, 29 August 2012).
Like the University of California report, this resolution calls on the university administration to “utilize” the EU agency’s “working definition of anti-Semitism.”
Rebecca Pierce: U.C. report on Jewish campus climate: Results marginalize, misrepresent students critical of Israel
The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories has long been a controversial topic in the United States, especially on college campuses. Personal identity can influence how people view the conflict, causing some to assume that this discussion is, or should be, conducted strictly along ethno-religious lines. This assumption, however, has the potential to chill speech and push dissenters out of their communities. As a Jewish and African American student critical of Israeli policy and involved in Palestinian solidarity organizing at U.C. Santa Cruz, I experience this firsthand.
Since coming to UCSC, my ability to participate in Jewish student programming while active in the campus Committee for Justice in Palestine has met constant challenges. Last year, I was repeatedly subjected to abusive online comments by a staff member at a center for Jewish life because of my decision to be in CJP and participate in Jewish student programming. This is not the only time I’ve been targeted, and I’m not the only Jewish student to experience something like this. Unfortunately, recent steps by the University of California to “improve campus climate” appear poised to make this situation even worse.
On July 9, U.C. President Mark Yudof’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion presented the “University of California Jewish Student Campus Climate Fact-Finding Team Report & Recommendations.” Authored by Rick Barton of the Anti-Defamation League and Alice Huffman of the California NAACP, it is ostensibly based on testimony from meetings with Jewish students at six U.C. campuses. I was part of a Jewish student panel that discussed the report when it was released, and had no choice but to dispute much of its findings.
I was present at the UCSC meeting in fall 2011 and discussed the difficulties of maintaining involvement in both CJP and my campus Jewish community. But upon receiving the report, I discovered my experiences, and those of other Jewish students critical of Israel, were almost entirely absent.
In fact, while the authors note there are some Jewish students involved in what they label “the anti-Zionism movement,” the document portrays Palestinian campus organizing as problematic, or even anti-Semitic by nature, often through unchecked generalizations.
Letter to UC President Yudof regarding Campus Climate Report on situation of Jewish, Muslim and Arab Students
Dear President Yudof,
We, the California Scholars for Academic Freedom** write to urge you not to adopt the recommendations of the Jewish Student Campus Climate Report. We find the report’s recommendations pose a clear threat to academic freedom at the University of California. First, the report is based on sloppy methodology and clear bias. A comparison with the Muslim and Arab Student Campus Climate Report is instructive. The latter explains exactly how many people they spoke with, how they were put in touch with them, and lists their names and affiliations. The Jewish Student Campus Climate Report merely implies that they spoke with a range of people but never specifies with whom and how they were chosen. In fact, the two people who conducted the Jewish Student Campus Climate Report appear to have spoken almost exclusively with those who would like to silence criticism of Israel on UC campuses.
Second, the Muslim and Arab Student Campus Climate Report explains in great detail the exact nature of the discrimination that Muslim and Arab students experience on UC campuses, while the Jewish Student Campus Climate Report quotes unnamed people as feeling upset about criticisms of Israel. In fact, the report focuses almost exclusively on criticism of Israel as a supposedly objective measure of anti-Semitism while giving short shrift to the broad range of Jewish student experiences on UC campuses. The Jewish Student Campus Climate Report, despite a brief one-sentence disclaimer, essentially equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, despite having to acknowledge that much of this criticism comes from Jewish faculty and students.
Indeed, one key piece of harassment is missing in this report: the harassment conducted by those who do not want to hear any criticism of Israel voiced at all on UC campuses. The harassment by these individuals has been intense, both against Muslim and Arab American students and faculty and against other Jewish students and faculty who criticize Israel. This harassment has occurred on all the UC campuses. Case in point: the UC Santa Cruz campus. Two individuals at UCSC mobilized thousands of emails to criticize faculty who exercised their academic freedom of speech to criticize Israel. These harassers are the ones who equate Jewish students and faculty who criticize Israel with Nazis.
They also claim bias in these events and lack of “balance,” despite the fact that they have organized numerous events that are propaganda for the state of Israel. More recently, individuals who try to suppress academic freedom of speech in relation to Israel have tried numerous campus avenues and legal means to try to suppress this speech.
Finally, the Muslim and Arab Student Climate Report has a range of sensible recommendations, including a streamlined reporting system for reports of discrimination, multicultural centers for dialogue across cultural and religious differences, more accommodations for religious observance, and enhanced educational opportunities about the Middle East and Islam. In contrast, the Jewish Student Campus Climate Report basically recommends censorship: developing a policy against “hate speech” and banning campus sponsorship of offensive activities. Given that this recommendation comes in the context of a report that focuses almost exclusively on debates about Palestine/Israel, this recommendation is certainly too one-sided.
Indeed, we are concerned that the Jewish Student Campus Climate Report, given its almost exclusive focus on Israel, will yet again make Muslim and Arab students feel unheard and unwelcome at the University of California.
The fact that you appointed Richard D. Barton, National Education Chair of the Anti-Defamation League, to carry out the “research” for the Jewish Student Campus Climate Report ensured a one-sided, biased report not based at all on objective research. The Anti-Defamation League is famous for its activism in the United States to suppress criticism of Israel. Barton’s leadership on this report meant from its inception that its sole goal would be to try to suppress criticism of Israel on the UC campuses. Otherwise, you would have appointed a neutral person with a history of conducting objective research.
The conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-semitism has become a common tactic by those who want to silence any criticism of Israel. We would never dream of equating criticism of the authoritarian government in China or the Free Tibet movement with anti-Chinese racism, despite the fact that many of our Chinese students identify strongly with mainland China and Chinese culture. We would never dream of equating criticism of authoritarian governments in Africa with racism against African Americans. More recently, we have not worried that criticisms of Egypt’s government or of Syria is a form of anti-Arab racism. The only way to counter speech we do not agree with is to encourage more speech.
Public universities have a special responsibility to protect academic freedom and freedom of speech. Academic freedom includes the freedom of professors to conduct and disseminate scholarly research, to design courses and teach students in the areas of their expertise, and to enjoy First Amendment protections for extramural speech. (The latter is a right enjoyed by everyone within the jurisdiction of the U.S. constitution, but is the third leg of the principles of academic freedom because professors should not be professionally penalized for non-academic speech that they engage in beyond the academy.)
The Jewish Student Campus Climate report points toward a dangerous trend of attempts to criminalize any speech discussing boycott, divestment or sanctions against Israel or settlements in the occupied territories, echoing a new law in Israel that punishes any public discussion of these activities. We do not want this abrogation of freedom of speech to be applied in California or by extension in the United States.
The courts have signaled that universities have a special responsibility to harbor even extreme speech. We urge you to affirm that the University of California strives to be a leader with regard to academic freedom and freedom of speech.
California Scholars for Academic Freedom
View full letter and signatures here:
August 9, 2012
President Mark G. Yudof
Office of the President
University of California
1111 Franklin Street, 12th Floor
Oakland CA 94607
Dear President Yudof:
I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) to express our concern about aspects of the recently released report on “University of California Jewish Student Campus Climate” commissioned by the UC Campus Climate Advisory
MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.
MESA rejects all forms of discrimination, bigotry and racism, including anti-Semitism, and it supports prompt and forceful action in response to anti-Semitic incidents on university campuses. We therefore understand the concerns that led to this effort to examine the experiences of Jewish students on UC campuses, and to the parallel report on “Muslim and Arab Student Campus Climate.” Nonetheless, we feel that the report and recommendations concerning the UC system’s Jewish students deploy a vague and expansive definition of hate speech, one that seems to encompass the expression of political opinions. As a result they frequently fail to draw a clear distinction between the legitimate expression of political views, on the one hand, and hate speech or anti-Semitism on the other. Criticism of Israel’s policies and of Zionism, including assertions that Israel is an “apartheid state,” are political statements, and even though they may be unwelcome to staunch supporters of Israel they do not constitute hate speech or anti-Semitism. We recognize that speech and actions expressing intense criticism of Israel’s policies, and even challenging its legitimacy as a state, may make some students,
Jewish or otherwise, uncomfortable. This is, however, not sufficient justification for categorizing such speech and actions as hate speech or as anti-Semitic, or for prohibiting or restricting them. We are therefore distressed by the report’s recommendation that UC “push its current harassment and nondiscrimination provisions further, clearly define hate speech in its guidelines, and seek opportunities to prohibit hate speech on campus,” apparently in order to make it less likely that Jewish students will encounter opinions that make some of them uncomfortable. We believe that such use of hate speech guidelines clearly threaten not only the First Amendment’s protection of free speech but also the principles of academic freedom that are so central to the mission and functioning of our institutions of higher education.
We therefore call on you to reiterate your commitment, as a matter of university policy, to defend the free expression of political opinions by UC students and faculty, including those that some members of the UC community may find repugnant, even as the university remains vigilant about expressions of anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. We further ask that you explicitly disassociate yourself from the language and recommendations contained in this report, because its advocacy of a broad and loose definition of hate speech may undermine the First Amendment rights of UC students and faculty as well as the principles of academic freedom.
We thank you for your attention to this matter and look forward to your response at your earliest convenience.
Fred M. Donner
Professor of Near Eastern History, University of Chicago
Yaman Salahi: How UC devalues Arab and Muslim student voices
Los Angeles, CA – For years, University of California (UC) leaders have walked a fine line between complying with First Amendment limitations on their power and placating pro-Israel interest groups agitating against the growing clout of Palestinian solidarity activism.
Under pressure, UC President Mark Yudof in 2010 commissioned two committees to issue reports on the so-called “campus climate”. One focusing on Jewish students and the other on Arab and Muslim students, the new reports – which characterise criticism of Israel as an affront to Jewish students – have prompted many to believe that the UC intends to curb campus speech critical of Israel.
At their core, however, the reports demonstrate that UC not only has a free speech problem, but an equality problem.
Normalising support for Israel
The report about Jewish students is laden with ideological predispositions that undermine the credibility of its findings and recommendations regarding campus activism. One section of the report, for example, addresses what is called “The Anti-Zionism/Anti-Israel Movement and its Impact on Climate” (but which proponents of this movement call a movement for freedom, justice and equality).
By framing the issue in this way, the authors presume that Palestinian solidarity has an “impact” on campus climate, as if, prior to this movement’s emergence, university campuses were characterised by some “normal” state of affairs in which all students felt welcome and equal. But that could not be further from the truth and the fact that this forms the starting point explains some of the report’s findings.
Although the report inquires into such matters as whether mock checkpoints and walls, die-ins and other demonstrations criticising human rights violations by Israel’s occupying army negatively affect Jewish students, there is no similar inquiry into the “impact” frequent celebrations of Israel’s creation and speeches by Israeli combatant soldiers and government officials might have on Jewish students who do not identify with Israel and its policies, or on Arab or Palestinian students whose families were killed or exiled as a result.
There is similarly no inquiry into whether on-campus recruitment for Jewish-only Birthright trips has an impact on non-Jewish students who have attempted to apply.
Instead, pro-Israel activities are described as such: “Israel advocacy organisations play an active role on each campus and have engaged outside agencies such as AIPAC, J Street, ADL, Stand With Us and many others in the effort to promote a deeper understanding for all students of the challenges which confront Israel, the Palestinians and the region as a whole.”
Compare the way these movements are described – “Israel advocacy organisations” vs “Anti-Israel Movement” – and how their missions are understood, promoting a deeper understanding vs possibly creating a hostile climate.
The silence about the “impact” of pro-Israel events reflects an attitude that pro-Israel expressions are simply a positive part of the normal, benign landscape of campus life. At the same time, events presenting a critical view of Israel are perceived to be anomalous and alien, or, worse, divisive, as if students were previously unified in their love and support for Israel.
There is no recognition that different groups of students might perceive these events very differently, or an explanation of why one group’s perceptions should trump the others’.
JVP Asks UC President to Table Biased Report on Jewish Life on Campuses
[BERKELEY—July 25, 2012] Jewish Voice for Peace calls on University of California President Mark Yudof to table a recently released report on Jewish student campus climate and to disregard its controversial recommendations until a methodologically sound and even-handed report can be conducted.
The report, co-authored by Anti-Defamation League national education chairman Richard Barton and NAACP California president Alice Huffman, is coming under heavy criticism by a number of groups, including many Jewish students and faculty members, for poor methodology and bias.
Cecilie Surasky, Jewish Voice for Peace Deputy Director: “Rather than offering a genuine exploration of a range of Jewish student life issues—which we would support — the report reads like a blueprint for limiting pro-Palestinian activism and further marginalizing the growing numbers of students, many of them Jewish, who are critical of Israeli policies.”