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.
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.
Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students are frequently too frightened to express their political opinions or join Palestine solidarity and other groups at University of California (UC) campuses because of fear that they will suffer harm, a coalition of civil rights groups has warned.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, and four other civil rights organizations wrote to UC President Mark Yudof on 3 December to “express our collective alarm about developments at University of California (UC) campuses that threaten students’ civil rights and forsake the University’s responsibility to make the campus welcoming for a range of political viewpoints on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
The letter came in advance of a meeting today of the “Advisory Council on Campus Climate” which the University created in response to complaints from Zionist groups. The other groups signing on to the letter are the Asian Law Caucus of San Francisco,American Muslims for Palestine, National Lawyers Guild, San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles Chapters and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area.
According to a press release from the groups:
the letter points to the rash of baseless legal complaints that have increased scrutiny of student activism on Palestine, to a UC-initiated “campus climate” report that labels Palestinian rights advocacy as anti-Semitic and threatening to Jewish students, and to numerous public statements by UC officials that disparage such activism as “bad speech” and compare it to truly anti-Semtic and racist incidents on campus, such as noose-hangings and graffiti disparaging Jews, Muslims and the LGBTQ community.
Read the rest at The Electronic Intifada
Today, CCR and other civil rights groups submitted a letter to University of California (UC) President Mark Yudof, pressing him to consider the chilling effect of efforts to target Arab, Muslim and other students advocating for Palestinian rights on UC campuses, and to take affirmative steps to protect pro-Palestinian speech on campus. In particular, the letter points to the rash of baseless legal complaints that have increased scrutiny of student activism on Palestine, to a UC-initiated “campus climate” report that labels Palestinian rights advocacy as anti-Semitic and threatening to Jewish students, and to numerous public statements by UC officials that disparage such activism as “bad speech” and compare it to truly anti-Semtic and racist incidents on campus, such as noose-hangings and graffiti disparaging Jews, Muslims and the LGBTQ community.
The letter details ways that students have been affected by these negative depictions of their activism, including an increased fear of harm to their professional careers, immigration status, and for their safety; intimidation, threats and vandalism by other groups; and a sense that the University’s mis-characterization of their message reflects its efforts to undermine their free speech rights.
The civil rights groups are urging the UC President to take affirmative steps to ensure that students who advocate for Palestinian rights are equal members of the university community whose viewpoints are recognized as valuable contributions to an issue of great public concern. It also urges the President to renounce efforts to taint all student activism on Palestine as anti-Semitic, and to correct the mischaracterizations of these students’ nonviolent and anti-racist advocacy. CCR and the other signatories will continue to monitor attempts to intimidate Palestinian rights activists on college campuses, and to advocate on their behalf.
This is the video from the event “Don’t Talk About Palestine,” which highlighted and protested the ongoing censorship of students and faculty whose activism and or scholarship touches on the question of Palestine. The event was held on October 18, 2012 at the UCLA Law School, and featured Rahim Kurwa of UCLA SJP, Yaman Salahi of the NLG, Estee Chandler of Jewish Voice for Peace, and Professor David Shorter of UCLA.
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”
Recently, the UC Students Association passed a resolution rejecting California Assembly Bill HR 35. Following this vote, pressure groups attempted to bully the UCSA into reversing its vote and decision. This effort has proven unsuccessful to date, but the following article examines criticism of the UCSA resolution published in the UCLA Daily Bruin and shows why critics are largely misleading the public or arguing in bad faith:
1. “The UCSA resolution condemns the state of Israel as a violator of international human rights law, encouraging all institutions of higher education to “cleanse” themselves of investments with the nation.”
FALSE. The resolution says “encourages all institutions of higher learning 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;”
http://calsjp.org/?p=1297 This isn’t just a technical difference, it’s fundamental. The resolution says Israel should be treated exactly like any other country. Our opponents are saying it should be treated differently , and that every regular procedure (such as the UCSA) should be changed when dealing with it. The author of the op-ed had the resolution in front of him, quoted it, and deliberately misrepresented it. (here – maybe some background on this person – has he any connections to external advocacy groups?) 2. “rejecting California Assembly bill HR 35, a piece of legislation seeking to quell anti-Semitic activity on college campuses”
By deliberately ignoring this criticism the author misleads the readers. 3. “To begin with, no representatives of the Jewish campus community attended the meeting”
MISLEADING – the UCSA meets once a month do discuss a packed agenda, allowing about half an hour for every item. There are no “representatives” of any community at these meetings. This misrepresents the process of that body. 4. Not until the day of the vote did Arielle Gabai, president of the UC Berkeley Jewish Student Union, even hear of the meeting.
Including Gabai – http://www.hasbarafellowships.org/cgblog/266/69/UC-Berkeley-s-Friend-Request-Pending-Campaign
http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/63819/cal-jewish-groups-right-to-deny-j-street-u-admission/ 5. “Furthermore, the hearing took place on the Sabbath, which happened to fall a day before the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah, impeding members of the Jewish community from attending.”
FLASE and MISLEADING. The hearing took place two days before Rosh Hashana, a date that has no religious significance for Jews. The UCSA meetings, convening busy students who study during the week, are always held on Saturdays. There was no special timing for this meeting. While one could argue that in general, ultra-orthodox observant Jews would be unable to travel on that day, most Jewish students are not ultra-orthodox. Pro-Israel advocates showed up to the very next UCSA meeting which was also held on a Sabbath, since like most other Jewish students on campus they are able to travel on that day. 6. By blatantly omitting the Jewish narrative from dialogue over the resolution, the UCSA failed to garner a truly collective voice on this divisive issue.
To expect students whose constitutional rights are under assault to reach out to the same Israel advocates who are either involved in these attempts, or refuse to denounce them, is beyond absurd. The Jewish Student Campus climate report, which recommended new prohibitions on student free speech on campus, was attended by Arielle Gabai, the same hasbara fellow, who failed to invite Jewish students with opposing politics to represent themselves.
9. Laden with loaded words and factual errors,
“DON’T try to deconstruct the bill. DON’T focus on addressing the fallacies/specifics of the bill. Instead, focus on how it is an attack on the Jewish community” http://mondoweiss.net/2010/04/anti-divestment-talking-points-avoid-the-facts-and-charge-anti-semitism.html
It is interesting to see how many of these talking points from two years ago were repeated in this op-ed. 10. As the document continues, it accuses Israel of being an apartheid state. Yet, Israel has never institutionalized the systematic oppression of any racial group within its borders
11. The UCSA surpassed the scope of its responsibilities while marginalizing students who support Israel.
MISLEADING – here we could mention the many groups of UC students who are marginalized by pro-Israel advocates who work with hate-mongers like AIPAC and Aish International (funders of hasbara fellowsips) – Palestianins, Jewish Israelis and Iranians who want to prevent a war between their countries (something AIPAC is pushing hard for), Armenian students (experienced years of genocide denial by AIPAC), muslims (islamophobic materials produced by Aish International, like the film obsession), etc. Read more on AIPAC here http://www.occupyaipac.org/about/articles-on-aipac/
Advocates of Israeli policies are representing huge external lobbies like AIPAC who have expressed their desire to take over student government:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VDYGLY1WBQ?wmode=transparent] “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.”
Are they the ones being marginalized, or the student government which is under attack?
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.