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.
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.
Dozens of UC SJP and MSA Groups submit a letter to the US Commission on Civil Rights regarding the the UC Campus Climate reports, the abuse of Title VI, and their negative impact on Arab and Muslim students. Click here to download the letter.
Clarification: The letter states that the Title VI complaint against UC Berkeley contains Islamophobic quotations, but it then inadventently quotes not the complaint, but rather the nearly-identical federal lawsuit filed against UC Berkeley. The language quoted in the letter accusing MSA of a “pro-terrorist” agenda can be found in this court filing. The Title VI complaint filed with the Department of Education was filed by the same attorneys on behalf of the same plaintiffs, and makes similar Islamophobic allegations, accusing the MSA and SJP of “support for” terrorism.
Updates: We have received support from the Claremont Colleges Muslim Student Association, and the MSA at the University of San Francisco. The total number of California student groups signing this letter is now 28.