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Published: Mon, 16 Jan 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Mon, 16 Jan 2017 19:32:11 -0500


Brickbat: Teach the Children

Tue, 20 Dec 2016 04:00:00 -0500

(image) It took a year and a court battle, but New York's Ithaca City School District finally released video of pro-Palestinian activists getting third-graders to repeat anti-Israel sentiments and urging the students to become freedom fighters for Palestine. Officials say the presentation was meant to teach the students about human rights.

Fighting Anti-Semitism With Intolerance

Mon, 12 Dec 2016 00:01:00 -0500

A couple of weeks ago, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016, a.k.a. S. 10, was introduced in the Senate, read three times, and approved by unanimous consent without debate or amendment—all on the same day. That sort of bipartisan consensus, which suggests a bill is so obviously unobjectionable that no discussion of its merits is necessary, usually means trouble, and this case is no exception. In the name of protecting Jewish students from discrimination, S. 10, if approved by the House, will encourage universities to suppress dissenting political opinions and have a chilling effect on constitutionally protected speech. S. 10, which was introduced by Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), codifies a controversial State Department definition of anti-Semitism that includes one-sided criticism of Israel and opposition to Zionism. Last year the University of California declined to adopt that definition based on concerns that it would violate the First Amendment by deterring pro-Palestinian activism. S. 10 would have the same effect on a national scale, notwithstanding its assurance that "nothing in this Act…shall be construed to diminish or infringe upon any right protected under the First Amendment." The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act is supposed to help the Education Department enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin by educational institutions that receive federal money. Although Judaism is not a race, color, or national origin, the Justice Department says "discrimination against Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and members of other groups violates Title VI when that discrimination is based on the group's actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics." Furthermore, discrimination can include a "hostile environment" that interferes with a student's education, and a hostile environment can be created by things other people say. Given this legal context, the official definition of anti-Semitism has clear First Amendment ramifications. If on-campus speech is viewed as anti-Semitic, it may prompt an investigation by the Education Department, which could conclude that a university has violated Title VI by tolerating anti-Jewish harassment. Awareness of that possibility encourages administrators to regulate and punish speech, which makes students reluctant to express opinions that could be deemed anti-Semitic. The looser the definition of anti-Semitism, the greater the potential for censorship. Even the clearest expression of anti-Semitism is protected by the First Amendment, provided it does not rise to the level of harassment or assault. It should be possible for a student to question the Holocaust or claim that Jews control the media—two examples mentioned in the State Department's definition—without triggering a federal investigation. The right response to bigoted misconceptions is refutation, not censorship, especially at an educational institution that values free inquiry and open debate. S. 10 increases the tension between freedom of speech and antidiscrimination law by stretching the definition of anti-Semitism to cover opinions about Israel and its conflict with Palestinians. The examples cited by the State Department include "drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis," "blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions," "applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation," "focusing on Israel only for peace or human rights investigations," and "denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination" or "denying Israel the right to exist." These positions strike many Jews (including me) as grossly unfair, but they are not necessarily motivated by anti-Semitism, let alone synonymous with it. They raise important questions about the justice of Israeli policies, the sources of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, collective vs. individual rights, and the legitimacy of nation-stat[...]

Why the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act Would Chill Constitutionally Protected Speech

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 06:30:00 -0500

(image) Last week the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016, a.k.a. S. 10, was introduced in the Senate, read three times, and approved by unanimous consent without debate or amendment—all on one day. That sort of bipartisan consensus, which suggests a bill is so obviously unobjectionable that no discussion is necessary, usually means trouble, and this case is no exception. In the name of protecting Jewish students from discrimination, S. 10, if approved by the House, will encourage universities to suppress dissenting political opinions and have a chilling effect on constitutionally protected speech.

S. 10, introduced by Sens. Tim Scott (R-SC) and Robert Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), codifies a controversial State Department definition of anti-Semitism that includes one-sided criticism of Israel and opposition to Zionism. Last year the University of California declined to adopt that definition based on concerns that it would violate the First Amendment by deterring pro-Palestinian activism. S. 10 would have the same effect on a national scale, notwithstanding its assurance that "nothing in this Act...shall be construed to diminish or infringe upon any right protected under the First Amendment."

Read the whole thing in the New York Post.

President-Elect Trump Will Likely Not Oppose Israeli Settlement Expansion in West Bank

Thu, 10 Nov 2016 13:09:00 -0500

A senior adviser to President-elect Donald Trump indicated that the next president will not condemn the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank as an "obstacle to peace," according to the Associated Press. This would be a complete reversal of the avowed policy of every U.S. president since 1967—Democrat and Republican—that for a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians to hold, eventually the latter group would need the land in the still-occupied West Bank to establish a soveriegn homeland. Jason Greenblatt—executive vice president and chief legal officer with the Trump Organization—also told Israel's Army Radio that he expects Trump to fulfill his campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a controversial move because although Jerusalem is Israel's capital city, it was captured in 1967's Six Day War after being occupied by Jordan since Israel's 1948 founding. Any final agreement over a Palestinian state would also have to include the fate of primarily-Arab East Jerusalem, which is also internationally recognized as occupied by Israel. Jerusalem Post reports Greenblatt also said Trump "is not going to impose any solution on Israel. He thinks that the peace has to come from the parties themselves. Any meaningful contribution he can offer up, he is there to do, it is not his goal, nor should it be anyone else's goal, to impose peace on the parties." Trump had once promised to be "neutral" in any negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, but reversed course after Hillary Clinton jabbed him for being insufficiently pro-Israel. Like many of Trump's policies, a coherent explanation of what he actually intends to do has not yet been presented, but all indications point to his administration being far more hands-off with regards to the long-dormant Mideast peace process, which one far-right minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government celebrated as the end of any meaningful discussions about the creation of a Palestinian state. The fact that Israel is approaching 50 years of occupation of the Palestinians speaks to the ineffectiveness of the U.S. in helping to negotiate a meaningful peace. And despite President Obama's prickly relationship with Netanyahu, the outgoing president just gave both Israel and the U.S. military-industrial complex a record-breaking $38 billion subsidy. Yet, despite the unflinching support of the U.S. for Israel, our government at least maintained the pretense that the ultimate goal was for Israel to have secure borders and peaceful (if always tense) relations with its neighbors, and also self-determination for the Palestinians. It's too early to tell for sure, but that pretense appears likely to end under President Trump.[...]

No, the U.S. Navy Isn't Battling Breast-Cancer With Pink Fighter Jets—But Israel Is

Mon, 31 Oct 2016 12:42:00 -0400

(image) Pink-themed awareness campaigns—including cynical and cringe-worthy ones—have been a staple of the battle against breast cancer in America for decades. This sort of consciousness-raising has jumped the proverbial shark so many times that it's hard to believe it can keep getting worse, and yet ready to assuage our doubts... the U.S. government is here to help! Or at least so reported Slate and others last week.

"Like breast cancer, fighter jets kill women, making these instruments of war perfect on-message vehicles for the deadly weapons of awareness," quipped Christina Cauterucci at Slate. "They will fly through the skies, blasting tumors and lack-of-awareness with their missiles, bringing pink death and pink destruction and pink civilian casualties and pink refugee crises and pink destruction of cultural heritage wherever their noble cancer-aware pilots lead."

I was prepared to share in Cauterucci's outrage... until I spent a few more minutes reading about the pink plane. It turns out the "Heliconia"-pink F9F-8 Cougar won't actually be taking to the airways to rain death. In fact, it has naught to do with the U.S. Navy in any official capacity. Throughout October, the pink Cougar lived aboard the USS Lexington, a decommissioned naval ship turned private Texas military museum.

"Representatives from the USS Lexington Museum picked a fighter plane to symbolize all of the people that have fought and continue to fight the battle against cancer," KIII News reported. According to Rusty Reustle, USS Lexington director of operations and exhibits, dish-washing liquid was added to pink latex paint so it could be easily removed later, a technique he got from the movie Pearl Harbor, which was partially filmed aboard the museum-ship.

So, thankfully, the American military hasn't (yet) decided to paint an instrument of war a festive shade of pink as a way to say "let's save lives!" But Israel's has. On October 27, the Israeli Air Force tweeted a photo of the pastel pink fighter jet, with the message "We are #Pink. @breastcancernow #BreastCancerAwareness"

Janet Napolitano Defends Free Speech on University of California Campus

Mon, 03 Oct 2016 11:55:00 -0400

University of California (UC) President Janet Napolitano wrote an impassioned defense of free speech on college campuses, published in the Boston Globe yesterday. The former Obama administration Secretary of Homeland Security and erstwhile Arizona governor laments "how far we have moved from freedom of speech on campuses to freedom from speech," and describes the inhibiting of "the free flow of ideas" on campus—a place meant to "incubate discovery and learning"—as possessing an "irony that gives me pause." Napolitano makes some excellent points. Among them: "The oldest versions of the university were institutions of indoctrination, whether by the church or by the state. Not until the potent combination of the Enlightenment with the revolution in natural science inquiry did the value of free speech in democratic societies surface." "In 1900...the benefactor of Stanford University, forced the firing of a faculty member in large part because he supported labor unions. Not until the Berkeley Free Speech Movement of the mid-60s was the principle established that the only limits on free speech should be those defined in the Constitution, at least as far as our nation's public universities were concerned." With regards to the tactic of shouting down offensive speech or preventing problematic speakers from having their say at all, Napolitano argues, "the way to deal with extreme, unfounded speech is not with less speech — it is with more speech, informed by facts and persuasive argument. Educating students from an informed 'more speech' approach as opposed to silencing an objectionable speaker should be one of academia's key roles." But Napolitano loses the narrative a bit when evoking the old misunderstood saw about "yelling 'Fire!' in a crowded theater" as impermissible speech. While creating a stampede for no good reason isn't protected speech, the Supreme Court decision which birthed that cliched analogy was actually about restricting the free speech of anti-war socialists during World War I—which is the kind of speech Napolitano seemingly would support the protection of, especially considering she evokes the anti-Vietnam War Free Speech Movement of the 1960s in this op-ed. Conspicuously absent from Napolitano's op-ed is any mention of the policy adopted by UC's Board of Regents earlier this year that appears to conflate some expressions of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism—specifically, the "demonization of Israel, applying a double standard for Israel, and de-legitimizing Israel's right to exist," each of which was previously labeled by the State Department as an example of speech which crosses the line from political criticism of the nation-state of Israel to inciting hatred against a particular group. Though Napolitano supported the Board of Regents proposal, ultimately the board decided to list anti-Zionism as a form of "intolerable" speech, but did not impose a blanket ban on it. It is understandable that Napolitano would not want to re-litigate that issue in her op-ed in support of free speech, but it remains a revealing blind spot. Activists on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict should be able to have their voices heard on campus, however difficult their ideas might be to be hear. As I wrote earlier this year for Reason, "holding the belief that the state of Israel's creation was misbegotten or unjust is a political position, one that is frequently debated in academia. While controversial, it is not necessarily motivated by anti-Semitism any more than someone opposed to Hamas running a de facto Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip is motivated by Islamophobia."[...]

Anti-Israel Speech on Campus Shouldn't Be Banned, According to CUNY Investigation

Mon, 19 Sep 2016 11:40:00 -0400

The City University of New York (CUNY) released a report earlier this month, detailing an independent investigation conducted by former federal judge Barbara Jones and former federal prosecutor Paul Schechtman into whether the actions of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) had contributed to an intimidating atmosphere of anti-Semitism and violence on CUNY campuses. The extensive investigation—spurred by a letter written by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) that claimed SJP's actions had left Jewish students feeling "harassed, threatened, and even physically unsafe"—has led the authors of the report to conclude that it would be a "mistake" to "blame SJP for any act of anti-Semitism on any CUNY campus," and rejected calls to ban the pro-Palestinian group. Noting that many of SJP's theatrical protest tactics such as "die-ins," mock checkpoints, and its annual "Israel apartheid week," constitute protected speech, the authors wrote, "Political speech is often provocative and challenging, but that is why it is vital to university life. If college students are not exposed to views with which they may disagree, their college has short-changed them." This is precisely correct, and also leaves room for the university to take a stand against "hate speech," in the form of condemnation, but not officially sanctioned punishment. Also from the report: As a public university, CUNY is limited in the ways that it can respond to hate speech, whether the words are anti-Semitic, racist, anti-Muslim, or anti-LGBT. CUNY cannot punish such speech unless it is part of a course of conduct so pervasive or severe that it denies a person's ability to pursue an education or participate in University life. It cannot mandate civility or sanction isolated derogatory comments. But what CUNY cannot punish, it can still condemn. As a general rule, CUNY's Administrators and College Presidents have spoken out against anti-Semitic comments. That practice must continue; hate speech must be challenged promptly and forcefully lest it breed. Earlier this year, the University of California Board of Regents moved to ban "anti-Zionism" as a form of hate speech, and the New York State Senate voted to pass a bill that would defund student groups that so much as encouraged boycotts of certain countries (Israel among them). The bill died, but only because the New York State Assembly failed to vote on it before the legislative session ended. Pointing out the absurdity and seemingly arbitrary nature of a law that would ban college students from expressing themselves politically about some countries but not others, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) created the handy info-graphic below. FIRE's Adam Steinbaugh notes that because of the language of the bill, the Vatican, Sweden, India, all of Africa, and most of Asia would have been subject to calls for boycotts on-campus, but not Cuba, Pakistan, Venezuela, or Turkey. Three cheers for unproductive government, because had this bill made it into the Assembly, it would have very likely passed, and free speech on campus would have suffered a staggering defeat.[...]

U.S. Military Industrial Complex Gets Huge Subsidy in the Form of Record-Breaking Aid Package for Israel

Thu, 15 Sep 2016 14:55:00 -0400

The U.S. State Department signed a "memo of understanding" with Israel yesterday that will provide the Jewish state with $38 billion in U.S. military aid over the next 10 years. This new agreement ups the annual U.S. aid to Israel from the current figure of $3.1 billion to $3.8 billion. But the real winner of this expanding taxpayer subsidy is the U.S. defense industry, which will eventually receive every cent of that aid package, according to the terms of this new deal. Previously, Israel had enjoyed a privileged status among U.S. military aid recipients, as the only country permitted to spend up 26 percent of its U.S. aid on its own defense industry—including research and development. This new deal begins the phasing out of that part of the deal. The Washington Post notes, "Israel was granted that exception in the 1980s so it could build up its nascent defense infrastructure. With Israel's defense industry now thriving, the Obama administration wanted U.S. aid directed to American companies providing goods and services." This agreement coming together in the waning days of the Obama administration comes as a bit of a surprise considering the long-fraught relationship between the president and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but Netanyahu reportedly wanted a deal done prior to the U.S. presidential election. To ensure it all came together in a timely fashion, "Bibi" lowered his asking original asking price of "$4 billion to $5 billion a year," according to the Post. Some supporters of Israel don't want think it should be soliciting or accepting the U.S.'s "strings attached" aid, but considering that the past three U.S. administrations have been forceful in their opposition to the creation of illegal Israel settlements—which have nonetheless doubled in population since 1993—the U.S. has never withheld aid, and support for Israel in Congress is all but unanimous. But the Israeli economy is booming and has essentially doubled over the past decade, and despite the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) description of the billions in U.S. aid as "the most tangible manifestation of American support," there have even been calls from Israeli leaders to cut the cord of military aid, allowing the two allied countries to maintain their special relationship without such a grand subsidy. In 2014, I wrote an article for Reason titled "Death, Taxes, and American Aid to Israel" which included this passage: In 1996, Israel's prime minister addressed a joint session of Congress, offering thanks for "all that we have received from the United States (and) this chamber." He added, "But I believe there can be no greater tribute to America's long-standing economic aid to Israel than (to) achieve economic independence." He proposed "gradually reducing the level" of U.S. aid to Israel and ultimately ending it altogether. That Israeli Prime Minster's name was Benjamin Netanyahu. src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]

Many Bernie Sanders Delegates Protest DNC Platform's Lack of Support for Palestinians

Tue, 26 Jul 2016 15:54:00 -0400

A big part of the reason Bernie Sanders stuck around in the primary process for as long as he did was to ensure the inclusion of a number progressive issues into the Democratic Party platform that otherwise stood no chance of being included. His stubborn (and often wrongheaded) longevity paid off in a number of ways—he got Hillary Clinton to embrace a $15 minimum wage, for example. But one plank his supporters could not get adopted to the platform was a call for "an end to [Israeli] occupations and illegal settlements" in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Though the five Sanders supporters on the platform drafting committee were able to get the language included in the draft, it was defeated 73-95 at a DNC conference earlier this month, and a substantial number of Sanders delegates have been sporting "I Support Palestinian Human Rights" signs, buttons, and stickers at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) to express their dissatisfaction with the party's current policy.  One of these Sanders supporting delegates, Ayman Eldarwish of Virginia (who described himself as an American-born of Arab descent) told Reason, "We are disappointed that it did not enter the platform of the Democratic Party. We understand the dynamics of our country (but) the justice scale has to find its resting place correctly." Eldarwish added, "Our unlimited support for Israel is very unreasonable and it distorts the understanding of the reality on the ground. There are people without a land and freedom. They have to find their place on Earth, just like the Israelis want."  Walter Conklin from Rhode Island said he thought the U.S.' position regarding Israel and the Palestinians was "absurd," and that despite the violence perpetrated by both sides, there needs to better recognition of the fact that Palestinians "are people." Wife and husband delegates Aila Amany and Iyad Afalqa of California—both supporters of the democratic socialist from Vermont—were decked out in Robin Hood hats (get it?)—and told Reason of their disappointment with their party's platform.  The Jerusalem-born Afalqa says, "Bernie Sanders was the only presidential candidate who acknowledged the human rights of Palestinians. At the same time, he acknowledged Israel's right to exist, and as a Jewish man that was a big deal." He added that he believes the U.S. has a responsibility to be an "honest broker" in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and that some of his fellow delegates were considering leaving the party because they see no hope that a Hillary Clinton administration will be that "honest broker." Clinton, Afalqa says, will not be a "peace president, she will be a war president," adding that under her husband Bill's administration, "we were not at peace." He cited the sanctions on Iraq as a form of "collective punishment" on civilians and said he would not commit to voting for Clinton in the general election. Afalqa's wife, the Iranian-born Amany, says one reason she supported Sanders in the first place was because he refused to attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech before Congress opposing the Iran nuclear deal. The American political relationship with Israel is currently in a rockier state than it has been in decades, which can be seen not only in the pronounced personal tensions between President Obama and Netanyahu—which could very well have lasting implications for the once-intractable alliance between the two countries—but also because young American liberals are increasingly sympathetic to the Palestinian plight and no longer on board with U.S. support for Israel as a default position.  At this year's American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Clinton went toe-to-toe with the many Republican presidential contenders in attendance in competition for who could be the most vocal supporter of [...]

New York Senator Moves to Defund Student Groups That Oppose Israel

Tue, 14 Jun 2016 12:37:00 -0400

(image) Continuing Gov. Andrew Cuomo's crusade against New Yorkers who don't support Israel, state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Nassau County) wants to ban public colleges and universities from funding pro-Palestinian student groups. A new bill sponsored by Martins would require state and city schools to defund any campus organization that supports efforts to "boycott, divest from, and sanction" (BDS) Israel over its treatment of Palestinians. The BDS movement has become popular on U.S. and U.K. campuses. 

Martins' bill would also prohibit the funding of campus groups that support economic boycotts of any American-allied nation, although this bit seems designed to distract from his true goal: preventing anti-Israel sentiment on campus. In an interview with the New York Daily News, Martins referred to calls to boycott Israel as "hate speech" and "anti-Semitism" and said the state legislature has "no choice but to step in and prevent taxpayer dollars being used to promote" such sentiment. 

It's unlikely that Martins' bill would pass constitutional muster. Selectively banning boycott-advocacy depending on the target is the essence of illegal content-based prohibitions on student speech. Regardless, it's interesting, if wholly unsurprising, to see an authoritarian like Sen. Martins appropriate progressives' pet term, "hate speech," to justify his restriction on progressive speech. 

Martins went on to refer to students using their freedom of expression to push peaceful, market-based advocacy against Israel as "anti-freedom and anti-capitalism." (What's that saying about pots and kettles again?) 

Earlier this month, Gov. Cuomo issued an executive order barring state agencies from doing business with companies that boycott Israel. "If you boycott Israel, New York will boycott you," the governor stated.

Muslim Students Want San Diego State President to Resign for Failing to Protect Their Feelings

Thu, 05 May 2016 15:00:00 -0400

San Diego State University students are furious with their president—and some think he should resign—because he failed to protect them from hurtful words printed on campus flyers.  Members of the Muslim Student Association surrounded President Elliot Hirshman's vehicle last week and trapped him in place for an hour. They demanded that he apologize for issuing an inadequate denunciation of a pro-Israel flyer. The spectacle bore some similarity to the persecution of Yale University's Nicholas Christakis last fall, who was surrounded by irate students and accused of refusing to protect them from offensive Halloween costumes. Christakis's job was to "create a place of comfort" for students, the protesters claimed.  Similarly, the anti-Hirshman crowd maintained that it was his job to harshly denounce speech that offended them. But the speech in question, a flyer, was obviously protected political expression. The flyer accused anti-Israel students of sympathizing with Hamas and allying themselves with Islamic terrorists. It also listed the heads of SDSU's pro-Palestinian group by name. That's a harsh tactic—and an obvious example of hyperbole—but left-leaning campus activists often do the same to their conservative and libertarian opponents, and it is simply not the case that putting someone's name on a list is the same thing as threatening or harassing them.  The flyers are a production of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a pro-Israel group. Horowitz defended their content in a statement to The College Fix, saying, "They’re not ignorant college kids. They’re willing and committed campus agents of Hamas. Big difference. We singled out the leaders of an organization founded by members of the Muslim Brotherhood whose sole mission so to spread Hamas’ genocidal lies about the Jewish state and spearhead the Hamas-inspired and Hamas-funded BDS campaign which is a genocidal campaign to strangle the Jewish state. Calling them innocent would be a insult to their intelligence and malice."  The students saw matters a different way.  "My friends are not terrorist, and if their names are being posted around campus that’s an issue of security,” one student, Jeanette Corona, told The San Diego Union Tribune. “No student should be demonized. ... It’s (Hirshman’s) job to ensure the safety of all students on this campus.”  "We wanted the president to come to our defense as students," said another student, Osama Alkhawaja, whose name appeared on the flyer.  But Hirshman did come to their defense, as best he could. He sent a campuswide email noting that everyone had a right to make controversial statements, asked for civility, and questioned whether naming individual students was an effective tactic. That's all he can do. Anything more would have given the false impression that students aren't free to put up controversial flyers.  It wasn't enough for the Muslim students, who launched a petition yesterday calling on Hirshman to resign. According to the petition:  “It is the Job of the President of any body of people to make sure that those people feel safe and secure but in this case Elliot Hirshman didn't do that,” said President of National Action Network Reverend Shane Harris.  “Even after we gave him 48 hours to condemn the hate speech on those flyers he didn't do that which is why he must go.”  Keep in mind that the students who surrounded Hirshman last week didn't just engage him in a dialogue: they actually prevented him from leaving. When he finally got out of the car, apologized, and tried to leave, they began chanting insults at him.  I can understand why pro[...]

Pro-Palestinian Activists Shout Down Jerusalem Mayor's Speech at San Francisco State University

Thu, 07 Apr 2016 14:54:00 -0400

When it comes to political activism regarding Israel/Palestine on American college campuses, ideological combatants on both sides often fail to respect the right of those with whom they disagree to have their fair say.  Last month, the University of California (UC) voted to include anti-Zionism (broadly defined as opposition to the idea that Israel is the rightful national homeland of the Jewish people) as a form of banned "intolerant expression," and last week a bipartisan group of New York lawmakers demanded that the City University of New York (CUNY) ban the pro-Palestinian group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) from its campuses, alleging that SJP's activism had contributed to a climate of violence and intimidation against Jewish students. In both instances, the evidence that pro-Palestinian political activism is responsible for violence is flimsy at best, but the consequence of such reactions is an environment on college campuses where the freedom to engage in robust and impassioned political speech is chilled.  But that doesn't mean pro-Palestinian activists always respect others' right to free expression. Just yesterday, activists "aligned" with SJP shouted down Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat's attempt to give a speech at San Francisco State University, where he made a stop on a brief tour of US college campuses sponsored by the Jewish student group, Hillel. A member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party, Barkat supports a "united Jerusalem" in Israeli hands. Since Israelis and Palestinians both consider Jerusalem to be their capital, such a sentiment combined with the increase of Israeli settlements in the largely Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem are considered by many to be a huge impediment to the rebooting of any legitimate peace process.  A few minutes into his address, Barkat was forced to abandon the podium as SJP-affiliated protesters chanted things like "Free, Free Palestine," "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free," and "Intifada!" width="560" height="340" src="" frameborder="0"> After the majority of the audience cleared out, Barkat sat among the few dozen students and teachers who remained and tried to resume his speech, while the activists congregated in the back of the room, continuing to shouting and chant in the hopes that even the truncated audience wouldn't be able to hear the speaker they came to see. width="560" height="340" src="" frameborder="0"> Aruta Sheva reports, "Campus and city police were called, yet they stood idly by, allowing the unruly protesters to drown out the mayor’s address." The mayor's support of a "united Jerusalem" deeply offends advocates of the Palestinian cause, but the idea that "Palestine" consists of the land "from the river to the sea" surely offends Israelis and their supporters, as the river to the sea encapsulates both the Palestinian territories and the state of Israel. Both sides can claim that each of these ideas de-legitimizes the rightful existence of the other.  Following yesterday's incident, San Francisco Hillel released a statement reading in part: There is a concerning trend that college campuses are not spaces where diverse viewpoints are tolerated. Recently, we have seen acts of outright hostility and physical aggression when one person did not agree with the views of another on campus.  This characterization is true, but it is not confined to pro-Palestinian activism. As Reason's Robby Soave reported last December, the mere act of hanging a Palestinian flag in a dorm room window was deemed "disrespectful" to the George Washington University campus co[...]

Ban Pro-Palestinian Group from CUNY Campuses, 35 NY Lawmakers Say

Tue, 05 Apr 2016 11:30:00 -0400

New York State Assemblymen Dov Hikind and David Weprin, both Democrats, penned a letter last week (co-signed by a bipartisan group of 33 state lawmakers) to the chancellor of the City University of New York (CUNY) demanding the suspension of the pro-Palestinian activist group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) from all CUNY campuses. Accusing SJP of orchestrating a campaign of "intimidation and fear" against Jewish students, the letter demanded the "toxic" organization which denies "Jewish history and legitimacy" be immediately shut down. CUNY responded by launching an investigation into alleged incidents of anti-Semitic harassment, including what the right-wing Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) described in a letter to CUNY as incidents of students "being pushed, spat upon and having objects thrown at them." But, the Forward reports, ZOA's letter is "vague as to when and where several of the most clearly anti-Semitic episodes took place, and as to what witnesses are making the charges." In an extensive investigation published last week, the Forward found that there is indeed some evidence of anti-Semitism on CUNY campuses, but no clear connection that SJP is behind any of it. Further, regarding some of the cases of alleged harassment, "the question is one of semantics — whether public expressions against 'Zionism' or 'Zionists' constitute anti-Semitism." Of one protest led by SJP:  The ZOA letter claims that protesters were also shouting "Jews out of CUNY!" It’s a call heard nowhere on the video. But this discrepancy and arguments over it may miss a bigger issue. What are the protesters actually demanding when they chant "Zionists out of CUNY?" First, there is the worst possible implication — which is the one that at least some Jewish students heard. Asked if by 'Zionists out of CUNY,' her group actually meant that Jews, or non-Jews, who identify as Zionists should not be allowed to get, or give, an education at CUNY, Nerdeen Kiswani, vice president of SJP’s chapter at Hunter, who said she was leading those chants, noted that they were "protesting the ideology of Zionism — not people." The College Fix quotes Assemblyman Weprin as saying, "Hate Speech is not Free Speech and I call on CUNY to keep their campuses hate-free by taking concrete action on SJP." Equating anti-Zionism with hate speech is not confined to New York. As we've noted at Reason, the University of California's (UC) board of regents has recently voted to ban "anti-Zionism" on campus. Even if "anti-Zionism" is motivated by religious hatred or racial animus (which is arguable and difficult to prove in many cases), hate speech is indeed protected free speech, and incendiary political speech (the kind favored by activists on both sides of the Israel/Palestine conflict) is the most protected speech. If any group engages in organized physical harassment on campus, that organization deserves to lose its right to officially engage in campus life. But short of that, even what Assemblyman Hikind describes as the "malicious rhetoric" of a group that disagrees with his worldview deserves the First Amendment protections afforded to groups like Hillel, the Jewish student group whose CEO, Fmr. Congressman Eric Fingerhut (D-Ohio), demanded that debates over Israel within his own organization take place "within the context of a love of Israel, an unequivocal support of Israel." "Unequivocal support of Israel" offends plenty of people, and a case could be made that such a position "de-legitimizes" the Palestinian people's right to self-determination. But it's unimaginable that a group of US lawmakers would demand the removal of a group like Hillel from campus primarily b[...]

Bernie Sanders Skipped AIPAC, But Gave a Middle East Policy Speech Anyway

Tue, 22 Mar 2016 10:20:00 -0400

Much has been made about Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) being the only candidate from the two major political parties to skip this year's American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference. To some, he's a self-hating Jew, to others, his absence is a form of quiet protest that positions him as the conscience of progressivism. The democratic socialist senator had been strongly urged by prominent leftist pro-Palestinian activists (including anti-Zionist writer Max Blumenthal and former Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters, who has endorsed Sanders) to skip the event that they claim promoted "the racist, militaristic, and anti-democratic policies of the most right-wing government in Israel's history." Sanders' campaign made no reference to those calls, instead blaming his absence on a busy campaign schedule that had him traveling in Utah yesterday. Sanders had offered to speak via video to the conference, but was refused by the event's organizers. However, in 2012, AIPAC made exceptions for two candidates who were too busy campaigning for president to make it to the hugely influential lobby group's annual meeting, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. The latter's disengaged performance via video screen (he literally fell asleep while waiting to speak and addressed a panel that was not there) might have had something to do with AIPAC's insistence this year that all the presidential hopefuls wishing to speak be physically present.  src="" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> In her remarks to AIPAC, Hillary Clinton subtly jabbed at Donald Trump, who had previously promised to be "neutral" in any negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians when she said, "We need steady hands, not a president who says he's neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday, and who knows what on Wednesday, because everything is negotiable."  For his part, Trump's speech to AIPAC made no mention of neutrality, saying "The Palestinians must come to the table knowing that the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable." Three of the four presidential candidates in attendance took shots at what Clinton blasted as the "alarming" Boycott Divest Sanction (BDS) movement, saying "Particularly at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise across the world, especially in Europe, we must repudiate all efforts to malign, isolate and undermine Israel and the Jewish people." In statements fraught with chilling ramifications for freedom of speech and protest, Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) promised to "use the full force of the White House to fight this scourge" of BDS, while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) went so far as to say that any college that participates in BDS will lose federal funding and, if in legal violation, "will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law." At a rally in Salt Lake City, Sanders gave a speech he almost certainly would not have delivered to AIPAC, but which addressed his Middle East policy in depth. Leading off by mentioning the indisputable fact that he is the only major presidential candidate to have ever spent time living on an Israeli kibbutz, then extolling the historical and cultural ties between the US and Israel, Sanders said Israel requires "the unconditional recognition" of its right to exist from "the entire world" and that Hamas and Hezbollah must "renounce their efforts to undermine the security of Israel." Next, Sanders pivoted into a bit of pragmatic realism that would have been a non-starter at AIPAC: But peace also means security for every Palestinian. It means achieving self-determination, civil rights, and economic well-being for the Palestinian people. Peace will mean ending what amounts to the occ[...]

U of California May Ban "Anti-Zionism" on Campus, Blurring Line Between Political Speech and Hate Speech

Thu, 17 Mar 2016 16:10:00 -0400

The University of California (UC) Board of Regents is considering adding "anti-Zionism" to an ever-growing list of unacceptable forms of "discrimination" that will be outlawed on the state university system's 10 campuses. The new proposal is an addendum to UC's still-under-consideration "Statement of Principles Against Intolerance," which Will Creeley of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) said in 2015 had the potential to lead to "a kind of race to the bottom, sooner or later, by public universities punishing students or faculty for a particular viewpoint."  The AMCHA Initiative, a non-profit devoted to battling anti-Semitism on American college campuses, was the driving force behind the addition of anti-Zionism to the list of banned forms of "intolerant" expression, after deeming the previous UC statement to have insufficiently addressed anti-Semitism. In lobbying for the additional speech code, AMCHA cited a number of recent incidents where Jewish students were targeted, including the spraypainting of swastikas on the outside of a Jewish fraternity house at UC Davis. The latest report from the regents working group states: Opposition to Zionism often is expressed in ways that are not simply statements of disagreement over politics and policy, but also assertions of prejudice and intolerance toward Jewish people and culture. Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California. The UC regents are scheduled to discuss the report on March 23, but it seems that the working group is trying to have it both ways, because later in the report, they add that the university "will vigorously defend the principles of the First Amendment and academic freedom against any efforts to subvert or abridge them."  It's hard to see how UC plans to square this circle, especially since Zionism, unlike Judaism, is not a religion but a specific political philosophy based on the belief that the land of Greater Israel is the rightful national homeland of the Jewish people. Zionism is not embraced by every person of the Jewish faith, nor is Zionism itself a monolith. There are plenty of self-described Zionists who are vocally critical of the government of Israel's policies, which presently include building settlements in the occupied West Bank, actions that are officially opposed by nearly every nation in the world, including the US. Additionally, holding the belief that the state of Israel's creation was misbegoten or unjust is a political position, one that is frequently debated in academia. While controversial, it is not necessarily motivated by anti-Semitism any more than someone opposed to Hamas running a de facto Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip is motivated by Islamophobia.  On the legitimacy of debating Israel's right to exist, Eugene Volokh writes at The Washington Post: Whether the Jewish people should have an independent state in Israel is a perfectly legitimate question to discuss — just as it’s perfectly legitimate to discuss whether Basques, Kurds, Taiwanese, Tibetans, Northern Cypriots, Flemish Belgians, Walloon Belgians, Faroese, Northern Italians, Kosovars, Abkhazians, South Ossetians, Transnistrians, Chechens, Catalonians, Eastern Ukranians and so on should have a right to have independent states. The regents' proposal bears the hallmarks of a classic case of overcompensation and would likely result in legitimate political grievances being prosecuted under the umbrella of "hate speech." The roots of this prospective policy stem from a 2010 US State Department memo which attempted to define how [...]