Head of Israel lobby education group boasts of ‘fear’ political opponents feel

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Mock wall
A mock separation wall put up by a Students for Justice in Palestine group at an Illinois college campus (Photo: Benchilada/Flickr)

Who says the Israel lobby doesn’t like to operate out in the open? Well, former American Israel Public Affairs Committee official Steve Rosen does. But that message has not reached the head of a group that monitors Palestine solidarity activism on college campuses and has been instrumental in the use of civil rights complaints to claim that the activism creates an “anti-Semitic” environment for Jewish students.

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.

Kenneth Marcus (Photo: Academia.edu)

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.

The work that Marcus and his allies do has had an impact on student activism. The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah recently reported on a letter sent by civil rights groups to the University of California that illuminates the problems Palestine solidarity activists face on campus. Among the complaints raised in the letter is this catalog of “how political activity and free speech is being suppressed at the University of California,” as Abunimah put it:

  • A PhD student active with Cal SJP [Students for Justice in Palestine] was told by his adviser that his public status as a Palestinian rights activist would bedetrimental to his career, as it has been to many academics that express pro-Palestinian views.
  • A Muslim student of Arab descent stated that he would not get involved with Cal MSA’s political activities, for fear that it would jeopardize his chances of getting into graduate school.
  • Muslim and Arab students at Berkeley Law are reluctant to join Law Students for Justice in Palestine because they fear their reputational interests would be at risk if such membership were public.
  • Palestinian students often decline to join Cal SJP because they “don’t want to risk anything.” Although more than 20 students participate actively in Cal SJP, there are only two or three Palestinian members.
  • A recent transfer student of Arab heritage was warned by her mother not to get involved with Cal SJP. Her father told her, “If you get involved in these things you won’t be able to advance academically or professionally.”
  • Many students decline to express their political views about Israel and Palestine. For example, when a European immigrant student active with Cal SJP tried to discuss Palestinian rights with a friend who is also a foreign student, her friend told her that she no longer expresses her pro-Palestinian views to people in high places because it previously affected her opportunities, and she warned that such activism could affect her opportunities as well.
  • Students frequently express anxiety about being falsely branded as anti-Semites at SJP meetings, in small group discussions and in private.
  • A Cal SJP member sought advice from an immigration attorney, fearing that her participation in Cal SJP and the allegations in the Felber litigation would jeopardize her citizenship application.
  • A Pakistani international student says he was told that he should not get involved in Cal MSA, because if he did, his visa status would be at risk.
  • A Saudi international student declined his nomination for the Cal MSA board for fear that his student visa would be jeopardized if he were associated in any way with Cal MSA.
  • Students understand that their liberty is at stake. They are aware that the FBI infiltrates and monitors Arab, Muslim and pro-Palestine student groups.
  • Cal SJP students are routinely subject to video surveillance by Israel-aligned activists who attend Cal SJP events. Counter protestors from Israel-aligned organizations – both on and off-campus groups – frequently attend SJP events and take close-up videos. Students feel physically unsafe after being videoed at events because they do not know how Israel-aligned organizations will use data collected against them.

These incidents are what organizations opposed to Marcus’ efforts are concerned about. Marcus and his allies have contributed to a climate of fear for student activists on campus. And that’s exactly what Marcus wants.

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