Federal anti-discrimination law being used to shut down criticism of occupation

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The Real News Network episode “Shutting Down Critique of Israel on Campus” interviews Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). Ratner provides an overview of how Title 6 is used through the Department of Education to shut down critics of Israel and Zionism, then explains how Israel’s supporters have turned the situation “upside down” for Israel’s critics, suppressing free speech rights.

Alex Kane has been covering the escalation of events on California campuses, including the launch of CCR’s  Palestine Legal Support Project— so for regular readers of this site, there are no surprises here. But Ratner makes these complex legal issues simple. Just watch the video, remember to reference the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and you too can explain this to anyone!

But of course as this thing has heated up and the critiques of Israel have gotten stronger ..and as obviously there’s been more support for criticizing Israel in the world and particularly in the United States…the so called Zionist lobby is breaking apart to a certain extent (there’s more diversity in it) as that’s increased. The Department of Education, which is where Title 6 complaints go to, expanded the definition that basically say that anti Semitism could be considered an attack on national origin in some way or on race.. they call it ethnicity. So they expanded it so complaints under Title 6 could be filed. And why they’re important– is that every educational institution that gets federal money is subject to Title 6. ….so complaints are taken seriously. Federal funding can be cut off if it’s found to be violating Title 6….. the complaints are essentially complaints that are critical of Zionism.

Ratner then explains how the investigations are intimidating, universities get frightened and suppress free speech because they are afraid of the complaints.

There’s a climate of, hostility is created for students who want to speak out on Israel at these campuses; they’re criticized by their professors, they’re yelled at and given names, their speech is suppressed.  What’s really happened here if you look at the political, the legal and the climate that’s created is, the people who don’t want to hear any criticism of Israel or its practices have actually done the exact reverse of what’s really going on.

What’s really going on here is people who speak out on Israel, people who oppose the occupation, people who support BDS, boycott divestment and sanctions, the people who talk about the Zionist lobby in the US as being powerful, those people’s speech are being suppressed. The people who are speaking in favor [of Israel] without any criticism– that’s the speech that’s allowed, that’s the speech that’s printed. And so they basically turned this upside down. The reason that we at the Center founded this project,  The Palestine Legal Support Project, [is] because we think that free speech particularly around contentious issues like Israel and Palestine is an absolute necessity in this country.

At 12:30 the host talks about criticism of Israel and some of the “very anti Semitic racist comments” they get on Real New’s YouTube site. Ratner responds with a wonderful point: solid criticism of Israel isn’t anti Semitic, it’s critique; and just because there are racist  people out there doesn’t mean you suppress speech altogether.

Zionists have really equated criticism of Israel with anti Semitism and that’s just not right, it’s not fair and really suppressing and important conversation that has to happen.

This is a great video. Thanks to Michael Ratner and Real News.

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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