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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:

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.

Alex Kane
About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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21 Responses

  1. annie
    December 13, 2012, 2:49 pm

    i am really glad this is being exposed. The Center for Constitutional Rights, and the four other civil rights organizations wrote to UC President Mark Yudof on 3 December finalized their statement by warning they were monitoring the situation and prepared to protect the students. i interpret this to mean they are prepared to face a legal battle over this kind of blatant attack on our civil liberties. let them have their day in court!

    • Hostage
      December 14, 2012, 12:08 am

      i am really glad this is being exposed.

      And now for the rest of the story: It was Kenneth L. Marcus himself, acting as Staff Director, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights who invented this particular form of Zionist bureaucratic lawfare and the idea that Anti-Zionism was a covert form of Anti-Semitism. That’s the only reason it can even laughably be considered hate speech. Specifically, Title VI provides that:

      “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000(d) (2000).

      So, that means the Congress deliberately excluded religious discrimination from the Office of Civil Rights jurisdiction under Title VI.

      Marcuse supported investigations of the complaints of Jewish students who were threatened by Anti-Zionism in: Columbia’s Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC) program, and in Anti-Zionist responses to pro-Israel demonstrations and events at San Francisco State University, and the University of California at Irvine. See Kenneth L. Marcus, Anti-Zionism as Racism: Campus Anti-Semitism and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 15 Wm. & Mary Bill of Rts. J. 837 (2007),

      Spearheaded by Marcus, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued a series of policy statements in 2004 announcing that for the first time, it would assert jurisdiction to pursue claims alleging harassment of Jewish students. Marcus writes:

      “On September 13, 2004, OCR issued a public “Dear Colleague” letter informing recipient institutions of its new enforcement approach. This guidance letter, issued to over 20,000 colleges, universities, public school districts, and state education departments, announced OCR’s decision to “exercise its jurisdiction to enforce the Title VI prohibition against national origin discrimination, regardless of whether the groups targeted for discrimination also exhibit religious characteristics” and thus “aggressively investigate alleged race or ethnic harassment against Arab Muslim, Sikh and Jewish students.”

      The obvious solution is to simply file counter-claim lawsuits alleging that Arab Muslim students feel threatened by Administrators and groups like Campus Hillel who engage in Anti-Islamic criticism of Palestinian or Arab nationality and deny that Palestine is a Holy Wafq and their eternal homeland. Then we can all go back to the OCR policy on Zionism articulated during the Carter administration as follows:

      “any attempt to characterize discrimination against Jews as racial in nature would be contrary to the intent of Congress to exclude religious discrimination from Title VI protection as well as inconsistent with the weight of social science and anthropological scholarship regarding racial and nationality groupings.”

  2. David Doppler
    David Doppler
    December 13, 2012, 4:13 pm

    Boasting about the efficacy of fear instilled in others through a campaign of mendacity shows a fundamental lack of character. Like a toady seeking to impress his boss the bully.

    • Avi_G.
      December 13, 2012, 6:35 pm

      shows a fundamental lack of character.

      You’re starting to sound like …What was his name? Richard W something. Anyway, this boasting only goes to show the arrogance that characterizes the impunity and the smug abuse of power that is at the heart of everything Zionist, whether it’s organizations or the abominable state of Israel itself.

      • Hostage
        December 16, 2012, 9:37 am

        Anyway, this boasting only goes to show the arrogance that characterizes the impunity and the smug abuse of power that is at the heart of everything Zionist, whether it’s organizations or the abominable state of Israel itself.

        I’ll say, the arguments employed by Marcus, are all based upon double standards that don’t apply to Jews or Zionists. For example he says that drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis is an example of anti-Semitism. At one and the same time, he cites a statement submitted to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights by Susan B. Tuchman as part of a Briefing on Campus Anti-Semitism, which described an article that appeared in a UC Irvine student publication as “Nazi-like” simply because it mentioned the notion that Jews are genetically different and separate from non-Jews.

        FYI, the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation was established and endowed in 1972 by a formal agreement concluded between the governments of the United States and Israel. It has funded numerous studies conducted by Jewish institutions, like Yeshiva and Tel Aviv Universities, which have advanced the scientific claim that Jews are a widely dispersed people with a common ancestry and an identifiable genetic fingerprint.

        Similarly, Marcus glosses over the fact that Jewish institutions, that receive federal Pell grant aid, do practice forms of racial discrimination based exclusively on the tenets of orthodox Jewish religious beliefs.

    • LeaNder
      December 14, 2012, 8:17 am

      No way Avi, I can understand that Mr. Balance is still on your mind. But a comment by him would have been much less censorious, with much more love and understanding. 2000 years of antisemitism versus a partly justified Arabophobia, however evasively put.

      Very good additional information by Hostage above

  3. LanceThruster
    December 13, 2012, 4:17 pm

    Seems Mr. Marcus doesn’t know that rule #1 (& #2 for that matter) of fight club is that you don’t talk about fight club.

  4. radii
    December 13, 2012, 4:18 pm

    wow, openly boasting now of their method of ruling through fear … they have descended almost all the way down the proverbial slippery slope … we all know how this turns out

    • Kathleen
      December 13, 2012, 6:00 pm

      sounds like this admittance of intimindation would be a great tool in court

      • Mooser
        December 13, 2012, 8:32 pm

        “sounds like this admittance of intimindation would be a great tool in court”

        Absolutely! Can anything else so clearly show how scarred Jews are by persecution? Gets to the point where they are terrified of standing up for themselves! Heartbreaking.

  5. ThorsteinVeblen2012
    December 13, 2012, 4:44 pm

    May the spirit of Mario Savio live on at Berkeley and throughout the country:

    “There’s a time when the
    operation of the machine becomes
    so odious—makes you so sick at
    heart—that you can’t take part.
    You can’t even passively take
    part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon
    the wheels, upon the levers, upon
    all the apparatus, and you’ve
    got to make it stop. And you’ve
    got to indicate to the people who
    run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the
    machine will be prevented from
    working at all”

  6. HarryLaw
    December 13, 2012, 5:07 pm

    Why should Marcus not use the fear of destroying pro Palestinian supporters careers, he can see almost the whole of congress paralyzed with fear and incapable of uttering a word of criticism of Israel, if they did, end of career, its that simple.

  7. DICKERSON3870
    December 13, 2012, 5:28 pm

    RE: “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.” ~ Alex Kane

    MY COMMENT: What a perversion of the name of Justice Brandeis! ! !


    “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” ~ Whitney v. California, 1927

    • “No danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is an opportunity for full discussion. Only an emergency can justify repression.”

    • “Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burned women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.”

    • “The constitutional right of free speech has been declared to be the same in peace and war. In peace, too, men may differ widely as to what loyalty to our country demands, and an intolerant majority, swayed by passion or by fear, may be prone in the future, as it has been in the past, to stamp as disloyal opinions with which it disagrees.”

    SOURCE –

  8. Les
    December 13, 2012, 7:29 pm

    Now that Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is finally being indicted, one wonders if NPR’s Robert Siegel will offer to testify as a character witness for his friend.

  9. Basilio
    December 13, 2012, 8:14 pm

    It’s not a secret, just as there is an Italian mafia, there’s a Jewish mafia, a political one, and you’ll face risks if you’re Jewish or non-Jewish and do this. It’s a bit easier if you’re Jewish because you’re not an immigrant, you’re in the society, but an immigrant faces more risks.

  10. pabelmont
    December 13, 2012, 8:17 pm

    The publicity (self-outing?) for AIPAC (letter to Congress) and Marcus’s Brandeis Center (this essay) might be [1] crowing from a sense of finally arriving in a safe place, it’s OK to be a loud-mouthed Zionist today, no need to hide, no shame, etc. or [2] fear that things are going badly and a signal intended to terrorize opposition and round up the usual troops even better than had matters remained secret.

    Consider: the letter for congressmen to sign hardly needed the “AIPAC” “brand” and yet it had one. Will that make more people sign it, scare people into signing it who might not do so otherwise? Will that make it scarier when the addressees receive it? Guess we must wait and see who signs it. (I signed a petition today to my Congressperson asking her NOT to sign that letter.)

    As for Marcus, it seems that Zionist action against Cal SJP is pretty effective already, so why did Marcus “come out” so brazen? Is he looking for another job and pointing to his “effectiveness”?

  11. ritzl
    December 13, 2012, 8:27 pm

    What stops Palestinian activists from turning this around and using every principle and “uncomfortable environment” rationale developed by this group, against this group (and groups like it)?

    I suspect funding is the big issue, but are there others? Are there legal principles that are unique to a lawfare fight against alleged anti-Jewish circumstances that would therefore not be able to be applied in the opposite direction?

    It seems like the “uncomfortable environment” principle that much of this is based upon is self-evidently applicable to the “comfort” of Palestinians, especially when this clown goes on public record bragging about how much fear he’s inducing.

  12. annie
    December 13, 2012, 11:52 pm

    this is an incredible video. in the beginning some students read the kind of ‘hate’ discourse palestinians have to endure. it’s really worth reviewing. an excellent video:

    hey, we’re all palestinian

  13. seafoid
    December 14, 2012, 12:58 am

    They can pick people off one by one as long as the numbers are limited. They have to puff themselves up – it is a way of telling people to back off. But in reality the game is becoming much more difficult. Here is a similar tale of thuggery . The omens are not good for Zionism.

    This hacking scandal was among the subjects Davies had discussed in his book Flat Earth News (2008), an indictment of the present-day media ranging from the tendency to treat publicity handouts as hard news to the shameful credulity of much of the press about the way we were taken into the Iraq war. He had come on the radio to discuss his book with Stuart Kuttner, managing editor of the News of the World. Since the scandal erupted, Kuttner’s paper, and News International as a whole, had stuck to a line: Clive Goodman had been a lone miscreant, a “rogue reporter” whose activities were in no way characteristic of the paper. Kuttner contemptuously dismissed Davies and his “sour and gloomy” book, insisted that the British press was “the finest in the world,” and reiterated that hacking had “happened once”: the offender had been sacked and jailed, and that was the end of the matter.

    Later that morning, as if in a thriller, Davies received a call from a stranger. He was someone very well placed within News International who had heard the program and been outraged by Kuttner’s arrogance. What Kuttner had said was completely false, the caller told Davies: not only had Goodman himself hacked cell phones on a vast scale, the practice was rife throughout the News of the World. Stimulated by the call, Davies renewed his sleuthing. The “rogue reporter” defense had never seemed very plausible, but it now began to unravel—and News International was fighting a desperate rearguard action in a way that contradicted its protestations of innocence.

    As more people learned they had been victims of hacking they began to sue, and were privately offered compensation. Only months after Kuttner’s bluster, Gordon Taylor, head of the soccer players’ union, accepted a payment of £450,000, and £250,000 in legal costs, on condition of confidentiality, and the silence of other victims was also bought. That was all very well but if there were scores of victims, then buying them off at that rate would be ruinous for News International—or for News Corporation, Murdoch’s American parent company, whose investors had never shared his love of the London newspapers.

    A parliamentary committee was investigating the question and began to suspect that it had been misled, suspicions not stilled by Coulson’s repeating in 2009 that he had “no recollection” of hacking while he was editor. Davies continued to dig away, encouraged by the Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger, who had joined the paper on the same day as Davies in 1979 and had edited it since 1995.

    Then Rusbridger adroitly opened an offensive on another front by urging Bill Keller, his opposite number at The New York Times, to look into the hacking story. In Dial M for Murdoch, a useful account, albeit written in a tabloid style that seems ironically to be infectious, by Tom Watson, a Labour MP, and Martin Hickman, a reporter on the Independent, the authors artlessly say that this was “a strong story for a liberal American paper” because of “the Manhattanite Rupert Murdoch.” They don’t mention the fact that Murdoch had acquired The Wall Street Journal in 2007 and set it in direct competition with the Times. That looked like another healthy motive for Keller to pursue the story, just as the Guardian’s zeal would naturally have been increased by its rivalry with Murdoch’s London Times, and why not?

    A long piece, “Tabloid Hack Attack on Royals, and Beyond,” appeared in The New York Times Magazine in September 2010, and sent shock waves across the Atlantic with its details of how widespread hacking had been. The damning evidence included an e-mail from Ross Hindley, a News of the World journalist, to Neville Thurlbeck, the paper’s chief reporter, containing “the transcript of hacked messages that had been sent by a reporter at the paper.” This was clear evidence that earlier News International denials of innocence or ignorance were false. Four months earlier, in May 2010, the British general election had left David Cameron and the Conservatives with the largest number of seats in Parliament but short of a majority. Cameron became prime minister after forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats—and brought Coulson with him to Number 10. Coulson left Downing Street only in January 2011, months before the great explosion.

    On June 15, 2011, Rupert Murdoch gave his usual lavish summer party where the many senior political guests included Cameron and Ed Miliband, the Labour leader. Three weeks later, on July 5, the Guardian published its most devastating story to date. Milly Dowler was a thirteen-year-old girl who had been abducted in March 2002, when Rebekah Brooks was editor of the News of the World. As it tragically proved, Milly had been murdered; but while her fate was unknown and the police were trying to find her, News of the World reporters had hacked her cell phone. More than that, Davies claimed that “deleted voicemails gave family false hope”: learning that her voicemails had been deleted, presumably by Milly herself, led her family to believe that she might still be alive. In fact the report of this “false hope” proved to be wrong, something that the Guardian could have been quicker to admit, since it was an error in good faith.

    But that did it. Murdoch thought that only a melodramatic gesture could staunch the wound. Two days later came the startling announcement that the News of the World was being folded after 168 years, and more than four decades of Murdoch’s ownership. Brooks said that she was staying put, but others demurred. Although Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal Alsaud is scarcely a name to conjure with in Fleet Street or Westminster, the Saudi prince happens to be the second-largest investor in News Corp. He told the BBC that Brooks should resign from News International, and so she did the next day, while Cameron announced that an inquiry into the role of the press and police in the phone-hacking scandal would be held under Lord Justice Leveson, examining “the culture, practice and ethics of the media.”

    All this came at a very bad moment for Murdoch. With his usual commercial acuity he had early grasped the possibilities of satellite television, which had proved immensely profitable, a contrast indeed to his newspapers nowadays. Murdoch owns 39 percent of the BSkyB broadcasting company and wanted to acquire it outright, to which end much private pressure was exerted: James Murdoch, Rupert’s son, admitted that he had a “tiny side conversation,” presumably about BSkyB, with Cameron at Rebekah Brooks’s house on December 23, 2010. But the public outrage of last summer meant that Murdoch had to drop his pursuit of BSkyB, for the time being at least.

    Meantime the parliamentary committee summoned Rupert Murdoch and his son James. Rupert said that it was “the most humble day of my life,” while Tom Watson, a member of the committee—and later the coauthor of Dial M for Murdoch—called James a mafia boss to his face. This spring the committee produced a damning report on News International, saying that Murdoch was not “fit” to run the company. Then on May 11, Brooks appeared before the Leveson inquiry, and was strikingly composed, while giving evidence that Cameron cannot have enjoyed. Five days later came the electrifying news that Brooks and her husband and four former colleagues were being charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by removing materials pertinent to police investigations. This is a much more grave offense than phone hacking.

  14. kma
    December 14, 2012, 11:24 pm

    I hope that students keep in mind that although the intimidation is real, the truth is that being openly anti-zionist does not hurt your career or your education here. Being dark-skinned is way worse! But being anti-zionist does not limit your success in the Bay Area. I know this!
    This is not just a reason for Palestinians to have less fear, but a huge reason why white folks need to step up and join those protests and join SJP. Please do!

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