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Federal complaints targeting Palestine solidarity activism on campus are dismissed

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Federal complaints targeting Palestine solidarity activism on campus are dismissed

Students for Justice in Palestine activists at a conference at Columbia University in 2011. (Photo: Columbia SJP)

Three separate probes into allegations that campus activism for Palestine created an anti-Semitic environment have been closed by the federal government. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights announced that three colleges in the University of California system–Berkeley, Santa Cruz and Irvine–are not in violation of civil rights laws for not protecting Jewish students, as the complaints alleged.

The federal civil rights complaints have been filed over the years by student activists and pro-Israel groups, who claimed that mock checkpoints, pro-Palestine events, remarks made during the debate over divestment at Berkeley and walls meant to simulate the Israeli separation barrier created a hostile, anti-Semitic environment for Jewish students on campus. But the Office of Civil Rights determined that those activities are “expression on matters of public concern.” The department added that “exposure to such robust and discordant expressions, even when personally offensive and hurtful, is a circumstance that a reasonable student in higher education may experience.”

Other parts of the complaints alleged that explicitly anti-Semitic acts were not thoroughly investigated by universities. The OCR dismissed those allegations as well.

“We are pleased with the successful outcome of this investigation,” UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said in a statement.“The claim that there is a hostile environment for Jewish students at Berkeley is, on its face, entirely unfounded.”

The closure of the investigations was celebrated by civil liberties advocates and Palestine solidarity activists. “The organized legal bullying campaigns have failed,” said Nasrina Bargzie, an attorney at the Asian Law Caucus, in a statement. “OCR’s decision in these cases confirms the obvious – that political activity advocating for Palestinian human rights does not violate the civil rights of Jewish students who find such criticism offensive, and that, to the contrary, colleges and universities have an obligation to create an environment that supports freedom of expression.”

Groups like the Asian Law Caucus, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild had previously urged the Office of Civil Rights to close the civil rights investigations because they were chilling student activism.

The complaints centered on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits institutions that receive federal funding from discriminating based on race, color and national origin. No Title VI complaint targeting Palestine solidarity activism and alleged anti-Semitism has been successful since 2010, when the Department of Education made a decision that opened up the floodgates for Israel advocates to file civil rights complaints. After lobbying by groups like the Zionist Organization of America, the DOE said that students from religious groups with shared ethnic characteristics, like Jews, could file such Title VI complaints.

The complaint at Irvine was filed in 2007, while the ones targeting Santa Cruz and Berkeley filed in 2011 and 2012, respectively. The investigation into Berkeley was prompted by allegations made by two pro-Israel students who had previously filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against UC Berkeley on similar grounds. The students alleged that the campus activism created “a disturbing echo of incitement, intimidation, harassment and violence carried out under the Nazi regime.”

The complaint at UC Santa Cruz was initiated by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a lecturer at the school. Rossman-Benjamin runs the Amcha Initiative, a group that targets professors and students who voice support for Palestinian rights.

Joel Siegal, an attorney for the students at Berkeley, told the Los Angeles Times that he may file an appeal against the decision.

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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16 Responses

  1. just
    August 28, 2013, 4:52 pm


    A tremendous victory for justice and the Constitution! (Happy Dance Time!)

    • just
      August 28, 2013, 6:16 pm

      Now if the loser students and those charging anti- Semitism and the powers behind the scenes could only be “re-educated” in the Constitution of the US.

      (just kidding!– sort of.)

  2. Daniel Rich
    Daniel Rich
    August 28, 2013, 5:07 pm

    Need any proof those students are Iranian tools? Dial GB for Goy Busters – Accompanied by a simple message from our ME sponsors and friends. We’ve got what you need, baby…

  3. German Lefty
    German Lefty
    August 28, 2013, 5:26 pm

    Here’s a German article from today about the immigration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel:
    The last two paragraphs of the article deal with the discrimination of black Jews within Israel. For example, it says that the Magen David Adom disposed blood donations of Ethiopian Jews and that homeowners in an Israeli town made a pact not to sell or rent out houses or apartments to Ethiopian Jews. The article also mentions that many immigrants from Africa live in deprived areas. Furthermore, it says that human rights activists accuse Israel of urging Ethiopian immigrants to get sterilised and that authorities reject this accusation.
    From the comments section:
    – The next landgrab that violates international law is imminent. Our foreign minister will continue not giving a shit about Palestinians.
    – Please stop using the term “Holy Land”. That’s extremely insulting.
    – Religions are bullshit. Let’s have freedom from religion.
    – People are people, regardless of religion. Xenophobia is in our genes.
    – Israeli politicians admitted to the forced sterilisation of Ethopian Jews.
    – Probably, the new immigrants will soon start hating Israel, because these gullible people have bad prospects in that country.
    One commenter tries to justify the disposal of the blood donations by saying that the HIV rate in Ethiopia is 15%.

    • MahaneYehude1
      August 29, 2013, 11:19 am

      @German Lefty,

      Thanks for the link, but, unfortunately, you choose to cite parts from each sentence. The story about the disposed blood donations by Magen David (Red Cross of Israel) is 17 years old (“Im Jahr 1996 hatte die Tageszeitung “Maariv” enthüllt, dass der Magen David Adom, ….). it happened once after a test confirmed that the blood donations were positive for HIV. The second issue about the house-owners is also not correct (“Im vergangenen Jahr hatte der Fernsehkanal Channel 2 publik gemacht…..) . Few house owners refused to hire their home to Ethiopians Jew. The owners neighborhood consists of 120 families, hence the mistake in the report.

      Indeed, there are racists among the Israelis, I believe the same as in Germany or USA. But in general the Israeli society is very open and tolerant. The Ethiopian Jews are an integral part of our society – You can find Ethiopian Jews in all life fields: Education, business, army officers, police, science, medicine and..yes, unfortunately, in dark side of any society: Drugs, prostitution etc.

      • German Lefty
        German Lefty
        September 1, 2013, 10:05 am

        The second issue about the house-owners is also not correct
        All my statements were correct.

        Indeed, there are racists among the Israelis, I believe the same as in Germany or USA.
        Don’t play down the racism in Israel. There are enough racists in Israel to get such a right-wing extremist government. That doesn’t happen in Germany. Even in Nazi Germany, people did NOT vote for the right-wing extremists voluntarily. It was a dictatorship.
        Ethnic nationalists in Israel = 70%
        Ethnic nationalists in Germany = 1%

  4. ritzl
    August 28, 2013, 6:37 pm

    Great news! Thanks Alex.

    Anyone have an idea how much it cost in legal time or its equivalent to bring about the obvious result? Also, how much time did it take? Is there any kind of precedent-like significance attached to these decisions that might reduce either or both of the previous?

  5. DICKERSON3870
    August 28, 2013, 7:14 pm

    RE: “Three separate probes into allegations that campus activism for Palestine created an anti-Semitic environment have been closed by the federal government.” ~ Kane

    MY SNARK: The Anti-Defamation League should certainly be happy, because everybody knows “ADL ardently sup­ports the right to free speech”! AIPAC, too!

    SEE – “The AIPAC Politics of Smear: The Secret Section in Israel’s U.S. Lobby That Stifles American Debate”, By Gregory D. Slabodkin, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 1992, pages 7-8, 89-91

    [EXCERPTS] During the reign of terror that Senator Joseph McCarthy unleashed in the 1950s, when the reputations and lives of many loyal Americans were ruined by false charges of “communism” and “treason,” American Jewry was overwhelmingly opposed to the Wisconsin senator and his blackmail by blacklists. According to the Gallup polls of the time, the percentage of U.S. Jews who opposed McCarthy’s smear tactics was twice that of the rest of the population. Many Jewish organizations passed resolutions condemning McCarthy’s ruthless character assassination.
    Today, however, such national Jewish organizations as the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith (ADL) and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) are using the same tactics to stifle open debate of U.S. policy in the Middle East.

    • Secretly Circulated Lists
    To conduct this “neo-McCarthyism,” AIPAC operates a covert section within its research department that monitors and keeps files on politicians, journalists, academics, Arab-American activists, Jewish liberals, and others it labels “anti-Israel.” AIPAC selects information from these files and secretly circulates lists of the “guilty,” together with their alleged political misdeeds, buttressed by their statements, often totally out of context.
    Just as McCarthy’s permanent investigations subcommittee labeled criticism of specific policies of the U.S. government as “anti-American,” or “pro-Soviet,” AIPAC labels criticism of Israeli government policies “anti-Israel,” “pro-Arab” or “pro-PLO.” Still worse is the pro-Israel lobby’s redefinition of “anti-Semitism” to include any such criticism of Israel or its actions. . .
    . . . AIPAC’s “opposition research” department traces its roots to I.L. (Sy) Kenen, who founded AIPAC in 1954. As editor of AIPAC’s weekly Near East Report, he often attacked critics of Israel in his aptly titled column, “The Monitor.” Besides monitoring, analyzing, and responding to “anti-Israel” comment and activities in the United States, Kenen also kept files on AIPAC’s “enemies.” In his final year AIPAC began to expand its intelligence-gathering operations.
    Kenen’s memoirs, “Israel’s Defense Line: Her Friends and Foes in Washington”, record how AIPAC pooled resources in 1974 with the American Jewish Committee and other national Jewish organizations to create a “truth squad.” Its purpose was to combat “pro-Arab propaganda” and the emerging “Arab lobby,” which Kenen believed to be a growing threat to the U.S.-Israel relationship.
    “While vigorously defending Israel’s perceived interests, the organizations that created the truth squad turned into a kind of Jewish thought police,” journalist Robert I. Friedman explains. “Investigators—sometimes overzealous Jewish college students, sometimes sources with access to U.S. intelligence agencies—were used to ferret out critics of Israel, Jew or gentile, wherever they might be. At ADL and AIPAC, files were opened on journalists, politicians, scholars and community activists. Their speeches and writings were monitored, as were, in some cases, their other professional activities. And they were often smeared with charges of anti-Semitism or with the pernicious label of self-hating Jew. The intention was to stifle debate on the Middle East within the Jewish community, the media and academia, for fear that criticism of any kind would weaken the Jewish state.”
    When Kenen stepped down as executive director of AIPAC in December 1974, the task of monitoring Israel’s “enemies” was left to the department of research and information at AIPAC, where it has remained ever since. . .


  6. American
    August 28, 2013, 7:49 pm

    Good!…the law worked…for once.

  7. Hostage
    August 28, 2013, 8:46 pm

    No Title VI complaint targeting Palestine solidarity activism and alleged anti-Semitism has been successful since 2010, when the Department of Education made a decision that opened up the floodgates for Israel advocates to file civil rights complaints.

    Alex you are overlooking the fact that the “Dear Colleague” letters issued by Kenneth L. Marcus, (then) Staff Director, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and other officials advised recipient institutions that the new enforcement approach would be to take action when institutions fostered anti-Semitic or Islamophobic atmosphere on school campuses – and thus “aggressively investigate alleged race or ethnic harassment against Arab Muslim, Sikh and Jewish students.” 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)

    Instead we have IDF officers and other foreign agents of the State of Israel publicly justifying war crimes and crimes against humanity against Palestinians on college campuses and state officials sending Palestinians who protest that situation to ADL re-education programs. It’s not enough for the Office of Civil Rights to drop these complaints.

    • dbroncos
      August 29, 2013, 10:47 am


      The Federal ruling to drop the case smacks of a Pontius Pilot approach: We don’t want to get involved. Still, it’s good news especially since Zionists have pledged to appeal the ruling. This case can still kick up a lot of dust that will attract the attention of Americans concerned about censorship. More to come – and that’s a good thing.

    • hophmi
      August 29, 2013, 11:01 am

      “It’s not enough for the Office of Civil Rights to drop these complaints.”

      No, for Hostage, it won’t be enough until the free speech rights of pro-Israel students on campus are truncated.

      File a complaint, Hostage. File a complaint. It’s so, so easy. Fill out a form. Anybody can do it. Clearly, your ridiculous claims that the OCR is some pro-Israel group because of Ken Marcus are dead in the water. And clearly, you don’t have the courage of your convictions.

      It’s laughable that you’d claim that a Dear Colleague letter is the same thing as enforcement of anything.

      • Hostage
        August 30, 2013, 5:33 pm

        No, for Hostage, it won’t be enough until the free speech rights of pro-Israel students on campus are truncated.

        No, I happen to believe that the Israeli IDF officer who spoke at FSU and Israeli staffers in campus Hillel organizations are agents of the State of Israel. They’ve been representing Israel and acting at its behest since the 1970s, e.g. Jewish Youth Challenged to Combat Anti-israel Propaganda on Campus

        [Hillel’s Ellen] Goldstein said that she is not concerned about potential objections to pro-Israel programming on campuses in the United States being funded directly by the Israeli government.

        So why shouldn’t these paid propagandists register under FARA and stay out of federally subsidized institutions where an obvious conflict of interests exists? They are prime examples of Officers and employees acting as agents of foreign principals (22 USC § 611 & 18 USC § 219). They engage in activities that promote grass roots public support for on-going war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against Palestinians. It’s an obvious violation of Title VI, which has been pointed out to OCR by CCR and others.

        FYI, the Supreme Court has consistently ruled that aliens are not part of our American polity and do not enjoy boundless discretion to engage in teaching, political activities, or propaganda campaigns. See:
        * Teaching: Ambach v Norwick
        link to
        * Labeling Political Propaganda in accordance with 22 USC § 611: Meese v. Keene
        link to
        * Expenditures by foreign nationals on political campaigns: Bluman v. FEC
        link to

        These groups have no entitlement whatever to engage in public propaganda campaigns that defend illegal settlements or promote violence against Palestinians in any educational institution that receives federal grants. The policy announced in the Ken Marcus “Dear Colleague” letter requires the OCR to aggressively investigate cases involving discrimination against Arab Muslim students. There were family members of Palestinian victims of the IDF in the FSU audience where the IDF officer spoke.

        Let Hillel and the State of Israel find and pay for their own forums. I wouldn’t give the KKK or Stormfront a federally subsidized forum on campus either.

  8. gingershot
    August 28, 2013, 8:52 pm

    Crybaby Zionists

    Let them cry their crocodile tears

  9. seafoid
    August 29, 2013, 8:56 am

    “Can a militarized and militarist America, turning itself from democracy toward plutocracy and oligarchy, hostile to aspects of international law and a code of human rights that it did much to create, yet still convinced of its natural superiority and of the inferiority of rival Europe, successfully claim the leadership of a new democratic order—if that arrives? “

  10. Les
    August 29, 2013, 2:20 pm

    A real victory and a significant one for BDS.

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