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Resisting ‘the new normal’

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The nomination of Kenneth Marcus, President Trump’s choice for the position of Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Department of Education, will go to a vote next week, and he is expected to be shooed in, on a straight party line vote.   If he is confirmed, he will likely  become the latest member of a growing list of politicians, beginning with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, threatening academic freedom generally, as well our civil rights as women, immigrants, Muslims, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people.

As more faculty, and students, come under attack, it is imperative that we grow our support networks, and that we make it clear we are many, and will not be intimidated.  

This is not to say the danger isn’t real.  Marcus has an utterly dismal record.  He comes “qualified” with a long history of targeting constitutionally protected speech, especially focused on Palestinian rights.  He has expressed open hostility towards affirmative action, which he has called “reverse racism.” As Staff Director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, he has opposed investigations into violations of the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals.  And he has lobbied for withholding university funding to Middle East Studies programs that do not have a pro-Israel platform.  As founder and president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights, Marcus has spent much of his career endeavoring to suppress the free speech rights of students and faculty who support Palestinian rights.  

Late last year, during his Senate Committee hearing, Marcus said he agreed with Secretary Betsy DeVos’s decision to rescind detailed Title IX guidance on sexual assault, and increase protections for accused abusers. He also said he couldn’t name a single thing about Trump’s civil-rights record that he disagreed with.  At a time when the #MeToo movement is attempting to address endemic sexism and sexual assault, Marcus would undermine, rather than protect students’ rights.  

More recently, in what Palestine Legal has described as a McCarthyist media blitz, the Brandeis Center is doggedly suing scholars within the American Studies Association, whose membership voted by an overwhelming majority to endorse the Palestinian call for BDS.  “This is a harassment campaign at the highest levels,” Radhika Sainath, a staff attorney at Palestine Legal, explained. “Professors targeted by the Brandeis Center have been subjected to death threats, rape threats and other misogynistic and racist hate mail.”

The lawsuit is particularly egregious because, from cyber bullying to physical assault, we are witnessing increased violence against anyone openly opposing the nefarious blooming of the alt-right.  As the  American Association of University Professors (AAUP) noted:  “Placed on watchlists. Harassed on social media. Threatened. This is becoming normal in an environment increasingly hostile to faculty.”

We cannot expect any protection from such threats to come from our current presidential administration.  But as we look outside of the Department of Education, high ranking university administrators still play a key role in creating a hostile or safer campus climate.  Some, like at Stanford University, have been utterly unhelpful, as David Palumbo-Liu, a long-term tenured faculty member, recently realized.  “Despite this new and alarming phenomenon on campus, university administrators seem loth to aggressively protect their faculty,” Palumbo-Liu wrote. Palumbo-Liu is a founding member of the Campus Antifascist Network (CAN), and for that, he has been accused of co-founding a group that, according to his attackers, “undeniably a chapter of a terrorist group.”   Stanford University has declined to offer him any support, despite a letter by six constitutional law scholars at the Stanford Law School, and a petition signed by 700 Stanford University professors.

Others, such as Colorado State University president Anthony Frank, have issued excellent statements that give hope in an another grim environment.  When anti-immigration flyers were posted on the CSU campus, attributed to the “Traditionalist Workers Party,” Frank gave a sober observation about freedom of speech, writing that “This university strongly respects the Constitution and the First Amendment, and the right of even repugnant viewpoints to be spoken and debated in the public space. But Colorado State University also has the right to publicly assert what it values and stands for – so I’d like to take this opportunity to do that here.

“The TWP goes by various names online, but let me keep this simple: a Nazi is a Nazi is a Nazi. And the members of the Traditionalist Worker Party are unapologetic Nazis who advocate murdering all those who don’t align with their worldview,” Frank stated. 

Frank correctly observed that fascists and Nazis are recruiting on campuses, which are proving to be fertile grounds for neo-conservative views.  Indeed, the Campus Antifascist Network (which Palumbo-Liu co-founded) was launched shortly after Donald Trump’s election in order to counter this sinister new trend.

Faculty as well as students who advocate for justice for Palestine have long been targeted for their political views and moral integrity.  For us, this is not “the new normal,” but the way it has always been.   With Marcus as Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights, however, and with the likely reinstatement of the misleadingly named “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act,” which criminalizes political criticism of Israel,  our activism will come at an even higher price.  And many others will be caught in the McCarthyist net, as they speak out against various forms of injustice, beyond Palestine.  

But there is reason to hope that, just as most organizers said they would not stop their BDS activism when Israel announced it will officially deny them entry into the country, so faculty and students, and hopefully more high-ranking university administrators, will also persevere in denouncing the rapidly growing fascism in the nation generally, and on college campuses–the fertile recruiting grounds.  This should not be “normal,” and we have  to ramp up the resistance.

Nada Elia

Nada Elia is a Palestinian scholar-activist, writer, and grassroots organizer, currently completing a book on Palestinian Diaspora activism.

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18 Responses

  1. Maghlawatan on February 9, 2018, 4:48 pm

    People like Marcus represent the darkness.
    The allegory of bad government. Trump is cutting food stamps for refgees, support for handicapped people and Medicare for people who really need it. This is plutocracy.

    Why is it that so many of these utter bastards are Jewish ?

    • JosephA on February 10, 2018, 8:55 am

      I believe your last question could have been (or should have been): “Why is it that so many of these utter bastards are zionists?”

      Remember, Judaism does not equal zionism in any way, shape, or form. Zionism is a perverted, racist ideology that attempts to co-opt and represent world Jewry.

    • on February 10, 2018, 12:34 pm

      Maghlawatan – Why is it that so many of these utter bastards are Jewish ?

      Because so many of these Jewish bastards are Zionists. The fear is that a growing number of white Zionists bastards (the non-Jewish variety) like Richard Spencer are teaming up with the Jewish variety creating a much larger movement or constellation of bastards. tRUMP’s own government reflected and encouraged that convergence filling office after office with Zionist bastards (just met my self imposed 5 bastard quota).

      As a Canadian I am utterly amazed at how things are breaking down in the US. It’s nothing less than shocking, absolutely shocking how much pull and leverage Zionists have in the US – challenging constitutionally entrenched freedoms and respected established norms and institutions like tenure – all done without shame and with malice.

      Our only hope is the young and I am hopeful. But this will be a fight for minds and power.

      • Maghlawatan on February 10, 2018, 5:42 pm

        They were there before there was Zionism. Zionism is just the application of the mentality to the masses of Jews in Israel. There has always been this struggle between decency and nihilism. Hillel versus the other schmuck. Masada versus the recipes.

  2. Ronald Johnson on February 10, 2018, 1:50 pm

    We may be approaching a watershed moment about what Israel represents: Judaism or Zionism? On the ground, with the rampaging settlers supported by the Israeli Administration, Israel appears Zionist, quite apart from what I know from my friends and neighbors about the precepts of Judaism.

    I await a consensus.

    • Maghlawatan on February 10, 2018, 5:43 pm

      Zionism is like the Roman church the night before Luther did his thing. Corrupt, fake, bloated, immoral

      • on February 10, 2018, 11:39 pm

        You could have been describing tRUMP in your last sentence.

    • inbound39 on February 12, 2018, 12:08 pm

      It is rapidly reaching the moment where Americans realise that supporting Israel and giving it billians to wage wars against Arabs that place American lives at greater and greater risk is undermining America’s global Status. Americans are the only government unequivocally supporting the actions and war crimes of the Zionist State of Israel. Billions of American Dollars are being syphoned off away from America that Americans need to fix problems in their own nation. Zionists are making a laughing stock of Americans by bleeding them of their money to finance their supremacist Apartheid wars against Arabs. America has no future while it remains tied to Israel… is a large dark blemish that is highly visible globally on America.

  3. RoHa on February 10, 2018, 10:34 pm

    Ms. Elia’s articles sometimes make me think of a twenty-first century Dave Spart, with identity politics in place of Trotskyism. (LGBTQ+? Don’t tell me what + is. It’s probably better for me not to know.)

    But she is quite right about the attack on academic freedom. (It is not a new phenomenon, though. The Russell/City College case was in 1956.) And when an academic fails to toe the approved, politically correct, line, s/he should not expect the university to stick up for him/her. More likely the university will be the first to stick it to him/her. (With appropriate collections of excuses and dodgy accusations, of course.)

    We have seen the Finkelstein and Salaita cases. Two current cases of apparent censorship/suppression are:

    Prof. Peter Ridd – James Cook University

    James Caspian – Bath Spa University

    But I have no doubt there are plenty more.

  4. Jon66 on February 10, 2018, 11:56 pm

    ” As founder and president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights, Marcus has spent much of his career endeavoring to suppress the free speech rights of students and faculty who support Palestinian rights. ”

    From a prior post by Ms.Elia, “The other significant victory was the shutting down of the scheduled Milo Yiannopolous talk at the University of California in Berkeley. Anyone who would blame the protestors for “violence,” rather than resistance, is assuming that the promotion of hatred is non-violence. But that assumption, quite simply, is wrong. There is no such thing as “non-violent hate speech.” Hate speech has direct consequences, all of which are violent. …Preventing Yiannopolous from speaking at Berkeley was direct action to shut down fascism.”

    So she has no problem with shutting down speech when it is speech that she disagrees with. All of these attempts to supress speech betray our core American values.

    • Mooser on February 11, 2018, 1:24 pm

      . “All of these attempts to supress speech betray our core American values.” “Jon s”

      Our core American values? Well, look who’s George Washington now!

      I notice you sure don’t appeal to any ‘core Israeli values’. Or even ‘core Jewish values’.

  5. Ossinev on February 11, 2018, 12:56 pm

    “All of these attempts to suppress speech betray our core American values”
    Presumably then you are against the attempts to suppress BDS and promotion of BDS in the US as it “betrays core American values)”.

    • Jon66 on February 11, 2018, 2:55 pm

      I am personally opposed to BDS as I am to Nazis speaking.
      The question of whether economic activity is “speech” has been answered by the Supreme Court as protected. In Katzenbach the court upheld the Civil Rights Act and required public places to not discriminate. The question of how to balance the right to boycott and the non-discrimination based on national origin is the heart of the matter. I am curious to see how the court rules on the wedding cake question. Can a baker boycott supplying a cake to a gay couple based upon religious views or is that protected speech.

      • inbound39 on February 12, 2018, 12:22 pm

        Your statement to Ossinev ,Jon66, makes me wonder why you don;t support freedom of speech to oppose the Zionist State of Israel that openly supports Apartheid against Palestinians and any non jewish people and a regime like Israel’s that openly commits War crimes with impunity supported by America. BDS opposes such actions. An Honourable stance. Looking at Israel’s actions……they closely Mimmick Nazi Germany’s actions yet you apparently support them. Your hypocracy is glaringly obvious.

      • Jon66 on February 12, 2018, 1:31 pm

        I support the right of BDS to be critical of Israel. I just don’t agree with their tactics or positions. I think the analogy you are making is erroneous and I find no honor in this line of criticism.

      • John O on February 13, 2018, 11:51 am

        @Jon66 “I support the right of BDS to be critical of Israel. I just don’t agree with their tactics or positions.”

        In other words, they can say what they like, so long as they don’t actually do anything. I find no honour in this line of thought.

      • Jon66 on February 13, 2018, 5:51 pm

        John O,
        I support their right to free speech, but that doesn’t mean that I wish them well in achieving their goals. I hope they fail.
        For example, I support the right of a speaker or movement to be pro-life, but I do not wish to see Roe overturned.

  6. Maghlawatan on February 13, 2018, 11:53 am

    Israel is not normal. If it was a person it would be a paedophile.

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