A Dangerous Move to Crack Down on Protests Against Israel

[The Progressive, Dec. 4, 2020]
Late last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. government finds the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign to be inherently “anti-Semitic.” He pledged to “immediately take steps to identify organizations that engage in hateful BDS conduct and withdraw U.S. government support for such groups” and urged all nations to “recognize the BDS movement for the cancer that it is. Pompeo made no distinction between those who support a boycott of Israel itself and those who support more limited forms of BDS… [FULL LINK]

Congressional Democrats Supported Violent Force Against Protesters in 2010

[Truthout June 19, 2020] The use of lethal force by police, National Guard, and other security forces has come under increasing scrutiny in the wake of the George Floyd killing and resulting uprisings. Congressional Democrats have begun speaking out against police-perpetrated killings as well as the use of excessive force against protesters and journalists across the country, such as the notorious incident in Lafayette Park across from the White House late last month. Democrats have even rejected the notion that if some members of an initially nonviolent crowd fight back when attacked by security forces, it therefore legitimates the targeting of protesters or those recording the incident, much less justifying lethal force. However, 10 years ago this week, a majority of congressional Democrats went on record defending Israel’s killing of 10 passengers and crew on the Mavi Marmara sailing in international waters as part of a humanitarian aid flotilla bound for the besieged Gaza Strip. The Israelis shot and killed 10 people aboard the ship, including five not resisting… most in the head at close range. [FULL LINK]

Rescinding a Human Rights Award to Angela Davis Was Cowardly and Unfair

The Progressive, January 10, 2019: This past October, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute announced that activist, author, and scholar Angela Davis would be presented with the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award at the group’s annual gala event next month. The announcement described Davis as “one of the most globally recognized champions of human rights, giving voice to those who are powerless to speak.” Davis—professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz—has long been known for her outspoken advocacy and solidarity work on behalf of oppressed peoples, particularly political prisoners, throughout the world. Her long history of solidarity work has included support for national liberation struggles in Vietnam, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and elsewhere…

Banning Palestinian Speaker at Friends Central School

Sa’ed Atshan is generally considered one of the most highly-respected young Quaker scholars in the United States. A graduate of Ramallah Friends School and Swarthmore College with a doctoral degree from Harvard, he is currently an assistant professor in Swarthmore’s Peace and Conflict Studies program. A committed pacifist, he serves on the board of Pendle Hill, is an active member of Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting and has worked with a wide range of organizations in conflict resolution and reconciliation.

Liberal UCSC alumni may pay price for donations

Santa Cruz Sentinel September 29, 2017
Alumni of the UC Santa Cruz who have been active politically in support of liberal causes should be cautious about making in-kind donations to their alma mater. It seems that UCSC now reserves the right to bring in ultra-conservative speakers as a condition of accepting such gifts from those with left-of-center views.
The late Santa Cruz mayor Scott Kennedy, a UCSC alum, posthumously donated through his widow Kris Kennedy hundreds of volumes from his large collection of books on peace and justice issues to the Page Smith Library at UCSC’s Cowell College. The books reflected his decades of activism… the ceremony dedicating the memorial space for the collection… would be paired with a later talk by J.J. Surbeck, a right-wing Republican polemicist from Southern California without any connection with UCSC… who regularly speaks before Tea Party gatherings and other far-right venues, has rarely been given a podium at colleges and universities due to his racist and Islamophobic tirades.

Resistance Builds to Proposed Israeli Boycott Bill

The Progressive & Huffington Post August 1, 2017
   A disturbing number of Congressional Democrats have joined their Republican counterparts in co-sponsoring a bill (S. 720/H.R. 1697) effectively criminalizing support for boycotts against Israel or companies doing business in the country or its occupied territories. If passed, the legislation would make it a crime to support or even furnish information about a boycott directed at Israel or the Israeli occupation supported by any entity of the United Nations, the European Union, or other “international governmental organization.” And the penalties are draconian…

Pro-Palestinian activism faces suppression on Catholic campuses

National Catholic Reporter March 7, 2017
At Marquette University last year, the Students for Justice chapter initially received administration approval to erect a large wooden barrier symbolizing Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank. The barrier at Marquette included slogans and pictures from the actual wall illegally constructed in the occupied territory. The university quickly removed it, however, determining that the “nature of the content of the display” was “likely to cause great offense,” and declared that the Marquette administration “cannot approve the wall being displayed again.” [Other US Catholic universities suppressing activism include DePaul, St. Louis and Loyola.]

Fordham ban of Palestine group contradicts free speech, Jesuit values

National Catholic Reporter February 9, 2017
Perhaps it is a sign that we are indeed in the age of Trump when a Jesuit university bans a student organization with “justice” in its name.    Although Students for Justice in Palestine went through all the required procedures and obtained approval from the student government, Fordham University in New York has prohibited the group’s recognition as a student organization. The move raises serious concerns not only regarding Fordham’s commitment to justice, long a priority for Jesuit universities, but also regarding its students’ rights to free speech and association and the spirit of an open university that protects free inquiry.

Opposition to Israeli occupation consistent with other human rights struggles

Santa Cruz Sentinel February 6, 2015
In my late teens, I was active in the movement opposing South Africa’s illegal occupation of Namibia, calling for boycotts and divestment of companies supporting the occupation and sanctions against the occupying power. I was involved in similar efforts during the 1990s against the Indonesian occupation of East Timor. These movements played a role in winning these countries their freedom. More recently, I have supported boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara. Many of us who have been involved in such campaigns over the years including UC Santa Cruz Professor Emerita Angela Davis, the speaker at this year’s Martin Luther King convocation, now support boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against the Israeli occupation

How the state Assembly tries to limit what I can teach

The Santa Cruz Sentinel & Transnational.org January 25, 2014
In preparing my syllabus for my introductory course on the Middle East this semester, it gives me pause the California Assembly is still on record declaring that discussing certain well-documented historic incidents in modern Middle Eastern history should “not be tolerated in the classroom.” This unprecedented attack on academic freedom came in the form of a resolution (HR 35), co-sponsored by 66 of the 88 Assembly members, which passed by a voice vote in 2012. The resolution purports to be in opposition to anti-Semitic activities on university campuses, yet defines “antisemitism” so broadly as to include student activism targeting certain policies of Israel”s right-wing government plus professors and others

Banned in Phoenix: How the Arizona State Bar Association Considers Analysis of International Law in the Middle East Too Controversial

This past week, the Arizona State Bar Association (SBA) held its annual convention. It appears that the ban on my participation is still in effect. No one in the organization’s leadership could explain anything objectionable in the paper, which they acknowledged they had not actually read, but were apparently convinced by a right-wing campaign that I was “anti-Israel” and “anti-American.”

California State Assembly Seeks to Stifle Debate on Israel

The California State Assembly has just passed a bipartisan resolution (HR 35) by voice vote which constitutes a serious attack on academic freedom and the rights of students and faculty to raise awareness about human rights abuses by U.S.-backed governments. While purporting to put the legislature on record in opposition of anti-Semitism on state university campuses, it defines anti-Semitism so widely as to include legitimate political activities in opposition to Israeli government policies.

The resolution was opposed by a wide variety of groups, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Asian Law Center, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, yet the Republican-sponsored measure received wide bipartisan support in the Democratic-controlled legislature.

The non-binding resolution – which was sponsored by 66 of the 80 members of the lower house – demands that what it calls “anti-Semitic activity” should “not be tolerated in the classroom or on campus, and that no public resources be allowed to be used for anti-Semitic or intolerant agitation.”

The resolution lists a number of examples of genuine anti-Semitic activities, such as painting swastikas outside Hillel offices. However, much of the text is focused upon criticism of the state of Israel. Among the examples given of “anti-Semitic activities” included in the resolution are:

accusations that the Israeli government is guilty of “crimes against humanity”
This would mean that a speaker from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other reputable human rights groups which have documented such violations of international humanitarian law by the Israeli Defense Forces could not be provided space or honoraria to talk about their research.

accusations that Israel has engaged in “ethnic cleansing”
This would mean that Israeli scholars who have studied and published documents from Israeli archives pertaining to the 1947-49 conflict in Israel/Palestine which demonstrate that there was a calculated policy of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian population in some regions would similarly be barred.

“student and faculty-sponsored boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel”
This would prohibit efforts to boycott goods made in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, support international sanctions on Israel over its ongoing violations of a series of UN Security Council resolutions, or have the university divest from its endowment stock in companies supporting the Israeli occupation.

The resolution also declares a number of other political activities that, while clearly objectionable – such as disrupting a speech by a supporter of the Israeli government – as “anti-Semitic,” based on the assumption that hostility toward such a speaker is not based on opposition to policies of Israel’s right-wing government, but because the country is Jewish.

Indeed, throughout the resolution, opposition to Israeli government policies is equated with bigotry towards Jews. There’s no question that some pro-Palestinian activists do sometimes cross the line into what could reasonably be called anti-Semitism, which should indeed be categorically condemned, as should all manifestations of prejudice. Unfortunately, this resolution makes no distinction between this tiny bigoted minority and the majority of activists who oppose the Israeli occupation and other policies of that country’s right-wing government on legitimate human rights grounds.

Not only does this constitute an attack on academic freedom, it compromises legitimate efforts against the scourge of anti-Semitism which – while not as widespread a phenomenon on California campuses as the resolution implies – is still very real.

College campuses, particularly those in California’s large public university systems, have long been a center of agitation for human rights and in opposition to U.S. policies which support violations of human rights, whether it be the war in Vietnam, investment in apartheid South Africa, intervention in Central America, or support for Israel’s wars and occupation.

This bipartisan effort appears to be an attempt to stifle this tradition. Indeed, if the California state legislature succeeds in shutting down debate regarding U.S. policy toward Israel and its neighbors, it will only be a matter of time before debate on other aspects of U.S. foreign policy will be suppressed as well.

University of California Takes Aim at Human Rights Activists

From the Vietnam War to the Central American revolutions to apartheid South Africa to the East Timor occupation to the invasion of Iraq, university campuses have been an important venue for concerned scholars and activists to raise issues regarding human rights, international law and US foreign policy.

However, in an effort to stifle this tradition, University of California President Mark Yudof has launched a campaign targeting human rights activists and others challenging the Israeli occupation and colonization of the West Bank and other policies of the right-wing US-backed Israeli government.

In March, Yudof posted a recent public letter in which he referred to protests on UC campuses against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as “hateful incidents” on par with defacing LGBT centers, hanging nooses to intimidate African-American students and painting swastikas on campus buildings.

As UC Davis Professor Bob Ostertag noted, under the University of California administration’s new criteria, “student protests against the segregationist policies of southern states during the civil rights movement would be considered ‘hateful events’ against whites, while protests against Serbian policies in Bosnia would be considered ‘hateful events’ against Serbs.” Indeed, the conflating of the right-wing Israeli government with the Jewish people is dangerous on a number of levels, including its apparent objective of invalidating any criticisms of any policies of this key Middle Eastern ally of the United States.

This campaign is already having an impact. UCLA Professor David Shorter, who teaches a course in Indigenous Studies, had curated on a course site available only to students in his class scores of links to possible references for a number of proposed topics for term papers. They included links to essays and other reference materials supportive of various indigenous struggles as well as some that were in opposition, including essays critical of the BDS campaign (boycott/divestment/sanctions) over Israel’s occupation policies. However, because it included a link to a group supportive of BDS, Professor Shorter was publicly reprimanded by the chair of the Academic Senate. This is believed to be the first time the University of California has ever admonished a professor for simply including a link by a human rights group.

One of the incidents which prompted Yudof’s initiative took place on the Davis campus when representatives of the Israeli military gave a public presentation during which they denied and rationalized for well-documented war crimes and criticized reputable human rights organizations. In response, a coalition of student groups – including Students of Justice and Peace in Palestine, Jewish Voices for Peace and the Latino/a student group MECHA – engaged in a silent walkout followed by “a small, peaceful discussion outside the building where they discussed the realities of life under occupation.” A university employee unaffiliated with those groups and their protest heckled the speakers and was appropriately removed from the room by campus security, but – according to faculty members present – the student protesters “did not disrupt the event, nor did any members of this diverse coalition interrupt the speakers.”

Yudof’s letter nevertheless characterizes the silent non-disruptive student protest as “verbal attacks,” comparing them to hate crimes against Jewish, African-American and GLBTQ students.

Yudof also announced that the university is now working with two organizations allied with the Israeli government – but notably no human rights groups or organizations supportive of the Israeli peace movement or the Palestinians – “to improve campus climate for all students and to take full advantage of our marvelous diversity.”

It is particularly ironic that Yudof has brought in the right-wing Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which – while originally a reputable civil rights group – has in more recent years placed much of its energy on defaming legitimate critics of Israeli policies. Given that the ADL has lost a number of court cases regarding spying, harassment and libel in recent years, the decision to bring them in as consultants on this sensitive matter is particularly disturbing. Those who have been victims of such ADL attacks have included scholars who categorically support Israel’s right to exist in peace and security and who have spoken out against unfair attacks against Israel, but happen to object to particular policies of the Israeli government which violate international humanitarian law. Other professors have been singled out simply for research which included evidence that happened to contradict positions taken by the Israeli government.

(For example, despite my consistent and categorical opposition to terrorism and advocacy of nonviolent forms of resistance, the ADL put out a widely circulated article about me entitled “professor justifies terrorism” following my 2005 article on the Lebanese Hezbollah movement. Though the article fully acknowledged the group’s sordid history of terrorism and extremist ideology, I noted – based on reports from the US State Department and the Congressional Research Service – that they had not engaged in any terrorist attacks during the previous decade and had refocused their energies on their network of social services and on electoral politics.)

Despite personally informing President Yudof of the ADL’s lack of credibility on such matters, he has declined to reconsider the university’s decision to grant the right-wing group this important consultative role.

Yudof also organized a meeting with the Hillel Foundation directors from the UC’s campuses – who are generally acknowledged to be well to the right politically relative to most Jewish students in the university system – to discuss their “observations regarding how Israel is faring on campus, how the Jewish community perceives the university’s actions and inactions and, most important, how Jewish students are feeling about the situation.” It appears he has not made any comparable initiative to learn how Palestine is faring on campus, how the Palestinian or the human rights community perceives the university’s actions and inactions, or how Palestinian or other Arab students feel about the situation.
The University of California’s bias toward allied right-wing governments of the United States and opposition to human rights activists who challenge them is further illustrated by the university administration’s tolerance of actions by right-wing groups allied with the Israeli government, including attacking bystanders with pepper spray, wielding stun guns at a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Berkeley and fabricating quotes by moderate professors who support human rights in the Middle East to falsely depict them as anti-Israel extremists.

Anti-Jewish bigotry (“anti-Semitism”) – like racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression – is unfortunately ubiquitous in contemporary society and sometimes does raise its ugly head among a minority of activists involved in movements supporting Palestinian rights. Whenever it does, it should be challenged forcefully and unreservedly condemned.

This is not what these recent actions by the University of California administration are about, however. These are nothing short of McCarthyistic attacks to suppress debate and free speech on human rights abuses by governments allied to the United States. And it is ironic that it this is taking place on university campuses, traditionally a center of such discourse – particularly at the University of California.