Today, the Brandeis Center wrote to University of Wisconsin – Madison (“UW”) Chancellor Rebecca Blank, applauding her administration for castigating the Associated Students of Madison’s controversial April 26, 2017 Student Council (“ASM”) divestment measure, and urging further action from her administration.
This past semester, the ASM introduced various versions of BDS resolutions, violating the ASM Constitution & Bylaws in the process and discriminating against and harassing Jewish students and their allies. Though the UW administration castigated the ASM’s April 26 BDS resolution, more must be done to correct the campus environment and discipline certain students. LDB urged action, including:
- Addressing the statement from former ASM Chair that “All white people are racist.” Such negative racial stereotypes are unacceptable, and is especially damaging to the campus environment when conveyed by a person with official stature, even within the student body. As explained in LDB’s Best Practice Guide, it is necessary for university leaders to exercise moral leadership by expressing their views of difficult subjects.
- Taking responsive actions consistent with UW nondiscrimination policies and Wisconsin Statute.
- Requiring orientation and training for all ASM Members on the nature of and different manifestations of anti-Semitism, and the appropriate means of addressing it. Additionally, requiring orientation and training for all new students on the nature of and different manifestations of anti-Semitism, and the appropriate means of addressing it.
- Updating the “UW Student Handbook, Policies on Accommodating Students’ Religious Beliefs” to include that the ASM Student Council should be accommodating to students’ religious beliefs.
- Creating more academic and extracurricular programming to raise community awareness about global and campus anti-Semitism, making use of valuable UW resources, such as the UW Hillel and the UW Mosse/Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies.
- Adopting a uniform definition of anti-Semitism, such as the definition used by the S. State Department or the recently adopted University of California Regents’ Statement of Principles Against Intolerance, in order to avoid and properly identify anti-Semitism should it arise in the future.
The redacted text of LDB’s letter can be found below:
June 21, 2017
Chancellor Rebecca M. Blank
University of Wisconsin – Madison
161 Bascom Hall
500 Lincoln Drive
Madison, WI 53796
Dear Chancellor Blank,
We write on behalf of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, at the request of our friends at the University of Wisconsin Hillel, to applaud your administration for castigating the Associated Students of Madison’s controversial April 26, 2017 Student Council (“ASM”) divestment measure (hereinafter “Divestment Measure”) and to urge further action from your administration. The Louis D. Brandeis Center is a national public interest advocacy organization dedicated to the civil and human rights of the Jewish people and justice for all.
We appreciate your April 26, 2017 online statement that the Divestment Measure does not control the policies or practices of the University of Wisconsin – Madison (“UW”) or the UW Foundation (“WFAA”) and will not change your approach. You exercised commendable leadership by clarifying your opposition to the anti-Semitic movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel (“BDS”). We further applaud the ASM Student Judiciary for voiding a discriminatory bylaw change at the April 12 ASM meeting, which took place on the Jewish holiday of Passover. The Student Judiciary properly voided the bylaw change; suggested that the former ASM Chair attend tolerance training and apologize for her discriminatory actions; and mandated the incoming ASM Chair to send a letter to the Student Council explaining why her motion to waive the rules was wrong, why the nondiscrimination clause of the ASM constitution is essential, and why Passover is important to the Jewish community.
We urge you to build on this good start, keeping in mind your important observation that Jewish students felt targeted by the ASM’s actions. You say that “UW-Madison values and welcomes members of all faiths and identities,” and we take you at your word. We ask that you demonstrate this with further actions to correct the hostile campus environment created for Jewish students on campus, and prevent such discrimination and harassment from recurring.
The comments made during and in the wake of the ASM meetings demonstrate a lack of understanding and respect for Jewish students and the Jewish religion. Some statements demonstrated gross insensitivity, at best, as well as negative ethnic and racial stereotypes. They include, for example, sweeping offensive generalizations. Jewish students present at the various ASM meetings, and students who attempted to speak up on behalf of Jewish students, felt targeted and harassed. Some of the discriminatory statements and actions that occurred include the following: more »
On June 19, 2017, The Lawfare Project and Winston & Strawn LLP filed a lawsuit on behalf of six students and several members of the Bay Area Jewish community against San Francisco State University (“SFSU”). The complaint alleges that the university has fostered a climate of anti-Semitism on campus, violating the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection, as well as their rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. President Leslie Wong, the California State University Board of Trustees, and other top administrative officials were named as defendants.
The lawsuit was prompted by alleged complicity of university administrators and police officers in the disruption of an April 2016 event, when San Francisco Hillel invited the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, to speak on campus. At the event, audience members were allegedly “subjected to genocidal and offensive chants and expletives by a raging mob that used bullhorns to intimidate and drown out the Mayor’s speech and physically threaten and intimidate members of the mostly-Jewish audience.”
Protesters yelled and chanted “Intifada,” [Arabic for “uprising,” the term “Intifada” has come to mean a call for violence against innocent Israeli civilians. The First and Second Intifadas in Israel resulted in 170 bombings perpetrated by Palestinian terrorists against Israeli civilians between 1989-2008], “Get the [expletive] off our campus,” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” [the destruction of Israel entirely] while university administrators allowed the disruption to continue and instructed campus police to “stand down.”
The plaintiffs also allege that Hillel was unfairly excluded from a campus “Know Your Rights” fair aimed at members of vulnerable populations on Feb. 18, 2017.
The complaint contends that the way administrators handled the April confrontation and the most recent exclusion is consistent with other incidents on SFSU’s campus over the years. According to the complaint, “SFSU and its administrators have knowingly fostered this discrimination… SFSU has not merely fostered and embraced anti-Jewish hostility — it has systematically supported … student groups as they have doggedly organized their efforts to target, threaten, and intimidate Jewish students on campus and deprive them of their civil rights and their ability to feel safe and secure as they pursue their education.” Readers may recall how a SFSU professor of ethnic studies, Rabab Abdulhadi, used university tax-payer funds to finance a student trip to the Palestinian territories, where they were met by Leila Khaled, a Palestinian heralded as the first woman to have hijacked an airplane in an act of terror in 1969; or former student Mohammad Hammad, who infamously posted a picture of himself holding a blade on social media, saying: “I seriously cannot get over how much I love this blade. It is the sharpest thing I own and cuts through everything like butter, and just holding it makes me want to stab an Israeli soldier.”
Further, the complaint notes that “no actions were ever taken by SFSU against the disruptive students, no disciplinary charges were ever filed, and no sanctions were ever imposed against the groups or students responsible for committing these acknowledged violations.”
Lawyers for the students hope the case will set a precedent under Title VI, which protects Jewish students from being targeted for their ethnic or ancestral identity. “Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the underpinning of the modern American ethos of equal protection and anti-discrimination. This case isn’t about Jews, it’s about equal protection under the law,” Brooke Goldstein, director of The Lawfare Project, said in a written statement. “If the courts fail to apply Title VI in this context, we are creating a massive loophole that will ultimately be exploited at some point to target other marginalized minority communities. If we refuse to enforce anti-discrimination law for Jews, if we say Jews don’t deserve equal protection, it will erode constitutional protections for everyone.”
On Friday, June 16th, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed an anti-BDS bill barring state agencies from entering into contracts with individuals or companies that boycott Israel. The bill, HB 2409, first passed the Kansas Senate on Wednesday, June 7th in a 39 to 3 vote before passing the state’s House hours later by a vote of 99 to 13. In signing the bill, Kansas follows in the footsteps of many other states, including Texas and Nevada which have both passed similar anti-BDS legislation within the past month.
Although supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement claim that the primary motive of the movement is “merely to pressure Israel towards a two-state solution,” in actuality, the BDS campaign delegitimizes the existence of a Jewish state by calling for its destruction. According to the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist” are examples of anti-Semitic behavior.
The bill follows calls from the Kansas Department of Commerce in March to maintain trade relations with the country. According to the department, in 2016 Kansas exported $56,681,800 in total commodities to Israel and imported $83,650,853 from the country. The Department stated in its report to the House General Government Budget Committee that “any company openly boycotting Israel and its products, is openly boycotting a Kansas trade partner and ally.” The bill then defines ‘boycott’ as “engaging in a refusal to deal, terminating business activities or performing other actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with persons or entities doing business in Israel…”
Gov. Brownback, elected in 2011, has shown longstanding support for the state of Israel. As senator from 1996-2011, Mr. Brownback worked to raise awareness of anti-Semitism, writing in the Jewish Press that he stands with Israel, “We are with you as your friends as a wave of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric is once again on the rise.” The current bill serves as a testament to his work to promote tolerance in his home state.
Today, the Pitzer College Trustees announced that they had rescinded the recent BDS amendment passed by the Pitzer Student Senate. The initial amendment was made to the Student Senate’s Budget Committee Bylaws. The changes, introduced in April, included a new paragraph (Paragraph IV) within Article III (student Activities Funds) which prohibited the use of Student Activities Funds to “make payments on goods and services from any corporation or organization associated with the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories, as first delineated by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.” This was followed by a list of corporations that would be affected by this change, comprised of the following companies: Caterpillar, SodaStream, Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories, Hewlett-Packard, and Sabra.
Pitzer announced, following efforts by Hillel, the Academic Engagement Network, and various other organizations, that the board had decided to “rescind Paragraph IV and declare it to be of no effect.” Pointing to the complicated nature surrounding questions pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Pitzer stated that “[the conflict] is among the most complex, emotional and divisive issues of our time, and is one on which the College has not taken a position. Students and other members of the Pitzer community, from all faiths and backgrounds, represent the full spectrum of viewpoints on this challenging issue.” The letter from Pitzer goes on to state that it had not once in 54 years had to intervene in this regard, and that they felt they had to intervene due to the fact that this decision “[did] not align with Pitzer’s commitment to inclusion and respect for diverse viewpoints.”
The vote that saw this BDS amendment pass, where Jewish students reported feeling ambushed due to the fact the it was held over Passover, is indicative of the similar vote taken this April at Tufts, a vote which also led to the adoption of a BDS resolution. With the quick action taken by Pitzer, in direct response to the outcry from the American Jewish community, a message has been sent to Tufts and other campuses that have adopted other over-reaching and misguided BDS resolutions, BDS will not be allowed to dominate campus life and organizations on these campuses.
BDS is also on the retreat in academic associations in the United States, with the Modern Language Association overwhelmingly adopting an anti-BDS motion this month, and the lawsuit against the Academic Studies Association allowed to continue after a Judge for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the ASA professors in four out of six claims, authorizing the case to move forward to discovery. With push back against BDS in all of its main areas of attack, as well as over twenty-one US states having passed their own anti-BDS legislation, it is only a matter of time before BDS finds no home in the United States, whether on or off campus.
On June 14, 2017, the Modern Language Association (MLA) announced that a resolution against BDS had been ratified by their members, passing by a wide margin of 1,954 votes in favor to 885 against. Resolution 2017-1 states: “Whereas endorsing the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel contradicts the MLA’s purpose to promote teaching and research on language and literature…be it resolved that the MLA refrain from endorsing the boycott.” The resolution also stated that such a boycott would curtail debates with faculty of Israeli universities, as well as block dialogue and scholarly exchange. Already, individuals aligned with MLA Members for Justice in Palestine have threatened to resign over the new anti-BDS vote.
The anti-BDS motion comes on the heels of an attempt to pass a pro-BDS motion at the MLA national conference in January of this year. The Louis D. Brandeis Center (LDB) penned a letter urging MLA to reject the then upcoming boycott vote in December of last year. LDB president Kenneth L. Marcus, speaking to the ultra vires nature of the potential resolution, stated that the MLA needed to know that “…these resolutions are unlawful and may subject the organization to liability, the MLA is chartered as a scholarly organization to promote the study of modern languages, not a political organization to engage in political affairs relating to Israel and the Middle East. It is unlawful for them to act outside their proper authority.”
Following LDB’s letter, and advocacy from other the organizations, the pro-BDS motion that was initially expected to pass in January was instead defeated by a vote of 113 to 79, by the MLA Delegate Assembly. On the same day, the MLA Delegate Assembly voted in favor of the anti-BDS resolution, proposed by MLA Members for Scholars Rights, by a vote of 101 in favor to 93 against. This resolution then went to the vote of full MLA membership, and passed this week.
The MLA has more than four times the membership of the American Studies Association (ASA), the largest academic group in the United States to have adopted an academic boycott resolution. The Brandeis Center, along with two other law firms, filed suit on behalf of four professors against the ASA for its unlawful boycott of Israel. Recently, a Judge for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the ASA professors in four out of six claims, authorizing the case to move forward to discovery.
The anti-BDS vote, with a wide margin in favor, displays that individuals are growing tired of the relentless BDS votes that are being championed in organizations across the United States, many of which have nothing to do with Israel or politics. It also displays that the unrelenting nature of BDS activists is not leading to their eventual victories, but rather their own discrediting.
The Louis D. Brandeis Center joined the AMCHA Initiative and nearly 50 other groups in urging an immediate response from UC Irvine over a recent hostile incident in the letter below. LDB had already written to Chancellor Gilman on this matter immediately after the incident had occurred.
Dear Chancellor Gillman,We are 50 Jewish, Christian, education and civil rights organizations representing hundreds of thousands of supporters. Many of our organizations wrote to you last August to express our sincere appreciation for your statement to the campus community, committing yourself to ensuring “the full implementation of all elements of the Regents’ statement [of Principles Against Intolerance].” We are writing to you now, however, to echo the serious concerns raised by UC Irvine Hillel, Hillel International, Students Supporting Israel National and other organizations regarding the university’s handling of last month’s disruption of a pro-Israel event by members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). We, too, are deeply disappointed that, despite your verbal commitment to fully implement the Regents’ statement, little on the ground has improved when it comes to addressing intolerant behavior directed against Jewish and pro-Israel students.For four years in a row now, members of Students for Justice in Palestine and other anti-Zionist groups have been permitted to intentionally and successfully disrupt a student-organized, pro-Israel event:
- On May 10, 2017, approximately forty protesters, who were granted entrance to a Students Supporting Israel event featuring five Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reservists, on the condition that they behave civilly and not disrupt, broke out into loud, sustained chants that purposely made it impossible for the event to continue. The reservists and the audience who came to hear them had to be escorted out of the building by campus police for their safety.
- On May 18, 2016, Jewish and pro-Israel students had to be escorted by campus police from the room in which an Israel-themed film was being screened, after an angry mob of dozens of protesters stood right outside the event, loudly chanted, pounded on the room’s door and prevented students from entering and exiting.
- On April 23, 2015, an Anteaters for Israel event was disrupted by protesters, who chanted loudly to drown out the event and blocked the walkway leading to the event.
- And on May 8, 2014, at a pro-Israel event, members of anti-Zionist student groups assaulted three female Jewish students and pushed others away from information booths set up for the event.None of these incidents was spontaneous. Rather, the disruptions and attempted shut-downs of pro-Israel events were carefully planned by members of anti-Zionist student groups, particularly SJP, as part of an ideologically motivated campaign to suppress any and all Zionist or pro-Israel expression on campus. As one SJP leader boasted the day after the most recent disruption, during an event connected with the SJP-sponsored “Anti-Zionism Week”:“Last night we disrupted their event to let them know that we refuse to allow the normalization of their presence here… And last year, we shut down an IDF panel, we shut down their panel [loud cheers and applause].”There is a clear distinction between expression that is protected by the First Amendment and harassment. We recognize that while SJP members may advocate for an anti-Zionist agenda that includes the promotion of BDS and calls for the elimination of the Jewish state — expression that our groups find hateful and deeply offensive – they are within their constitutional rights to do so. However, when SJP members engage in speech or action intended to suppress the expression of other students or to deprive them of the right to fully participate in campus life, the line between free speech and harassment has been crossed. This behavior is absolutely unacceptable and cannot go unaddressed.The fact that SJP members have intentionally crossed the line between protected expression and harassment, year after year, without disciplinary measures being taken against them, is outrageous. This year’s incident is especially appalling, in light of your stated commitment to implementing the Regents Principles Against Intolerance. The most basic tenet of any implementation of these principles must be to safeguard the freedom of expression of all students, first and foremost by taking prompt and appropriate disciplinary measures against those who suppress the freedom of expression or civil rights of others. In particular, any student group whose members have openly stated their commitment to shutting down the freedom of expression of other students on campus and have carried out their malicious intentions on multiple occasions should not be allowed to operate freely at UCI. Moreover, the group’s leaders and active members should be subject to disciplinary measures commensurate with their violations of university policy.Yet it has been more than one month since the incident in question, and not only have the students who perpetrated this harassment not been disciplined, nor their student group sanctioned, your office has yet to even issue a public condemnation of SJP’s egregiously intolerant behavior. By not speaking out on this matter, you have missed a critical opportunity to educate the campus community about the unacceptable nature of SJP’s behavior, and your silence has actually contributed to the hostile climate that Jewish and pro-Israel students experience at UC Irvine.Your failure to adequately address this most obvious case of intolerant behavior is deeply troubling and suggests that your plan for implementing the Regents’ Principles may also be inadequate. We therefore ask you to tell us how UCI’s current plan for implementing the Regents Principles Against Intolerance will adequately address the current incident and ensure that Jewish students, and all students, are protected now and in the future from intolerant behavior which denies them freedom of expression and the right to fully participate in campus life.We look forward to hearing from you.Sincerely,Academic Council for IsraelAccuracy in AcademiaAlpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity (AEPi)Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF)ACF – UC DavisACF – UCLAACF – UC RiversideACF – UC Santa BarbaraAMCHA InitiativeAmerican Council of Trustees and AlumniAmerican Institute for Jewish ResearchAmericans for Peace and ToleranceAmerican Truth ProjectBEAR: Bias Education, Advocacy & ResourcesBrandeis Center for Human Rights Under LawCalifornia Association of ScholarsChristians and Jews United for IsraelClub ZDavis Faculty for IsraelEagles WingsEndowment for Middle East Truth (EMET)Fuel For TruthInstitute for Black Solidarity with IsraelIAC for ActionIranian American Jewish FederationIranian Jewish Women’s OrganizationIsrael Peace Initiative (IPI)Jerusalem UJewish Israel CafeMiddle East ForumMiddle East Political and Information Network (MEPIN)National Conference on Jewish AffairsNational Council of Young IsraelProclaiming Justice to the NationsRoc4IsraelRussian Jewish Community FoundationScholars for Peace in the Middle EastSimon Wiesenthal CenterStandWithUsStop BDS on CampusStudents and Parents Against Campus Anti-SemitismStudents Supporting Israel NationalStudents Supporting Israel at ColumbiaStudents Supporting Israel at UCLAStudents Supporting Israel at UC IrvineThe Coalition for Jewish ValuesThe Israel Christian NexusThe Israel GroupTraining and Education About the Middle East (T.E.A.M.)Zionist Organization of America
The United Nations Human Rights Council has adopted countless resolutions against Israel throughout its history, and U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has been very vocal about this biased trend. On June 6, Ambassador Haley addressed the Council, calling on it to end its one-sided, anti-Israel behavior as part of her remarks at the opening of the body’s 35th session in Geneva. Ambassador Haley highlighted that the council has adopted, “five biased resolutions in March against a single country, Israel.”
These sentiments were reiterated again in Ambassador Haley’s later remarks at the Graduate Institute of Geneva, where she urged the Council to remove agenda item seven. Agenda item seven – “Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories” – constantly inspires resolutions, with an average of five passed per year since 2006. It is important to note that Israel/Palestine is the only country/issue that holds its own place on the Council’s standing agenda. As stated by a US State Department’s spokesperson, Mark Toner, this agenda item is “yet another reminder of that body’s long-standing bias against Israel.” Ambassador Haley went on to add that “since its creation, the Council has passed more than 70 resolutions targeting Israel,” in contrast to “just seven on Iran.”
This chronic behavior at the Human Rights Council and the UN as a whole demonstrates more than just anti-Israel; it is anti-Semitic. Kenneth L. Marcus, President and General Counsel for the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under the Law explains this in his book, The Definition of Anti-Semitism. Marcus describes a test that Natan Sharansky developed – the “3-D Test” – according to which anti-Israel rhetoric crosses the line into anti-Semitism if it: Demonizes Israel, Delegitimizes the Jewish state, and applies Double standards to Israel that are not the same as those applied to any other democracy. The UN Human Rights Council has most evidently engaged in anti-Israel criticism that can be rightfully classified as anti-Semitism. It consistently demonizes Israel, calling it a human rights abuser and an apartheid state.
Additionally, Sociologist Sina Arnold has highlighted 5 distinct forms of double standards that are employed with regards to Israel. One of which, the “double standard of salience” by which Israel’s conflicts garner more attention than other comparable international disputes is very evident in the Council’s consistent condemnation of Israel given how the Council has ignored many other comparable or worse international disputes. Syria, a country where its leader, “bombs his own hospitals, ambulances and medical workers,” helped sponsor a resolution to address the, “Health conditions in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem and in the occupied Syrian Golan.”
Instead of criticizing the countries, like Syria, that are notorious for their daily human rights abuses, the Council empowers them to target Israel. Ambassador Haley ended her remarks by calling on other countries to help her in addressing this bias and reforming the Council so that it more aptly achieves its goal; she stated that “the status quo is not acceptable,” and that “It is not a place for countries who champion human rights.”
On May 24, 2017, Nevada’s House unanimously passed an anti-BDS bill that outlaws government entities from contracting with or investing in companies that boycott Israel. Last month, the Senate approved this bill in a 19-2 vote and, now, it is being sent to Gov. Brian Sandoval, who is expected to sign it into law. Gov. Sandoval previously showed his commitment to fighting BDS when he recently joined all 49 other state governors in signing this statement declaring the BDS movement as “incompatible with the values of our states and our country.”
The Nevada bill is designed to combat the BDS movement. This is a movement that “focuses on discriminating against businesses, organizations, and institutions simply for exercising their right to freely associate with Israel, or for being Jewish or Israeli heritage,” according to Dillon Hosier, the national director of State Government Affairs at Israeli-American Coalition for Action when speaking to JPost.
Once signed into law, Nevada’s anti-BDS bill would prohibit government entities from contracting with companies that boycott Israel, as well as require Nevada’s pension board to identify and prepare a report concerning investments of money in companies that boycott Israel. This is a crucial step for Nevada because, as Hosier added, “Nevada has strong economic ties with companies targeted by BDS…Allowing BDS to infiltrate this state would greatly disenfranchise Nevadans and harm [their] long-term economic interests.”
This past Saturday, Kansas State Senate passed a bill that will prevent the state from contracting businesses that engage in discrimination either against Israel or entities doing business in Israel. Kansas’ House previously passed the bill in a 116-9 vote in April and the State Senate approved it in a vote of 28-9. Due to the changes made, the will now head back to the House to receive a final vote. If this bill is passed and signed into law, Kansas would be the 22nd state to pass anti-BDS legislation, accompanying states such as Michigan and Texas.
Kansas is joining the fight against the BDS movement – a movement that seeks to boycott Israeli businesses and entities linked to Israel. Israel is of high importance to Kansas, specifically its economy, given that the state exported $56.7 million in commodities to Israel and imported $83.7 million from Israel, according to Kansas’ Department of Commerce.
The bill would essentially require businesses and individuals that have contracts with the state to affirm that they are not boycotting Israel. This requirement, however, was loosened in an amendment made in the Senate. Sen. Tom Hawk offered an amendment, during debate on Friday, that would allow the Secretary of Administration more latitude in waiving the “no-boycott” requirement if he/she determines “compliance is not practicable or in the best interest of the state.” Sen. Steve Fitzgerald challenged this amendment, saying that if the requirement is waived because it causes inconvenience then “anti-Semitism is tolerable.”
Some outsiders, like the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, opposed the bill for its “attempts to punish free speech” as they wrote in a letter to lawmakers. However, lawmakers and U.S. precedence will tell you that this discussion, is not about free speech. Sen. Fitzgerald responded to these claims by asking rhetorically whether lawmakers would support the state doing business with firms that were openly racist, “Why not?” he exclaimed, “Free speech?” pointing out how this legislation is consistent with other anti-discrimination laws.
The U.S. government has historically rejected boycotts based on national origin, like the BDS movement. Additionally, Federal courts have ruled that economic boycotts are not protected free speech.
Earlier this month, the University of Wisconsin – Madison’s (“UW”) Student Judiciary stood up for the rights of Jewish students on campus. The Student Judiciary ruled in favor of five students (the “Petitioners”) who filed a complaint against the Chair and Vice Chair of the Associated Students of Madison (“ASM”) Student Council, for violating the Constitutional rights of Jewish students and the ASM’s bylaws.
Jewish students at Madison were on edge this semester in the wake of proposed BDS resolutions on campus. On March 29, four ASM members introduced a highly contentious 14-page resolution, “Social Responsibility and University Divestment from Corporate Human Rights.” More than half of this resolution sought to condemn Israel. As reported by the Badger Herald, after six hours of debate, the ASM voted to table this resolution indefinitely.
The next ASM meeting was scheduled for the evening of April 12, the second night of Passover. A Jewish student, and chair of the ASM’s Budget Committee, Ariela Rivkin, emailed the ASM Chair on April 7, requesting that the ASM not take up any legislation concerning “human rights mechanisms or transparency on investment policy” at the April 12 meeting. Because it fell on Passover, it precluded observant Jewish students from attending and providing input on an issue of importance to the Jewish community.
Despite Chair Rivkin’s email, the ASM introduced a different piece of legislation on April 12– a “Bylaw Change for the Creation of Financial Transparency and Ethics Subcommittee” – that addressed similar issues to the March 29 BDS legislation. The ASM Vice Chair motioned to suspend the rules to allow for an initial vote on this bylaw change to occur at the introductory meeting (even though legislation requires two votes). An ASM member raised the concern that voting would exclude Jewish students. The Vice Chair said it would be a “hassle” to schedule another meeting for the vote. The legislation passed.
Following the April 12 meeting, Petitioners filed a Student Judiciary complaint against the ASM Chair and Vice Chair, alleging that the vote violated Jewish student’s constitutional rights and ASM Bylaws.
On May 10th, the Student Judiciary ruled in favor of the Petitioners, stating,
Holding the April 12th meeting on Passover did not automatically violate the ASM Constitution. Introducing legislation that members of the Jewish community had expressed interest in, when it was known that these members would not be able to attend due to religious observance, does violate the Constitution.
. . . .
There can be no doubt that this vote was the product of a blatant disregard for the Constitution and Bylaws that Student Council representatives are sworn to uphold. The panel notes that the actions taken by the 23rd session may not have been malicious in intent. Nevertheless, multiple constitutional violations occurred at the April 12th meeting and Jewish students were the subject of discrimination by their elected representatives. This is unacceptable, and future sessions are warned that the Judiciary will not tolerate the hypocrisy of a student government that claims to be a voice for students, while simultaneously discriminating against and silencing their constituents.
The Student Judiciary’s ruling voided the bylaw change; suggested that the former ASM Chair attend a training on religious tolerance and understanding apologize to the Jewish community for her discriminatory acts as Chair; mandated the Vice Chair (who will be next year’s Chair) to send a letter to the Student Council, explaining why her motion to waive the rules was wrong, why the nondiscrimination clause of the ASM constitution is essential, why Passover is important to the Jewish community, and apologizing to all Jewish council members for excluding them from the initial vote on the Bylaw Change, among other things. The full ruling can be found here.
While this is a huge victory, the ASM passed another BDS resolution at their April 26th meeting that also seems to have violated ASM bylaws. At the April 26 meeting, Jewish students reported feeling harassed and intimidated. The ASM initially listed the resolution as, “Divestment from Private Prisons, Fossil Fuel Corporations, Border Walls, and Arms Manufacturers.” The text as introduced did not mention Israel. At the meeting itself, ASM members introduced, in an orchestrated fashion, BDS amendments. By doing so, they failed to give the Jewish community proper notice. Another Student Judiciary complaint was filed against the ASM for their actions; however, because the academic year has ended, we will have to wait until the Fall to see if this resolution, too, will be voided.
The University of Wisconsin – Madison administration should be keeping a watchful eye on the discriminatory actions of its Student Council, disciplining in line with its policies, and offering education and training on bias and discrimination.
Kudos to the brave students for filing these necessary complaints against hatred and bigotry, and to Madison’s Student Judiciary for ruling fairly and against discrimination.