Congratulations to Aviva Vogelstein

pHDmqZ4The Louis D. Brandeis Center would like to congratulate its Director of Legal Initiatives, Aviva Vogelstein, on receiving the Daniel Siegel Memorial Alumni Award from her former high school last Sunday. The award is given out every year by the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School Alumni Association to an alum who maintains a connection to Beth Tfiloh and shows outstanding leadership in the Jewish community.

Beth Tfiloh, located in Baltimore, Maryland, is a Jewish community day school that ranges from pre-school through 12th grade, and is attached to the largest Modern Orthodox synagogue in North America. Vogelstein was thanked for her dedication to Beth Tfiloh, especially in regards to the talks she has presented to the Junior and Senior high school classes on her work at the Brandeis Center and on the topics of fighting BDS and anti-Semitism when they get to college.

Modern Language Association Overwhelmingly Passes Anti-BDS Motion

BDSOn 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.

50 Groups Urge Immediate Response to SJP Disruption in Framework of Principles Against Intolerance

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.

Chancellor Howard Gillman

Chancellor Howard Gillman

Having a mission to address anti-Semitism in higher education, LDB has been focused on addressing the anti-Semitic climate and array of incidents on campus at UC Irvine for quite some time now. LDB represented a UC-Irvine student, Eliana Kopley, in connection with another incident last year.
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.
Academic Council for Israel
Accuracy in Academia
Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity (AEPi)
Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF)
ACF – UC Davis
ACF – UC Riverside
ACF – UC Santa Barbara
AMCHA Initiative
American Council of Trustees and Alumni
American Institute for Jewish Research
Americans for Peace and Tolerance
American Truth Project
BEAR: Bias Education, Advocacy & Resources
Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law
California Association of Scholars
Christians and Jews United for Israel
Club Z
Davis Faculty for Israel
Eagles Wings
Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET)
Fuel For Truth
Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel
IAC for Action
Iranian American Jewish Federation
Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization
Israel Peace Initiative (IPI)
Jerusalem U
Jewish Israel Cafe
Middle East Forum
Middle East Political and Information Network (MEPIN)
National Conference on Jewish Affairs
National Council of Young Israel
Proclaiming Justice to the Nations
Russian Jewish Community Foundation
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East
Simon Wiesenthal Center
Stop BDS on Campus
Students and Parents Against Campus Anti-Semitism
Students Supporting Israel National
Students Supporting Israel at Columbia
Students Supporting Israel at UCLA
Students Supporting Israel at UC Irvine
The Coalition for Jewish Values
The Israel Christian Nexus
The Israel Group
Training and Education About the Middle East (T.E.A.M.)
Zionist Organization of America

Continue reading

UN Ambassador Addresses Anti-Israel Bias

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.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nation Nikki Haley

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley

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.”

Nevada Passes Anti-BDS Legislation

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.”

Nevada State Capitol Building

Nevada State Capitol Building

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.”

Once implemented, Nevada will soon be the 21st state to pass anti-BDS legislation, accompanying states such as Michigan and Texas.

Kansas Senate Passes Anti-BDS Legislation

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 21st 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.

Kansas Senate where the bill passed

Kansas Senate

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.

European Parliament Adopts IHRA Definition of Anti-Semitism

sharelogo_facebookOn June 1st, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on European Union member states and European Union institutions to adopt and apply the working definition of antisemitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The text of the resolution further urges EU member states to “protect their Jewish citizens and Jewish institutions from hate crime and hate speech; support law enforcement efforts to identify and prosecute anti-Semitic attacks…[and] appoint national coordinators on combating antisemitism.” The Louis D. Brandeis Center has urged this action throughout Europe and North America and applauds this more.

“This is an important step, not only for the countries of Europe, but for everyone who is concerned about rising anti-Semitism and its deleterious impact on academic institutions and Jewish civil liberties,” stated Kenneth L. Marcus, president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, who has been traveling in Europe and meeting with European authorities in and out of the European Parliament this week. “This decision will send a clear message about the need for a similar definition to be adopted in the United States.”

The IHRA definition, initially adopted in May of 2016, has been rapidly gaining ground in Europe. Three European nations, Romania, Austria, and the United Kingdom, have all adopted the definition into their corpus of law. Earlier this week, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), a division of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), incorporated the IHRA definition into its important new guide, “Understanding Anti-Semitic Hate Crimes and Addressing the Security Needs of Jewish Communities.” Marcus commented, “To have the European Parliament adopt the IHRA definition on the same week that ODHIR incorporates it into their work demonstrates an extraordinary show of momentum. The IHRA definition is substantially similar to the State Department definition, which Congress and some of the states have been considering adopting as well.”

In December 2016, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act (AAA) was introduced to the U.S. Congress. The AAA would have required the U.S. Department of Education to use the State Department’s definition in evaluating intent of anti-Semitic incidents on campuses. The AAA bill, which passed the Senate unanimously in December of last year, did not have a chance to be voted on in the House before the legislative session ended. The senators responsible for the bill plan on reintroducing it in the current session. The adoption of the definition by the European Parliament, as well as the increasing number of individual European countries adopting it, gives further momentum to such efforts.

Several U.S. states have also, individually, begun the process of drafting legislation aimed at adopting the definition in their own governments. South Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee are all considering similar moves. Marcus commented, “This is truly a global movement to combat the resurgence of anti-Semitism using the best available tools. In adopting the IHRA definition, the European Union makes it easier for governmental authorities to identify anti-Semitic incidents.”

Romania Adopts Anti-Semitism Definition

The Romanian Parliament

The Romanian Parliament

On May 26th, Romania pledged to apply the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism. The official statement from the Romanian governments asserts that “…Romanian society will be provided with an efficient guide that will contribute toward better understanding and definition of anti-Semitic actions as well as of the consequences deriving therefrom.” In 2016, the 31 member states of the IHRA adopted their definition after a unanimous vote at a plenary session in Bucharest City. The IHRA was the first international body to formally adopt such a definition. Similar decisions to apply this working definition of anti-Semitism have been adopted by the governments of both the United Kingdom, and Austria. The European Commission also, as of April 25th, has the working definition of anti-Semitism posted on its official website.

In the United States, the U.S. State Department has a definition which is almost entirely that used by both the EUMC and the IHRA. This definition is, however, only used for international monitoring. In December 2016, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act (AAA) was introduced to the U.S. Congress. The AAA would have required the U.S. Department of Education to use the State Department’s definition in evaluating intent of anti-Semitic incidents on campuses. The AAA bill, which passed the Senate unanimously in December of last year, did not have a chance to be voted on in the House before the legislative session ended. Several states are currently in the process of drafting their own versions of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act.

The adopting and application of a uniform definition of anti-Semitism in both Europe and the United States will help provide the tools to the governments and institutions of countries where resurgent anti-Semitism and bigotry threatens to undermine the progress made in fighting intolerance during the 20th century. Romania’s decision to adopt the working definition of anti-Semitism is a wonderful step in the right direction, one that will hopefully inspire other countries to soon follow suit.

University of Wisconsin – Madison’s Student Judiciary Rules Against Discrimination

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.

imgresJewish 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.