Students’ Society of McGill University Labels BDS “Unconstitutional”

The Judicial Board of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) recently declared in a board decision, called a “Reference,” that BDS and “similar motions” are “unconstitutional.” The Reference was created in response to an earlier petition filed in March by a “student upset over the third BDS motion proposed at the university” in 18 months.

Gil Troy, a history professor and anti-BDS advocate at McGill University, was enthusiastic, telling Algemeiner, “[t]his decision is huge! It means that Jewish concerns are respected with all others, and that antisemitism is also recognized as bigotry, as well as something that triggers macro-aggressions.” Professor Troy was among 150 academics at the University who recently signed a letter condemning BDS.

Although an initial General Assembly voted in favor of the BDS motion, SSMU’s Membership ultimately voted down the motion by a margin of 57-43%. The reference declared the “BDS Motion, and similar motions, incompatible with SSMU’s by-laws, internal regulations, and legal structure more generally.”

The document also notes that “[d]uring the period that led to the GA vote and the general Referendum there was a sharp increase in harassmentaround campus.” The Judicial Board went on to state that those who campaigned against the BDS motion were subjected to a “barrage of hostilities”.

According to an article by the Montreal Gazette, many students reported that they had been “targeted for their opposition” to the BDS motion, and that social media was “chock-full of anti-Semitic remarks” following the initial General Assembly vote. One such post from the anonymous social networking site Yik Yak read, “[l]ittle Zionist jewboys not happy that McGill students don’t support their genocide.” In another report, one student was “followed home and verbally harassed” after speaking once the result of vote was announced.

In the Reference, the Judicial Board explained the framework of SSMU’s Constitution to illustrate how BDS conflicts with the university’s legal structure. The preamble succinctly describes the Society’s three broad goals, which BDS would violate: Service, Representation, and Leadership. These goals reiterate the Society’s mission to serve all student groups equally, act in their best interest, and act without discrimination.

Next, the Judicial Board explained how BDS would violate the “Equity Policy, which recognizes SSMU’s long-standing commitment to leadership on issues of equity and social justice.” The Judicial Board also added, “SSMU dedicates itself to creating an ‘anti-oppressive’ atmosphere where all of its membership feels included.”

The Judicial Board noted that BDS contradicts the below listed SSMU regulations and policies, as it would call on the SSMU to discriminate on the basis of national origin, and thus violate the Constitution:

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AAA Boycott Fails; LDB Lawsuit Credited

The Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement against Israel took a big blow earlier this week when the American Anthropological Association (AAA) narrowly rejected a resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions (2,423 against; 2,384 in favor). This BDS failure was remarkable in light of the overwhelming support that it had enjoyed just a few months before – at the AAA’s annual meeting last November, 88% of the membership in attendance approved the decision to bring the resolution.

The BDS movement attributes this dramatic defeat in part to LDB’s lawsuit against the American Studies Association (ASA) for passing the same type of resolution. Some AAA members apparently understood that their anti-Semitic resolution would likely be unlawful and could subject the association to costly litigation and humiliating defeat.

In April, the Brandeis Center, along with prominent litigators at Marcus & Auerbach and Barnes & Thornburg, filed suit on behalf of four distinguished American Studies professors, against the ASA, for its unlawful boycott of Israel.

The Brandeis Center’s clients, well-known academics in the field of American Studies, filed suit “to restore the ASA to its stated mission – the promotion of the study of American culture – so that the members of the ASA can once again faithfully exercise their membership.” Our clients wrote about how, over the past few years, the ASA “has been diverted from its scholarly mission —promoting the study of American culture—to a political one, by leaders seeking to turn the ASA into an organization that advocates for social change far beyond American borders, and with an unwavering focus on delegitimizing Israel.”

As LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus explained, when the boycott was initiated, the ASA’s Constitution stated that, “[t]he object of the association [is] the promotion of the study of American culture….” Similar to the ASA, the AAA’s stated purpose is to further its scholarly purpose, and would not authorize a boycott of Israel.

“‘This is not just about the American Studies Association,’” said LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus to Inside Higher Ed. “‘It’s about any association officer or director who is thinking about using their association as a tool to advance their own ideological agenda. This should send a signal that if association activists are not concerned that BDS resolutions are anti-Semitic and may be a violation of academic freedom they should certainly be concerned that they may violate corporations law.’” Additionally, in his op-ed in Newsweek, Marcus discussed the potential illegality of the AAA’s impending vote in the context of the Brandeis Center’s ASA litigation.

In addition to media coverage, at least two major anti-BDS reports were sent directly to the AAA. In one of these reports, posted on the LDB blog – Selective, Biased and Discriminatory: The American Anthropological Association Task Force Report on Israel Palestine – Elihu Richter, a founder of the Jerusalem Center for Genocide Prevention, addressed the selective, biased and discriminatory nature of the AAA’s Task Force Report (TFR) in respect to Public Health, the ethics of Operation Protective Edge and the effects of cradle-to-grave incitement in Palestinian society, and recommended retraction of the TFR. Further, a whole website was created – Against Anthro Boycott – for anthropologists to discuss, post news, and sign a statement against the boycott.

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We Support Milan Chatterjee

You might remember reading about Milan Chatterjee, the President of the Graduate Student Association (GSA) at UCLA, who came under fire last November for his decision, and that of his GSA cabinet, to remain neutral on the Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Against Israel Movement. Following this decision, Mr. Chatterjee faced months of harassment (largely…

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IHRA Adopts Definition of Anti-Semitism

Last week, on May 26, 2016, the 31 member nations of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), under Romanian Chairmanship, officially adopted the “IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism.” This important decision has made the IHRA the first international body to formally adopt such a definition. Anti-Semitism is on the rise not only in Europe or the…

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Upcoming Scholarly Periodical – Antisemitism Studies

We have more exciting news for our readers! The Canadian Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism (CISA) and Indiana University Press has announced that they are releasing a new scholarly periodical Antisemitism Studies in April 2017. Antisemitism Studies will join The Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism and the Journal of Contemporary European Antisemitism in rounding out the field…

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Farhud: Never Forget

The “Farhud,” Arabic for “violent dispossession,” was a pro-Nazi massacre against Baghdad Jewry that took place from June 1-2, 1941 – coinciding with the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. This terrible tragedy resulted in the death of hundreds of Sephardi Jews, marked the first step in ending 27 centuries of peaceful Jewish existence in Iraq and Mesopotamia,…

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Invitation to ‘Protecting and Offending Jews: Speech, Law and Policy’ Symposium in London

image001 (1)Our friends at the Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism – Birkbeck, in partnership with the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, will host a symposium entitled  ‘Protecting and Offending Jews: Speech, Law and Policy’ on June 28. The event take place from noon to 4 pm in the Jubilee Room, Westminster Hall, House of Commons, London.

The symposium aims to consider the aspects of discourse which offend Jews. It will address the questions, “Is offensive discourse necessarily antisemitic? Do people take offense too readily and endanger free debate? At what point does criticism of Israel become offensive?” Secondly, the symposium will ask whether, in view of growing concern over antisemitism, the law should be augmented or amended to protect Jews further or whether current laws that target discrimination and prejudice give adequate protection. The presentations will be short and will allow for plenty of time for discussion.

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Call for Papers for the Journal of Contemporary European Antisemitism

academicstudiespress_logoOur colleagues at the Academic Studies Press have recently announced a Call For Papers for the new issue of The Journal of Contemporary European Antisemitism (JCEA), set to publish in spring 2017. Lesley Klaff, senior lecturer of law at Sheffield Hallam University, serves as an editor for JCEA and is also a member of LDB’s Academic Advisory Board. We are happy to share this announcement with our readers who may be interested in contributing. The deadline for submissions to the first issue is August 1, 2016.

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Upcoming Conference in Berlin on Anti-Semitism in Europe Today

Our friends at Indiana University have alerted us to a conference on “The New Unease: Antisemitism in Europe Today – Variations, Impact, Counter-Strategies,” which will be held in Berlin, Germany on July 7. The event is sponsored in cooperation with The Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism (ISCA) at Indiana University, Indiana University Europe Gateway, the Moses Mendelssohn Center (MMZ)…

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Methodist Church Rejects Israel Divestment Resolutions

The United Methodist Church took a stand this weekend against the anti-Israel and arguably anti-Semitic Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. At their quadrennial 10-day policy making conference, beginning May 10, the church rejected four resolutions that sought to sanction Israel and companies that do business with Israel. These four resolutions were brought by the…

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The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Announces Memorial Program Honoring Robert Wistrich z”l

On Monday, June 13, The Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism (SICSA) at Hebrew University of Jerusalem will host an event entitled “Robert Wistrich’s Intellectual Legacy on Antisemitism” to honor Robert Wistrich z”l. Known as a leading authority on the history of Anti-Semitism, Dr. Wistrich served as the head of SISCA and was also a Professor of…

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Congress Hears Testimony on BDS

On Thursday, Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President for Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), testified before the House Homeland Security Committee’s Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee about a troubling connection between past financing for terrorism and current support for the BDS movement. Schanzer explained to the members of the subcommittee that research by FDD revealed…

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Protecting Free Speech and Banning Hecklers

North Carolina’s Lt. Governor Dan Forest is proposing a bill that would impose punishments on hecklers who “interrupt the free expression of others” by shouting down speakers on the state’s 17-campus public university system, according to the Associated Press. If North Carolina passes this legislation, it will join six other states that have taken up…

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Lawfare Project Announces Victory: LP Legal Actions Force Shutdown of ALL Kuwait Airways Inter-European Flights

The Lawfare Project (LP) recently announced a major victory against Kuwait Airways Corporation (KAC) and the Arab League boycott of Israel. LP’s Swiss Counsel Philippe Grumbach filed civil and criminal complaints against KAC in Geneva, for refusing service to Israeli nationals, in violation of anti-discrimination laws. The complaints against the airline were filed on behalf…

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Congressional Taskforce Urges Federal Guidance on Anti-Semitism

600px-US-DeptOfEducation-Seal.svgYesterday, the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism in the House of Representatives announced the issuance of an important letter from 38 Members of Congress to Secretary of Education John King, Jr. calling for the Department to “identify and distinguish when speech and activity that are critical of Israeli policies become anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation.” Coming on the heels of recent highly publicized incidents at the City University of New York, Stanford University, Oberlin College, Vassar College, and elsewhere, this watershed correspondence, contained within a letter dated April 15, demonstrates keen congressional attention to the federal government’s oft-criticized record in addressing campus anti-Semitism.

The Taskforce made critical recommendations regarding the need for policy clarification, stating “The Department’s policies must continually evolve to meet the changing manifestation of certain biases to avoid new elements of prejudice. For example, anti-Semitic intimidation, harassment, and discrimination are manifested not only in easily recognizable anti-Semitic slurs but also in anti-Semitism masked as anti-Israel and anti-Zionist sentiment.” The Taskforce urged the Department to uphold its “responsibility for ensuring that all students, regardless of actual or perceived ancestry or ethnic identity, are guaranteed a campus experience free of violence, intimidation, or harassment.”

LDB president Kenneth L. Marcus commented, “Kudos to the Taskforce for issuing this hugely important message to the Education Department. This is a clear signal that Congress is paying close attention to the Office for Civil Rights’ work on campus anti-Semitism and expects far more clarity than we have seen to date. In the past, the Taskforce was focused primarily on foreign affairs, so this letter marks a much-needed turn inward. It is not enough for our federal government to lecture foreign countries about their shabby handling of anti-Semitism complaints. We need to keep our own house in order too – and there is much urgent work for the Education Department to do.”

The Taskforce requested details on how the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is responding to anti-Semitism on college campuses, focusing on OCR’s investigation of specific complaints and its efforts to prevent the spread of anti-Semitism. Their questions included: “How many cases of anti-Semitism on campuses is OCR currently investigating? What instruction has been given to the OCR regional offices to learn how to detect cases of anti-Semitic bias and implement these protections on college campuses? Does the Department track cases of ancestral or ethnic bias against members of groups that share a common faith (e.g., Jewish, Muslim, Sikh) on college campuses? Has the Department provided policy guidance concerning anti-Semitism on campuses and examples of when actions and discourse nominally about Israeli policies devolve into hostile environments for some students and are supported, permitted, disregarded, or insufficiently addressed by school employees? Is the Department providing technical assistance and public education on these issues? Does the Department engage frequently with stakeholders that focus on these issues?”

The Taskforce explicitly recognized that responding to campus anti-Semitism is especially important now because of increasing anti-Israel sentiment on campus, including “reports of over 500 anti-Israel programs on U.S. college campuses during the 2014-2015 academic year, an increase of 38% from the prior academic year, as well as 29 Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement campaigns sponsored by student groups, an increase of 21%.” The Taskforce directed Secretary King’s attention to the finding in the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics Act report that “while the number of incidents, offenses, and victims of anti-Jewish bias has decreased country-wide since 2010, they still make up a majority of all hate crimes motivated by religious bias.”

A 2014 report by LDB and Trinity College found that 54% of Jewish students have experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism on their college campuses during the last academic year. Marcus explained, “These statistics demonstrate that the Department of Education must do more to help stop the spread of campus anti-Semitism. Recognizing an official definition of anti-Semitism which clarifies when anti-Israelism and anti-Zionism cross the line into anti-Semitism, such as the U.S. State Department definition, would assist OCR in determining whether Title VI has been violated under the 2004 policy.”

The Taskforce, launched last year in response to rising global anti-Semitism, is co-chaired by four chairs from each of the two political parties. Kenneth Marcus commented, “We especially want to commend the leadership of the Task Force’s co-chairs: Reps. Nita Lowey (D-NY), Chris Smith (R-NJ), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Steve Israel (D-NY), Kay Granger (R-TX), Ted Deutch (D-FL), and Peter Roskam (R-IL).” The Taskforce has already spearheaded several initiatives to respond to anti-Semitism at the global level, and this letter marks an important step for the Taskforce to address the issue at the national level. The Taskforce engaged with the national concern of anti-Semitism by holding a briefing last fall to assess the state of anti-Semitism on US college campuses, in which LDB was honored to participate.

At the briefing, LDB president Kenneth L. Marcus provided the Taskforce with specific public policy recommendations on how Congress and the Executive Branch can best address the resurgence of campus anti-Semitism, and founding president of LDB’s Cardozo Law chapter Melanie Goldberg spoke about her own experiences with anti-Semitism as an undergraduate at Brooklyn College.

The Taskforce letter drew attention to OCR’s 2004 policy statement to include discrimination against Jewish students under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which clarifies that OCR will “interpret Title VI to include instances where students are targeted because of their actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, regardless of whether they are members of a faith community, as in the case of Jewish, Sikh, and Muslim students,” and expressed the Taskforce’s appreciation for the Department’s reaffirmation of this policy in 2010 and 2015. However, as OCR has not found any violations of this policy to date, the Taskforce requested information including the number of campus anti-Semitism cases OCR is currently investigating, as well as OCR’s guidance and education efforts in identifying and protecting against campus anti-Semitism. According to Marcus, “The 2004 policy is important because it clarifies that anti-Semitism falls under Title VI and that it should be taken just as seriously as other forms of discrimination. At the same time, it is concerning that, despite the prevalence of campus anti-Semitism, OCR has not yet found any violations of this policy. We appreciate the Taskforce’s initiative in calling attention to this issue and raising the question of how OCR is implementing its existing policy.”

 

The full text of the letter can be found below:

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