Legislators Introduce California and New York Anti-BDS Bills

jackmm2travis_allen_state_assembly_ocOn January 8th, Senators Simcha Felder and Jack Martins introduced a bill into the New York State senate that would forbid New York from offering contracts to companies that support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement against Israel, and against any companies otherwise boycotting, divesting, or sanctioning Israel.  Likewise, the Jerusalem Post reported that on January 4 Assemblyman Travis Allen of the California Assembly introduced a bill that would forbid the State of California from doing business with companies participating in the BDS Movement and against any companies otherwise boycotting, divesting, or sanctioning Israel. New York and California universities have has been a central battleground of the BDS movement, and this legislation would represent a major push back in the opposite direction, essentially a move by these states to divest from those who divest from Israel.

These bills would also penalize companies boycotting products made in disputed territories and those under military occupation. The California bill would prohibit the State from investing in any company that is “engaging in actions that are politically motivated and are intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or otherwise limit commercial relations with the State of Israel or companies based in the State of Israel or in territories controlled by the State of Israel.” The New York bill defines “boycott” as engaging in any activity that will result in any person abstaining from commercial, social, or political relations with Israel, or companies based in Israel, “or in territories controlled by an allied nation [including Israel].”

According to the Jerusalem Post, Travis Allen, who introduced the California bill, said in a statement that the US and Israel “have historically stood together as allies due to our unique bond founded on shared values, a bilateral trade relationship, and our unwavering commitment to freedom and democracy. Any company that is intentionally inflicting economic harm upon California’s trading partners weaken our ability to conduct business and harm the vital economic interests of our state. Further, boycotts of countries often derive from ethnic, religious, racial, or nationality discrimination, which directly contradicts the values of California citizens.”

The Academic Council for Israel Anti-BDS Petition

The Louis D. Brandeis Center is joining with the Academic Council for Israel (ACFI) and other groups on this important petition. Please Join More than 400 of Us in Signing This Anti-BDS Petition http://www.academiccouncilforisrael.com/anti-bds-petition.html Join more than 100 of your academic colleagues in opposing anti-Israel BDS resolutions being considered or already voted on by some academic…

EU Labeling Guidelines Stir Global Controversy, Rest on Shaky Legal Foundations

israel labelThe new EU labeling policy calling for special labelling for Israeli goods related to “settlements,” as well as other restrictions and outright exclusions on some
such products, has stirred up a global controversy and left many in the Jewish and international community greatly concerned.

On November 29, the Guardian reported that Israel had suspended contact with EU bodies over the policy, while on December 7, the Jerusalem Post reported that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government supported the EU’s labeling policy.

However, many governments worldwide have rejected the policy. On November 16, the Times of Israel reported that Hungary had become the first EU country to reject the labeling guidelines, calling them “irrational” and “harmful to peace efforts.” On December 2, The Tower Magazine reported that Greece had rejected the policy and would refuse to abide by it, and on December 18, the World Jewish Congress reported that Czech lawmakers had similarly rejected the EU labeling guidelines as “political positioning against Israel.” On December 17, the Times of Israel reported that a US bipartisan resolution condemned the EU labeling policy as further encouraging boycotts of Israel and “setting back prospects for peace.”

Just recently, The Simon Wiesenthal Center, in its December 28 report “2015 Top Ten Worst Anti-Semitic/Anti-Israel incidents,” listed the EU’s new policy of labeling of products from the Golan heights and the disputed terrorities of the West Bank only after hatred of Jews inspiring the San Berdino terrorist’s hate and ISIS’s announcing a “war against the Jews.”

While many government leaders, policymakers, and analysts agree that the EU labeling guidelines are flatly anti-Semitic or at least counterproductive, the future of the guidelines may depend on their legality. In October of 2015, Professor Avi Bell of San Diego School of Law and Professor Eugene Kontorovich of Northwestern University School of Law published a report entitled “Challenging the EU’s Illegal Restrictions on Israeli Products in the World Trade Organization” which called the legality of the labeling guidelines into serious doubt. According to the Executive Summary, “EU’s proposed measures restrict Israeli trade in violation of international trade law found in numerous multilateral treaties, including articles 2.1 and 2.2 of the World Trade Organization Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade; Articles IX, X and XIII of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs and Article 2.3 and 5.6 of the Agreement on the Applications Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, among others.”

The key finding in the report, however, states the following:

“[A]ny justifications the EU could adduce for its policies are undermined by their admittedly discriminatory application. The EU does not have a general set of rules for dealing with occupied territories, settlements or territorial administrations whose legality is not recognized by the EU. Rather, the EU has special restrictions aimed at Israel. This violates the fundamental rules of the GATT/WTO system, under which even otherwise valid trade restrictions are void if not applied uniformly to WTO members… EU arguments that these territories are not part of Israel are irrelevant in this context. The scope of the WTO agreements explicitly extend beyond a country’s sovereign territory, and include territories under its ‘international responsibility.’ The drafting history and subsequent application of the GATT make clear that this involves territories under military occupation.”

 

Feds Seek Diversity in Middle East Studies Programs

The Department of Education has started requiring universities that receive federal funding for Middle East Studies centers to report on how their programs are including diverse perspectives and a wide range of views.  This is a very important first step to ensure that Middle East Studies programs do not succumb to political one-sidedness.  For several years, critics have charged that many of these programs have become highly politicized, monolithically anti-Israel sources of miseducation and bias. The new requirement sends a welcome signal to universities that the Department is now looking more closely at this issue, although there is still more to be done in order to ensure accountability for these programs.

Title VI of the Higher Education Act (HEA) contains provisions for funding area studies programs at post-secondary institutions.  Title VI requires that the area studies programs that receive funding must represent “diverse perspectives and a wide range of views.”  However, in practice these programs often do not actually represent diverse perspectives and a wide range of views, with the troubling result that many Middle East Studies programs end up promoting views which are politically one-sided against Israel.

Previously, schools only had to state their intention of fulfilling the diverse perspectives requirement in their initial application and were subject to “no measure of accountability after receiving taxpayer funding” through Title VI, a problem that the Brandeis Center and our colleagues identified in our Joint Statement on the Misuse of Federal Funds under Title VI. The Center had urged the Department to consider adding a diverse perspectives reporting requirement for grantees to ensure greater accountability.  LDB has also recommended that the Department monitor institutions that receive Title VI funding in our publication The Morass of Middle East Studies: Title VI of the Higher Education Act and Federally Funded Area Studies.

LDB Urges University of Central Florida To Publicly Condemn Anti-Semitic Postings

UCFcampusToday, LDB joined the AMCHA Initiative and 32 other organizations issuing a letter in response to a series of anti-Semitic stickers and flyers that were found at the University of Central Florida (UCF) campus. The letter urges UCF President John C. Hitt to publicly condemn the postings as blatant acts of anti-Semitism, publicly commit to educating university staff and students about anti-Semitism, hate crimes and anti-Jewish education, as well as to formally adopt the U.S State Department’s Definition of Anti-Semitism.

ucfPic1Multiple anti-Semitic stickers and flyers where found during the week of November 15 inside and nearby several UCF dormitories. They contained various forms of anti-Semitic imagery, such as swastikas and classic anti-Semitic caricatures. Although the UCF administration has vowed to find the perpetrator(s) responsible for the distribution and creation of these postings, there has not been any public condemnation of these incidents as anti-Semitic by any UCF administrator in the weeks since they appeared. 

“With the growing problem of campus anti-Semitism across the country, incidents such this are of great concern. They implicitly and explicitly encourage hate and violence against Jews, and can create a threating environment for Jewish students” LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus commented, “It is crucial that university administrations take a strong stance against hatred and bigotry and be committed to protecting all members of their campus community. We hope that the UCF administration will seriously consider our recommendations to deter future acts of anti-Semitic hate, and demonstrate their commitment to protecting Jewish students and all students on their campus.

The full text of the letter can be found below:

 

President John C. Hitt 

Office of the President
University of Central Florida
P.O. Box 160002
Orlando, FL 32816-0002

 

Dear President Hitt,

We are 34 organizations representing hundreds of thousands of people who are very concerned about the safety and well-being of Jewish students at the University of Central Florida. 

We are writing to you today because we remain deeply troubled by virulently antisemitic stickers and flyers which were posted on your campus inside and nearby several UCF dormitories during the week of November 15.  The postings included the following:

Students Supporting Israel at Indian University Passes Resolution Adopting the U.S State Department Definition of Anti-Semitism in Student Government.

IndianaOn Tuesday, December 2, Students Supporting Israel at Indian University passed a resolution in its student government that adopts the United States’ State Department’s Definition of Anti-Semitism.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that the resolution passed at the Student Association Congress meeting by a vote of 22-6, with six abstentions.

The resolution states that, “the Indiana University Student Association adopts the definition of anti-Semitism as stated above as well as the State Department’s understanding of Anti-Semitism relative to Israel” The Indiana University Student Association commented, stating they recognize “that the Jewish people, like all peoples, have a collective right to self-determination, and considers attempts to undermine these rights, including the global BDS Movement against Israel, to be a form of bigotry”

It also cites the Marcus Policy, initiated by LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus in 2004 during his tenure at the Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights. This policy extended Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects students from discrimination based on their race, color, or national origin at federally funded post-secondary educational institutions, to protect Jewish students based on their ethnic or ancestral background.

LDB Law Student Statement in Support of Professor Ami Pedahzur

This morning, students from eighteen Brandeis Center law student chapters issued a statement in support of Dr. Ami Pedahzur, an Israel Studies professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Pedahzur had been assailed by anti-Israel activists for his effort to host an academic presentation on the Israeli Defense Forces. The full statement can be found below: November…

Academics Call for a Stop to Boycott Votes of Israel

On November 20, The Academic Council for Israel, The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Stand With Us and the Louis D. Brandeis Center issued a statement in advance of the shocking vote that was in favor of boycotting Israeli academy by members of the American Anthropological Association during its annual meeting…

New Books in Jewish Studies: Interview with Kenneth L. Marcus

Recently, LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus gave an enlightening interview to Jason Shulman for the New Books in Jewish Studies podcast series. The interview focused not only on Marcus’ new book, The Definition of Anti-Semitism, but also on the troubling resurgence of anti-Semitism in American higher education. In his interview, Marcus explains his motivation for…