Michael Walzer’s Failure of Nerve

In “Israel Must Defeat Hamas, But Also Must Do More to Limit Civilian Deaths,” political philosopher Michael Walzer joins the chorus arguing that Israeli soldiers are guilty of “disproportionality” for killing Palestinian civilians—or rather those defined by the Hamascentric-orchestrated media as “civilians.” A generation ago, Walzer made a similar argument in “Just and Unjust Wars”…

What a Year for the Launch of Our Law School Chapters

UCLA LawThe Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law launched law student chapters that will fill an important gap in American legal education, offer the opportunities that members seek, and provide a resource to other members of the university community.   Many law students are eager to combine their legal training with their interest in Jewish civil rights issues, including fighting the contemporary resurgence of global and campus anti-Semitism.  Some students are interested in educational programming, while others want to develop their research and advocacy skills.  Some undergraduate students feel embattled by political controversies at their institutions, such as movements to boycott the State of Israel, and would like support from law students who are trained in applicable legal areas.  Few law schools offer meaningful activities for students who share our mission.  To be sure, some schools have active Jewish law students’ associations that provide important social, cultural and perhaps religious activities, but they seldom provide much substantive legal programming. 

UC Davis: The Louis D. Brandeis Center Approach to Preventing Threatening, Anti-Semitic Behavior

When three Jewish students tried to speak at a November 2012 protest against Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense on the University of California, Davis campus, they were silenced with shouts of “Leave our space!” “Shame on you!” and “Long live the intifada!”

The harassment only got worse.

The protesters then started chanting “F**k Israel” and gave the Jewish students a choice – join the chant, or be removed from the building. When they refused to leave, the three students were forcibly backed against a wall of windows while the protestors pounded their fists in the air, and made threatening physical gestures. The school officials nearby did nothing to try and control the situation.

There was a clear pattern of troubling behavior – these bitter clashes took place shortly after an unrelated outdoor demonstration held on campus turned into a rally against Israel.

UC Davis had quickly become a hostile environment for Jewish students. In addition to fostering a malicious campus culture, by allowing this threatening campus life to continue, the school threatened its federal funding: Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits the use of federal funding for public programs – including public universities – found to discriminate based on race, color or natural origin.

LDB Urges Supreme Court to Protect Rights of Jerusalem-born

Earlier today, the Brandeis Center presented the U.S. Supreme Court with an amicus curiae brief in support of Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky, the petitioner in the so-called Jerusalem passport case, Zivotofsky v. Secretary of State 

LDB, joined by several of the nation’s leading legal and foreign affairs scholars, defended the legality of the statute permitting persons born in Jerusalem to specify that their nation of birth is “Israel.” LDB is concerned, as it explained to the Court, that “the discussion of matters pertaining to Israel often invokes double standards and unduly tortured logic that would uniquely disfavor the Jewish national homeland, and thus negatively impact the status and personal security of Jews the world over.”

LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus commented, “It is both astonishing and infuriating that federal litigation is required to convince the U.S. Department of State to recognize the quintessentially obvious fact that Jerusalem is in Israel.  We are pleased to provide the U.S. Supreme Court with sound guidance prepared by two powerhouse attorneys, and we are gratified that several of the nation’s most highly regarded legal and foreign affairs scholars are joining our brief.”

LDB argued to the Court that this case “lends itself to a much simpler resolution than would a true dispute between the President and Congress regarding the powers to recognize the legal status of states and foreign sovereigns. The dispute over Jerusalem’s legal status is but one of many territorial disputes posing challenges for American foreign policy. While the political branches may disagree about the extent to which either might exercise the power of legal recognition, it cannot seriously be questioned that Congress’s authority to acknowledge, process and related to simple facts regarding foreign territory-disputed or not-is a function necessary and proper to the exercise of its assigned powers.”

The Limits of Empathy: “Eyeless in Gaza”

From Ernest R. May’s “Lessons of the Past” (1973) to Yuen Foong Khong’s “Analogies at War” (1992) to Jeffrey Record’s “Making War, Thinking History” (2006), historians have argued about the use—and abuse—of historical analogies by decision makers. It is now conventional wisdom that Lyndon Johnson’s advisers were misled into going to war in Vietnam by “the Munich analogy.” Yet liberal historians who agonize other the misuse of Munich are often quite happy critiquing American intervention in Iraq as “another Vietnam.” Conservatives or neo-conservatives in the Dick Cheney mold retort that it is Obama liberals who were misled by their Vietnam obsession to make American defeat in Iraq a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is now clear from an lengthy, interesting account by Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tibon in the “New Republic” of the Obama-Kerry failed Mideast peace mission how the Vietnam analogy was central at least to Secretary of State Kerry’s belief that Israel, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, was not doing enough to “empathize” with the Palestinians:

“The prime minister opened the meeting by playing Kerry a video on one of his favorite topics: Palestinian incitement. It showed Palestinian children in Gaza being taught to glorify martyrdom and seek Israel’s destruction. ‘This is the true obstacle to peace’, Netanyahu told Kerry.

“‘It’s a major issue’, Kerry replied. ‘And nothing justifies incitement. I hate it. I’ve read Abbas the riot act about it. You know I have. But it is worthwhile to try to understand what life looks like from the Palestinian point of view.’

“‘This has nothing to do with the occupation and the settlements’, Netanyahu said.

“Kerry pressed on: ‘When I fought in Vietnam, I used to look at the faces of the local population and the looks they gave us. I’ll never forget it. It gave me clarity that we saw the situation in completely different ways.’”

The Perils of Proportionality

With Israeli special forces starting operations in Gaza to complement the IDF’s surgical air campaign against the indiscriminate, increasingly long-rage terror barrage from “Hamastan,” the international community , quite predictably, is beginning to rev up its favorite mantra, i.e., that the Jewish state is guilty of “disproportionate response.” After all, Palestinian civilians—ordered by Hamas to stay in their homes rather than evacuate terror targets in residential areas as well as in mosques and hospitals—have begun to die as “collateral damage” in Israel’s anti-terror campaign to protect its own civilians, so far psychologically traumatized but not slaughtered because of Iron Dome and the option of bomb shelters or safe rooms. Hamas prefers to use its cement to build terror tunnels rather than bomb shelters for Gazans.

Such protections that Israelis enjoy are not available to the exposed Jews of France where synagogue goers were terrorized by an enraged French Muslim mob, at first barely contained by five gendarmes whose initial orders seem to have been to act more like World Cup soccer refs than enforcers of the law. Did they have implicit orders from the French government whose commitment to be in neutral in “thought and deed” in the Mideast may have translated into a policy of semi-neutrality against terror in the Paris streets”? Was this a case of “disproportionate response” on the domestic level, but in the sense of inadequate response by a twenty-first century western government that has forgotten that the fundamental definition of the state is “the monopoly over the means of legitimate violence within a given territory” (Max Weber’s definition) and which doesn’t understand that failing to defend that monopoly by the use of force against violent challengers will ultimately undermine the survival of the state as well as the security of its law-abiding citizens?

Internationally, in the Mideast, Israel is, to some extent, being hoisted on its own petard by its ritual adherence to a strict self-imposed code of military ethics, devised primarily by Moshe Habertal, something of a peacenik professor, who believes it is better for Israel soldiers to die than to recklessly risk the lives of Palestinian innocents in ways that dishonor the Jewish state. Despite the aspersions of its critics, Israel is the only country in modern history that in wartime has avoided intentionally using its air force to target the enemy’s civil population. Israel refuses to practice vendetta against Palestinian civilians (as distinguished from Hamas’ terror operatives) for complicated reasons. It doesn’t want to betray Jewish values, alienate international opinion, or encourage civil strife between Israeli Jews and Israel’s Muslim minority.

The “New York Times” Perverts Poetry to Dispense Anti-Israel Propaganda

“Commentary” and other outlets are condemning the “New York Times” for distorting the clear meaning of Haim Nahman Bialik’s poem, “On the Slaughter” (1903), about the Kishinev Massacre to slander Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu called—contrary to the “Times”—for foregoing revenge in the wake of the kidnap-murder of three Jewish teenagers. He quoted the…

Vendetta Claims a Victim

Arab teenager

According to Lee Smith whose beat is the Mideast, Arabs are better at feuding than making war. This is why it was not only a terrible crime, but a tragic mistake when apparently Jewish extremists—outraged by the kidnap-murder of three teenage Jewish boys, Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gil-ad Shaar—invited an Arab-Jewish blood feud by kidnapping and killing an innocent Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem. Multiple arrests have been made in Israel with relative alacrity—in contrast to the Palestinian Authority which lacks the will or the ability or both to arrest those responsible for the triple murder. Whoever killed the Arab boy, Mohammed Hussein Abu Khdeir, should be prosecuted and punished to the maximum extent of the law for a terrorist crime that weakens the moral foundations of the Jewish state. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said as much and virtually every other Israeli in publish life has said as much.

“The abduction of the Arab teenager was carried out by extremists, acting on their own, who stand condemned by every sector of Israel’s democratic society. The kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teens, who have not been yet captured, was carried out by members of a terrorist group (Hamas) that is part of a Palestinian government,” declared Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The young men arrested for burning alive the Arab boy are being compared to European berserk “football hooligans.” No analogy is adequate to the depravity of the crime, but a better one is the kidnap-murder in Paris in 2006 of Jew of Moroccan descent, Ilan Halimi.

There are those among left-wing Jewish commentators whose initial reflex was to demand that we place the kidnap-murder of three Israel teens “in political context.” “Providing this context may be taboo at a time when the entire country is focused on the fate of three kidnapped Israeli teens, wrote journalist Mairav Zonszein, “but it is part and parcel of the story here.” Gidean Levy in “Haaretz” went so as to declare: “Only Israel is permitted to carry out illegal, immoral operations. Only it is permitted to be sanctimonious, to be shocked and to shout from the rooftops when others do the same thing to Israel.”

Zonszein, Levy, and other critics of the Jewish state in western newspapers as well as Israel should take more seriously the perverse reactions—and not only by Palestinians—to the kidnap-murder of three Jewish teens whose deaths should give us all pause.

The Worst Campus Anti-Semitic Incidents of 2013-2014

This past academic year was a turbulent  one on many college campuses, keeping the Brandeis Center’s legal advocacy initiative busy from coast-to-coast protecting Jewish students from hostile environments.  Which incidents do you think were the worst?  Unfortunately, there have been many to choose among.  Here are a few to consider:

BDS protestASA – On December 15, the American Studies Association (ASA) voted to endorse the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.  By a membership vote of 2-to-1, the association supported a limited academic boycott of Israel, the first country the ASA has treated this way.

AASA – Before there was the ASA, there was the AASA.  Earlier this past year, the Asian American Studies Association unanimously approved a resolution endorsing a boycott of Israeli universities.

Vassar SJP neonat HolocaustVassar – Vassar College’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) posted a 1944 German poster on its Tumblr page portraying a many-handed monster wearing a KKK mask, holding a little man grasping a moneybag, while stomping over a European town. The Brandeis Center urged Vassar to take swift disciplinary action against the student group.

New York University – At NYU, SJP members shoved mock eviction notices under students’ dormitories room doors and into their private rooms at two NYU dormitories.  One of the dormitories is known for its high concentration of Jewish students.  The Brandeis Center and The Lawfare Project have urged NYU to “firmly and forcefully” discipline the students.

Michigan IIMichigan – In mid-March, Jewish pro-Israel students were called “kikes” and “dirty Jews,” threatened and otherwise harassed by BDS activists.   The Brandeis Center has urged the university to respond.

San Francisco State – Mohammad Hammad, a then-San Francisco State University student, late last year posted pictures on his Tumblr account with him holding a long knife captioned, “Imagine me cutting off the heads of those in the Israeli Defense Forces with this.” More recently, the Brandeis Center has joined an AMCHA Initiative letter calling for investigation into the use of university funds to sponsor a faculty member’s trip to the Middle East to meet with groups designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. Department of State. In the past, San Francisco State has been very strong at responding to problematic incidents, and we are hopeful that President Wong will maintain former President Corrigan’s strong legacy.

Northeastern University School of LawNortheastern – Northeastern University’s chapter of SJP has been charged with many offenses including sliding unauthorized documents under students’ dormitory doors, not obtaining required permits, and defacing school property.  Northeastern placed the chapter on probation, later reinstating them subject to various important conditions. The Brandeis Center has established a chapter at Northeastern School of Law.

Temple – Recently, a Temple University professor questioned the deaths of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. These comments come during unsuccessful efforts to convince MLA to adopt resolution critical of Israel. According to a spokesman from the University, Professor Alessio Lerro is “entitled to promote his controversial ideas.” The Brandeis Center has urged Temple President Theobald to respond more forcefully to these outrageous statements.