Introducing BICOM and Fathom: working to provide a more supportive environment for Israel in Britain

BICOM, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, is an independent British organisation dedicated to providing a more supportive environment for Israel in Britain.  BICOM pursues its objectives through a range of activities, one of which is the publication of the quarterly Fathom journal under the editorship of Professor Alan Johnson. With its aim stated…

Roskam & Lipinski Introduce Federal Anti-Boycott Legislation

Yesterday Congressmen Peter Roskam and Dan Lipinski introduced anti-boycott legislation to prevent academic boycotts against the State of Israel. This bill would supplement existing federal and state anti-boycott statutes that were passed decades ago in response to the Arab boycott of Israel. Specifically, this bill would block federal funding for universities that engage in anti-Israel boycotts.  Rep. Roskam’s press release appears in full below:

Feb 6, 2014

Oren: “I strongly support this courageous initiative.”

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Today, Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Dan Lipinski (D-IL) introduced the bipartisan Protect Academic Freedom Act (H.R. 4009) to address the growing threat of unjustified boycotts against the Jewish State of Israel. In December 2013, the American Studies Association (ASA) became the second major educational organization to adopt an academic boycott of Israel. This measure would block federal funding for American universities engaging in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions or scholars to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to fund bigoted attacks against Israel that undermine the fundamental principles of academic freedom.

“This bipartisan legislation seeks to preserve academic freedom and combat bigotry by shielding Israel from unjust boycotts. It is ludicrous for critics to go after our democratic friend and ally Israel when they should be focusing on the evils perpetrated by repressive, authoritarian regimes like Iran and North Korea,” said Congressman Roskam, the Chief Deputy Whip and co-chair of the House Republican Israel Caucus. “These boycotts not only threaten educational cooperation between the United States and Israel, but ultimately undermine the academic goals of all nations. Congress has a responsibility to fight back against these hateful campaigns, which contradict academic freedom and are designed to delegitimize the Jewish State of Israel. I’m so thankful for the wisdom and leadership of Ambassador Michael Oren, who has helped raise awareness for this important effort.”

UC Santa Barbara Agrees to Strengthen Civil Rights Protections for Jewish Students

Here’s an important new success story:  The University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) has pledged to implement recommendations from the Brandeis Center, and in return the Center has agreed to withdraw its U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) Title VI complaint asserting that the university had created a hostile environment for Jewish students.

The Brandeis Center has been impressed with UCSB’s responsiveness to its concerns over the course of the last several months.  “We are pleased with the university’s response, and look forward to see it implemented so that all students – regardless of religious or ethnic identity – are protected from civil rights violations on campus,” LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus has said.

The university, represented by University of California Chancellor Henry Yang, committed to several specific steps, based on LDB recommendations: Hosting on-campus educational programming conducted by the Anti-Defamation League on anti-Semitic hate and bias; and adopting a neutral observer program for on-campus events, especially those that could stoke intense debate and conflict. UCSB also issued formal statements that explicitly condemned anti-Semitism on campus and restated the school’s commitment to mutual respect, civility, tolerance, and decency.

In a formal statement issued this morning, Marcus said the resolution of the complaint was welcome, as LDB prefers to work with universities to avoid future incidents. “We were quite concerned with prior incidents at UCSB and the initial reactions of university staff with regard to the safety and welfare of Jewish students. However, after working with UCSB to address these infractions, we feel that the school is taking the necessary steps to provide a campus life that is safe and welcoming for not just Jewish students, but all students,” said Marcus.

 

Marcus emphasized his favorable impression of Chancellor Yang and his senior staff.  “I would like to thank and commend Chancellor Yang and UCSB’s Counsel Nancy Hamill for their diligent attention to this issue,” he added. “We hope that this serves as a model for other universities facing similar challenges.”

The MLA’s Top Five BDS Blunders This Week

Modern Language Association logoLDB President Kenneth L. Marcus describes the Modern Language Association’s top five BDS blunders at The Algemeiner today.  An excerpt appears below:

The Modern Language Association (MLA) has blundered repeatedly over its treatment of Israel in the run-up to its annual conference this week.  Technically the 30,000 member association is not contemplating a resolution to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel (BDS) per se at this week’s upcoming confab. Instead it is debating a halfway measure that insiders observe is intended to be a stepping-stone to worse actions. But it is doing so in a way that should embarrass every one of its members. This is not just a mistake. This is five blunders rolled into one.

1.     Introducing a Polarizing Anti-Israel Resolution

Despite the backlash against last month’s BDS resolution at the American Studies Association, the MLA is considering a resolution that would urge the U.S. State Department to oppose the allegedly “arbitrary denials of entry” to American academics seeking to teach or conduct research at West Bank and Gaza universities. This half-way measure is, as former American Association of University Professors Presidents Cary Nelson explains, a step along the way towards a formal BDS resolution:  “They proposed the travel resolution as a fallback,” said Nelson. “They’re trying something else as a step toward a boycott resolution the next time. If they can win this, they will move onto the next one.” So BDS advocates stepped back from advancing a full-fledge BDS resolution that they clearly knew would fail, but they are using the MLA as a political tool to achieve the next best thing.

2.     Substituting Politics for Scholarship

Worse than the resolution itself is the MLA’s process for considering it.  This week, the convention features only a one-sided roundtable discussion on “Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine,” which includes only BDS supporters but no opponents. There is nothing remotely academic about the panel, which does not purport to advance or disseminate modern language scholarship but only to politicize it in polarizing fashion. The panel’s supporters of the BDS movement are: BDS leader Omar Barghouti, the University of Texas at Austin’s Barbara Jane Harlow, the University of California at Riverside’s David C. Lloyd, and Wesleyan University’s Richard M. Ohmann. This is a politically biased, unscholarly approach, and it has nothing to do with the association’s mission. The MLA’s resolution may land them inhot water with the Internal Revenue Service, but the entire process is also a disservice to those of their members who expect the association to pursue the mission for which it was established and for which it has received tax-exempt status.

3.     Suppressing Dissenting Voices

Worse, the MLA is barring those on the other side of the debate from making their own presentations at the conference. Specifically, the MLA rejected a counter-panel featuring former MLA President Russell Berman, Brandeis University Israel Studies Chair Ilan Troen, and cultural theorist Gabriel Noah Brahm, Jr. This silencing of one side of the debate brings no credit to the BDS movement, which is constantly trying to defend itself against arguments that it violates the academic freedom of Israeli professors, and certainly none to the MLA. In this case, of course, it is also American professors, including Israel’s supporters within the MLA, whom the MLA would silence.

The Brandeis Center Hosts Its First National Law Student Conference

photo ken panelThe Brandeis Center held its first National Conference for Law Students in Los Angeles on January 2nd and January 3rd.  This is part of the new initiative for law school chapters of the Brandeis Center. The conference focused on educating and engaging law student members of the LDB law school chapters by offering a series of lectures and panel discussions presented by several distinguished attorneys and scholars.  Students from the LDB law school chapters of UCLA, American University Washington College of Law, and the University of Pennsylvania were in attendance for the event.  The conference concentrated on a variety of legal advocacy and policy issues pertinent to the Brandeis Center’s mission, such as freedom of speech, advocacy for civil rights, and combating anti-Semitism.

The conference began with notable Jewish advocate and co-founder of StandWithUs, Roz Rothstein.  In her lecture, “The Boycott Movement Against Israel: Their Goals and Strategies,” Rothstein stressed the importance of opposing anti-Semitism by disproving allegations using hard evidence.  She advocated that the best way to refute anti-Israel and anti-Jewish propaganda is to document the lies being perpetuated by Jews and Israel, and to be aware of what is happening on university campuses in the United States.

photo ken closeupThe Brandeis Center’s own Kenneth L. Marcus echoed the same sentiment in his lecture, “Combating Campus Anti-Semitism.”  Marcus highlighted the fact that the resurgence of anti-Semitism on university campuses often masquerades under the guise of criticism of Israel.  While mere criticism of a country alone is not only protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of speech but also important in creating policy changes, what is happening on university campuses is far more than just benign criticism.  In fact, as Marcus noted, many proponents of the BDS movement are utilizing it as a vehicle to perpetuate hate and lies against the Jewish people and Israel.  By using the EUMC and the U.S. Department of State’s own definitions of anti-Semitism, Marcus highlighted the three-prong test of differentiating criticism of Israel from anti-Semitism: (1) the demonization of Israel and Jews; (2) holding Israel to a standard that other countries are not held to; and (3) delegitimizing Israel as a nation.  He then gave examples in ways the Brandeis Center is engaging in legal advocacy in the fight against anti-Semitism, and provided best practice responses to anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli incidents.as a tool for students to get involved on their campuses.  photo danit closeupDistinguished Brandeis Center staff attorney, Danit Sibovits, then engaged the students in a roundtable to discuss how they could lead their individual university chapters in battling campus anti-Semitism.  She highlighted that advocating for the Jewish voice on university campuses is a joint effort, and encouraged the students to get involved. Connect to legal advocacy initiative and combatting anti-Semitism and link to one blog entry about legal advocacy/best practices guide

The first day’s events ended with a wonderful dinner at Marina del Rey, and a screening of the award-winning film, Unmasked: Judeophobia.  The film chronicles the rise of anti-Jewish ideology across the world, and examines the phenomenon from a historical perspective.  Conference attendees were treated to a private question and answer session with filmmaker Gloria Greenfield after the screening.

The Purim Miracle in a Courtroom

Purim

Having analyzed the decisions and judgments of Polish prosecutors and judges in cases concerning anti-Semitic and racist hate speech one may wonder what makes them so lenient and sympathetic towards the views voiced by bald and well-muscled men who are eager to extend the right arm in the air with a straightened hand and make the Nazi salute? If one could suspect that this attitude of the Polish judiciary towards hateful words just shows fascination with the doctrine of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, one could sigh with relief. However, I have no doubts, unfortunately, that the reasons for this are different – most often it is just opportunism, sometimes perhaps even a positive response to anti-Semitic and racist slogans.

Thus it is especially important to single out and praise those prosecutors and judges who are not afraid of breaking this disgraceful pattern of discontinued proceedings and court acquittals, so typical in cases brought against soccer fans who reveal their anti-Semitic and racist attitudes at football arenas. It is ironic that the majority of those who curse out a “Jew referee”, in this way expressing their dissatisfaction with the red card shown to a player of their team, have never seen a single Jew in their entire life.

We waited for a very long time in Poland for the court judgment which was recently handed down by the district court in Warsaw. The court sentenced 17 soccer yobs to do community service, make money contributions to the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland and… watch Izabella Cywińska’s movie “The Purim Miracle”. After a nearly one year long investigation the prosecutors accused 17 identified hooligans who publicly incited others to racial and religious hatred. Initially the court discontinued the case and said that chanting yobbo slogans cannot be qualified as hate speech. The prosecutors did not agree with the discontinuation and the case was re-examined by the court. A wise, sensitive judge adjudicated that the words “Juden auf den Gas” are synonymous with inciting to hatred against the Jews. One may only wonder: is it more terrifying or farcical that Polish football fans, who call themselves true patriots, chant such words in German, the language of those who during the Second World War wanted to annihilate their motherland and the nation?

Fifth College Cuts Ties to Controversial American Studies Association

According to Inside Higher Ed,  a fifth institution has cut ties with the embattled American Studies Association.  Over sixty universities have lambasted the ASA’s controversial anti-boycott resolution, in addition numerous scholars, commentators, Jewish groups, and the American Association of University Professors.  To their credit, four institutions went beyond statement-making and actually dropped their membership in…

Five Takeaways from the ASA Debacle

 

What should we learn from the American Studies Association’s lopsided December 15 vote to endorse the anti-Israel boycott?  Here are five takeaways:

  1. The Jewish Community Got Beat

There is no question about it.  The American Studies Association’s anti-Israel boycott resolution  is a defeat for everyone who is concerned about anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism in higher education.  The ASA is the largest, most important academic association to support the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel (BDS).  By a membership vote of nearly 2-to-1, the ASA voted to support a limited academic boycott of Israel, the first country that the association has ever seen fit to treat in this manner.

For years, Israel’s supporters have observed that BDS tarnishes Israel’s reputation even when it fails.  Until recently, BDS resolutions failed over and over again in the United States.  Yet each battle imposed a cost, as Israel was falsely cast in the public mind as a rogue nation.  The harm is obviously greater when these resolutions actually pass, as they have recently on some university campuses, such as the University of California at Berkeley and Irvine.  The ASA resolution gives a scholarly imprimatur to a cause that is at best political and at worst bigoted.

2.  The ASA Was the Biggest Loser

In the end, the ASA is the biggest loser, and this outcome will not be lost on other associations.  For its efforts, the ASA is now publicly mocked, ridiculed and condemned, even by some of its own members and past presidents, as well as by major scholars and numerous university presidents.  Even those who do not discern anti-Semitism in the ASA resolution nevertheless perceive a violation of academic freedom.  The American Association of University Professors announced that the boycott would violate the academic freedom “not only of Israeli scholars but also of American scholars who might be pressured to comply with it.”  More importantly, perhaps, the ASA has now lost any scholarly reputation that it might previously have had and is now seen as a largely political institution.

LDB President Publishes New Essay on Global Anti-Semitism

LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus is publishing an important new paper on “The Definition of Antisemitism” in a new volume on contemporary global anti-Semitism, Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity.  The paper provides a timely intervention into a lively public debate over the meaning of “anti-Semitism” at a time when hostility towards Jews is often hidden under the guise of hostility to Israel.

LDB academic advisor Charles A. Small, who heads the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, included Marcus’ paper in his edited volume, which is published by one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious academic presses, Brill Academic Press of Leiden, the Netherlands

The essays are written by scholars from a wide array of disciplines, intellectual backgrounds, and perspectives, and address the conference’s two inter-related areas of focus: global antisemitism and the crisis of modernity currently affecting the core elements of Western society and civilization.  Marcus’ paper is an outgrowth of the Yale conference’s panel on law and anti-Semitism, which Marcus chaired.

Marcus’ paper provides his first major intervention into a question that has divided anti-Semitism scholars and public figures.  Specifically, Marcus demonstrates that both new and old anti-Semitism share deep ideological connections and cannot be addressed through ordinary educational methods.  Marcus is expanding this paper into a book-length project for publication next year.