The Brandeis Center Holds Second Annual National Law Student Leadership Conference

The Brandeis Center hosted its second National Law Student Leadership Conference in Washington, DC on December 29-30.  This event took place as part of the Center’s recent law student and public outreach initiatives.  Many of the students in attendance were members of their universities’ chapters of the Brandeis Center.  Our law student chapter program fills an important gap in American legal education, offering educational programming that connects students’ legal education to pressing Jewish civil rights issues.  The conference’s primary focus was on engaging the students in dialogue with each other about the issues facing them as aspiring lawyers and proponents of civil rights through a series of lectures, panels, and roundtable discussions with several prominent figures in academia, government and professional law.  In attendance were the LDB chapters of University of Pennsylvania, CUNY, UVA, University of St. Thomas, UCLA, and ten others.  Several other students are in the process of forming their own chapters and others plan to do so in the coming weeks.  The conference’s events covered a variety of legal and political issues related to the Brandeis Center’s core mission, such as the power of student leadership, federal protection of the civil rights of Jewish students, and fighting anti-Semitism.

The conference began with addresses from the Brandeis Center’s own Aviva Vogelstein and Kenneth L. Marcus at the District Architecture Center.  Vogelstein welcomed the students and guests to the forum. Marcus began his speech by asserting the importance of combating anti-Semitism through legal action and then by recounting the history of the Brandeis Center’s student chapter program, whose level of success has exceeded all expectations praising the member-students’ demonstrated ability to accomplish goals with unparalleled enthusiasm. Law students, according to Marcus, have the responsibility to focus on more than just succeeding in school – they need a broader sense of what it can truly mean to be a lawyer.  However, Marcus warned, taking stands on important issues will inevitably foster adversity, which is why crusading for civil rights is a task that merits the utmost respect.  He expressed gratitude to the students for their efforts to strengthen the LDB’s fight against injustice.  Marcus ended his speech by discussing the importance of a fair educational system. “To understand what’s happening locally,” he remarked, “you have to have an understanding of what’s happening globally.” And with that, he introduced the keynote speaker, Hon. Ira Forman, the US State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.

Forman gave an engaging, off-the-record speech about his experiences fighting against anti-Semitism abroad during his time with the State Department.  Forman, former Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, gave a highly informative speech that drew upon his extensive experience dealing with discrimination in order to put some of the conference’s central topics in a larger historical context.  The students were thrilled to get the opportunity to hear from a high-ranking governmental official on an issue of such importance to them.

UC’s Moment of Truth

181798582The University of California—once home of the legendary Free Speech Movement—has an academic freedom problem.

Earlier this year, we witnessed Nicholas Dirks, Chancellor of UC-Berkeley, co-opt the anniversary of Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement to emphasize the limits that “civility” might, in his view, properly impose on freedom of speech.

Now comes a new threat to intellectual freedom, as students across the UC system face a potential onslaught of classroom indoctrination.

In December, the UAW 2865, the University System’s union for graduate instructors, voted to support the movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Nearly two-thirds of the union’s members voted in support of divestment, and over half pledged to personally abide by an academic boycott of Israeli educational institutions.

A union vote alone does not constitute a breach of academic freedom. And UC’s graduate students unquestionably have the right to express whatever political opinions they choose outside the classroom. Nevertheless, the UAW 2865’s vote is profoundly worrisome.

First and foremost, academic boycotts are anathema to academic freedom. In order to perform its mission in society—the educating of young minds—the university must maintain a neutral posture on hot-button political questions. As the seminal Kalven Committee Report on the University’s Role in Political and Social Action states:

To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures. … The neutrality of the university … arises then not from a lack of courage nor out of indifference and insensitivity. It arises out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints.

Organizations Sign Statement Against Assault on a Student at Temple University

  We are deeply troubled by the physical assault against a Jewish student at Temple University.  Daniel Vessal, a CAMERA Fellow and member of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, was punched in the face and knocked down and called “baby-killer, racist, Zionist pig” by individuals at the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) table that was part…

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 Officials Condemn Actions By SJP

Recently, there have been disturbing developments at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Students for Justice in Palestine, or SJP, has been making moves to block pro-Israel, Jewish groups groups from getting a fair voice in campus policy-making.   What is even more surprising, and maybe even sickening, is that no other groups are being targeted.

That is right, folks. Student activists, for the recent past election, were asking candidates running for student positions in campus government to sign a pledge essentially saying that they have not and will not go to Israel on a trip sponsored by the following three groups: American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and Hasbara Fellowships. Students who don’t sign the pledge are subject to ridicule, humiliation, and harassment by their peers.

We here at the Brandeis Center hold the right to free speech very dear to our hearts. Therefore, we acknowledge that student groups have the right to say what they wish, so long as no harm is dealt to other students or staff members, and so long as no one else’s rights are infringed upon. The problem with this situation is that by imposing this pledge on the political process, those with pro-Israel views, or even someone has simply travelled to the great state of Israel, have their political views silenced and put down. “Freedom of speech is essential on university campuses”, says Brandeis Center President Kenneth L. Marcus, “But what we are seeing at UCLA is antithetical to healthy, civil dialogue.”

The Brandeis Center and The Lawfare Project Urge NYU to Discipline Students Who Shoved Inflammatory Fliers into Students’ Dorm Rooms

This morning, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights under Law and The Lawfare Project urged New York University President John Sexton and his administration to “firmly and forcefully” discipline the students who shoved inflammatory materials into students’ private rooms at two New York University dormitories on April 24. 

The two independent national civil rights organizations had been approached by New York University undergraduate students who are concerned about an atmosphere of intimidation and harassment in which mock eviction notices were pushed under the dormitory room doors and into the dormitory rooms of Jewish and non-Jewish students.  These flyers contain inflammatory and false accusations and were placed in a manner that created understandable anguish and alarm among the students.

In a letter to President Sexton and Vice Chancellor Linda Mills, the Brandeis Center and The Lawfare Project emphasized that the mock eviction notices raised “serious issues under federal civil rights law.”  Specifically, the groups reminded President Sexton and Vice Chancellor Mills that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs that receive federal funds.  “More broadly,” the two organizations wrote, the infractions “raise questions about respect, civility, and mutual understanding and about sensitivity for the reasonable concerns of Jewish students.”

At approximately 3:00 a.m. on Thursday, April 24, 2014, mock eviction notices spreading anti-Israel sentiment had been distributed throughout New York University’s Palladium and Lafayette dormitories by members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).  The eviction notices state, “Palestinian homes are destroyed as part of the state of Israel’s ongoing attempts to ethnically cleanse the region of its Arab inhabitants and maintain an exclusively Jewish character of the state.  By destroying Palestinian homes, the state makes room for illegal Israeli settlements.  The Israeli government itself describes this process as Judaization.”  Not only is this grossly inaccurate, but it reinforces pernicious stereotypes and defamations about the Jewish people.

The Brandeis Center and The Lawfare Project explained to Sexton and Mill that “dormitory rooms are virtually the opposite of public forums for speech and debate.  Rather, they are spaces in which students are most vulnerable.  There is no part of a university campus in which is it more crucial to protect student safety, security, and privacy.  This is particularly true during late hours of the night.”  New York University, like many other institutions, has instituted reasonable, content-neutral rules prohibiting the kind of infractions that were committed here.  The civil rights groups insisted that it is “absolutely imperative” that NYU “fully and firmly enforce these rules against the perpetrators immediately, taking fully into consideration the invasiveness of the behavior and the foreseeable harms to dormitory students.”

The Brandeis Center and The Lawfare Project also urged NYU to take into proper consideration that the offensiveness of the perpetrators’ actions was heightened by their selection of a dormitory that is well known to house an unusually high concentration of Jewish students.  “As you are no doubt aware,” they wrote, “Palladium is the only dormitory building at New York University that has a Shabbat elevator.  A university spokesman has argued that the elevator was installed at this location for reasons that are unrelated to the building’s high concentration of Jewish residents.  This is entirely beside the point.  Regardless of the reason for which the elevator was initially installed, your students have made clear to us that its existence is one of the reasons that so many prominent Jewish students are known to live there.  If Palladium was targeted in any part because of its concentration of Jewish students, then this factor must be considered in determining the nature and severity of the infraction.  Either way, however, the perpetrators’ choice of this particular building has aggravated the impact of the infractions.”

Launch of Northeastern Law School Chapter – March 19, 2014

The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law is happy to announce the launch of its Northeastern law student chapter, located in Boston.   Danit Sibovits, LDB Staff Attorney heading the legal advocacy initiative, will be speaking at the launch.  The law school chapter initiative is the newest phase in the Brandeis Center’s campaign…