Brandeis Center Welcomes Brooklyn College Administration’s Apology for its Handling of 2013 Anti-Israel Event: Jewish Pro-Israel Students Vindicated by Apology, Further Action to Protect Civil Rights Will Be Pursued

The Brandeis Center welcomes some good news for three of our clients.  On Friday, Brooklyn College President Karen Gould publicly apologized for the school’s forcible ejection of four Jewish pro-Israel students from a 2013 anti-Israel event sponsored in part by the school. The Brandeis Center, which represents three of the students removed from the lecture, had called for a public apology from Brooklyn College, and was pleased when the apology was issued late Friday afternoon.

LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus lauded the apology in a press release issued this morning:

“This apology reflects the fact that the university violated the constitutional and civil rights of our clients at a public event. This was a shameful incident, and we are pleased that the university has accepted responsibility,” said LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus. “We appreciate the apology and look forward to working with the school to ensure that other Brooklyn College students will not have to endure what happened to our clients.”

Here’s a summary of the case, which many readers will recall from last year:

On February 7, 2013, the Brooklyn College Students for Justice in Palestine chapter – with official sponsorship from the school – hosted an event promoting the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, which is aimed at Israel. The event featured Judith Butler … and Omar Barghouti….

Shortly after the four Jewish students – including LDB clients Melanie Goldberg, Michael Ziegler, and Ari Ziegler — arrived at the event, they were forcibly removed by two public safety officers of Brooklyn College at the urging of an event organizer unaffiliated with the school.

Brooklyn College President Karen Gould directed the school’s apology, reprinted in full below, to the four students. In the wake of the BDS event, the students had been falsely accused of wrongdoing and subjected to intense scrutiny from school officials and the media, but were vindicated by a two-month investigation into the incident conducted in March and April, 2013 by the City University of New York, of which Brooklyn College is a part.

The CUNY investigation, which included interviews with more than 40 witnesses, found that the non-campus-affiliated event organizer was motivated by a “political viewpoint” in removing the students as he had heard Melanie Goldberg’s pro-Israel views at a prior campus event; that the administrators and public safety officers at the event wrongly deferred to the event organizer; and concluded that “there was no justification for the removal of the four students.”

In the Brooklyn College apology, Gould stated that a College spokesperson had released “an erroneous” statement to the press after the event saying that the students were being disruptive. Gould acknowledged that the university’s statement was false.

The Brandeis Center has emphasized that more work remains to be done:

BDS Supporters Worry About Freedom of Speech

Judith Butler and Rashid Khalidi, both well-known academics and high-profile supporters of the BDS movement campaigning for “boycotts, divestment and sanctions” against Israel, have issued a statement that was originally circulated under the dramatic title “Support Freedom of Expression! Oppose Intimidation!” They claim that there are “accelerating efforts to curtail speech, to exercise censorship, and to carry out retaliatory action against individuals on the basis of their political views or associations, notably support for BDS.”

Since both Butler and Khalidi are prominent academics, they obviously have many opportunities to voice their views in prestigious venues and media outlets. However, both recently faced protests against scheduled appearances at Jewish institutions, and the events were eventually cancelled. Their call to “oppose intimidation” should therefore also be seen as part of the currently ongoing debate about the question if Jewish institutions should welcome speakers who advocate the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state, which is the openly acknowledged goal of BDS. As Omar Barghouti, who is widely regarded as the founder and most prominent leader of the BDS movement, declared already ten years ago: “Zionism is intent on killing itself.  I, for one, support euthanasia.”

Anti-Boycott Legislation, Free Speech and Academic Freedom: A Response to Ed Beck and the International Grass Roots Faculty Committee For Academic Freedom and Integrity

Yesterday, The Algemeiner published my article on “Legislating Against BDS.” In this article, I argue that Representatives Roskam and Lipinski have done creditable service in introducing legislation that would bar federal funding of universities that boycott Israel.  Although their initial bill may not be perfect, it has provoked a healthy conversation about how legislatures can be address the misuse of taxpayer funds to support discriminatory boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) policies that arguably encroach upon academic freedom.   To be fully effective, I argued, an anti-boycott bill would address not only boycotts but also divestment, and it should provide a tripartite enforcement scheme consistent with other areas of anti-discrimination law.  Although the article has been generally well received, it has received one critical comment from Dr. Edward Beck that is sufficiently thoughtful and serious to require a full reply.

Dr. Beck posted his reply in the comments to my article on the Algemeiner site.  As Brandeis Center Blog readers may be aware, Beck is the Co-founder and Chairman emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, although he has subsequently left SPME for new ventures.   Although he does not directly criticize my article, Beck posts a position paper that takes a contrary view of the legislation.  “You and your readers might be interested in learning the position of some pretty thoughtful folks with whom I am now working,” he writes, “on the International Grass Roots Faculty Committee For Academic Freedom and Integrity.”  Beck then posts what he calls the “IGRFCAFI Statement on Punitive Legislation For Academic Boycott Actions.” The statement is signed by twelve distinguished academics, several of whom I personally know and deeply respect.

First Amendment Experts Debate Anti-BDS Bill

Can Congress withhold funds from universities that adopt anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) policies?  Two widely respected First Amendment experts disagree.  Floyd Abrams, a leading First Amendment practitioner, argues that the new Roskam-Lapinski Bill is unconstitutional.  Eugene Volokh, a leading First Amendment scholar at UCLA, disagrees.

Readers of the Brandeis Center Blog will remember that Representatives Roskam and Lapinksi’s newly introduced bill, HR4009, and provides, part that:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an institution of higher education shall not be eligible to receive funds or any other form of financial assistance under this Act [not including student aid funds] if the Secretary determines that such institution is participating in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions or scholars….

For purposes of this section, the Secretary shall consider an institution of higher education to be participating in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions or scholars if the institution, any significant part of the institution, or any organization significantly funded by the institution adopts a policy or resolution, issues a statement, or otherwise formally establishes the restriction of discourse, cooperation, exchange, or any other involvement with academic institutions or scholars on the basis of the connection of such institutions or such scholars to the State of Israel.

Mr. Abrams has reportedly argued that Roskam-Lapkinski would be unconstitutional:

The notion that the power to fund colleges and their faculties may be transformed into a tool to punish them for engaging in constitutionally protected expression is contrary to any notion of academic freedom and to core First Amendment principles…. I believe that academic boycotts are themselves contrary to principles of academic freedom but that does not make the legislation being considered any more tolerable or constitutional.

Volokh disagrees, arguing that the bill is likely constitutional.  His arguments, posted at the Volokho conspiracy at WashingtonPost.com, include the following:

1. Most important, the bill doesn’t restrict university speech based on content or viewpoint — a university doesn’t lose money just for condemning Israel or even praising a boycott, but only for actually boycotting Israel: refusing to deal with Israeli institutions or scholars….

2. Now the bill may affect a university’s speech decisions. A university department’s choice of speakers for a conference, for instance, is a decision about what speech to present, and is thus potentially protected by the First Amendment: It constitutes exercise of the university’s freedom of speech, and the related right of freedom of expressive association, which is triggered by association restrictions or association mandates that “affect[ a] group’s ability to express its message.” … If the government made it a crime for universities to refuse to invite Israeli speakers, that might well be unconstitutional.

But the question is whether the government can say, “if you take our money, you can’t discriminate against people or institutions because they are connected to Israel.” (Note that the bill would be narrower than an anti-discrimination provision, because it bans only outright boycotts, and not all discrimination, but it’s comparable enough to an anti-discrimination rule that I’ll treat it similarly.) And as to such questions, the Court has generally said yes….

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.

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…

Brandeis Center Responds to the Journal of Academic Freedom

In its 2013 publication, the Journal of Academic Freedom discussed the topic of academic boycotts, primarily focusing on the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).  In her introduction, the Journal’s editor, Ashley Dawson, wrote that the “reviewers of the submitted articles. . . felt [the articles] could have the salutary effect of pushing the AAUP to discuss criteria for responding to violations of academic freedom. . .” on an international level, since the AAUP’s current policy opposes boycotts.  However, what followed was a compilation of articles presenting one-sided narrow viewpoints on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and academic freedom. 

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In response to this biased presentation, several scholars came together to present a series of response papers.  In “The Very Foundations of the University”, the Brandeis Center’s Kenneth L. Marcus and Sitara Kedilaya outline the alarming yet growing position of several academics: that the Jews are the most dangerous threat to the university.  Too many academics embrace the narrative that Zionists threaten the university by suppressing speech contrary to their nefarious interests, especially their conspiracy to hide crimes inflicted by Israelis on innocent Palestinians.  Such warnings resonate with age-old stereotypes of the Jews as fantastically powerful, diabolically conspiratorial, and cosmically dangerous.  According to these anti-Israel scholars, the Zionist threat consists of orchestrated complaints by pro-Israel students who insist that any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic.  To assert this position, these scholars too narrowly construe the true definition of anti-Semitism, and therefore must deny that anti-Semitism is the serious problem on many university campuses that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights says it is. In other words, they must create a safe haven for those anti-Jewish bigots who cast their anti-Jewish rhetoric in terms of Israel. 

Academic Boycotts Are Anathema to Academic Freedom

UntitledAll too often, professors proclaim their allegiance to the principles of academic freedom and then take action that violates those very principles. Sadly, this is often the case when it comes to academia’s attitude toward the State of Israel and its institutions of higher learning.

The American Studies Association (ASA), which claims to be “the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history,” is currently debating a proposed resolution to endorse a boycott of Israeli universities. Should the organization’s National Council, which consists of about 20 elected representatives, approve the resolution, the ASA will become the second major American scholarly organization to come out in favor of such an academic boycott.