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.

Religion and the Discourse of Human Rights

Religion and the Discourse of Human RightsLDB President Kenneth L. Marcus contributes a chapter on “Three Conceptions of Religious Freedom”  to Hanoch Dagan, Shahar Lifschitz and Yedidia Z. Stern’s newly released volume on Religion and the Discourse of Human Rights (Jerusalem, Israel: Israel Democracy Institute, 2014) (downloadable here).  The volume marks the inauguration of an important human rights program at the Israel Democracy Institute, while Marcus’ contribution reflects the expansion of the Brandeis Center’s work on anti-Semitism and religious discrimination.

Religion and the Discourse of Human Rights is the product of the first international conference of IDI’s Religion and Human Rights project, which explores the existing and potential relationships between the Jewish tradition, in all of its forms in the past and present, and the doctrine of human-rights, in its broadest sense. Marcus’ essay addresses three conceptions of religious freedom in American constitutional law, explaining how traditional approaches do not always adequately protect the rights of religious minorities such as Jewish Americans.  This research grows out of the Louis D. Brandeis Center’s work advancing the civil rights of Jewish students in American universities in situations where they are sometimes denied protections that are routinely extended to members of other groups.  Mr. Marcus delivered an early version of this paper in at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem in 2012.  The presentation can be viewed in this video

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. 

The American Founding and Human Rights According to “The New Republic”

“The New Republic”—whose founding editor Walter Lippmann outgrew radical “new psychology” to found a conservative “public philosophy” based on natural reason—graced the Fifth of July with a breathless review of some new books arguing that the American founding fathers were flaming “free thinkers.” The purpose of this agnostic bombast was, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, to stick a finger in the eyes of conservative Christians who see the American founding as a sacred event.

In truth, most of the Founders were moderate Deists, meaning that they believed in a benevolent but removed deity who crafted the universe’s natural laws. They had left behind dogmatic Calvinism, but were far removed from the authentic atheism of radical Enlightenment thinkers like Julien Offray de La Mettrie who wrote L’homme machine or “The Human Mechanism” (c. 1750).

At the popular level, the American Revolution if not the Constitution was rooted in evangelical religion. There might have been a Revolution without freethinking Tom Paine (who nevertheless admired Quakers), but it would have been impossible without the religious enthusiasm unleashed by George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards and the First Great Awakening that convinced many colonists that George III was the Antichrist.

After the Revolution, the Jeffersonian Republican Party relied on the popular support of anti-religious establishment Baptists and Methodists. This is not so surprising given recent scholarship showing that Jefferson himself was not a Deist but a Unitarian who believed in a large moral agency for a heroic if not divine Jesus. After Deism went into eclipse, Unitarianism and “the New England conscience” remained a powerful spur to reform movements including both temperance and antislavery.

This history matters because, as far as I know, there has been no human rights movement in American history without a religious dynamic. This was true of Progressive social reform of the early twentieth century and of the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s. It might seem not to be true of the labor movement of the New Deal Era, but even that had a serious theological component in Reinhold Niebuhr and the Catholic Worker Movement.

The Tikvah Fund Issues a Call for Applications and Nominations

Tikvah logoThe Tikvah Fund is has invited our nominations for potential attendees to its very well-regarded Fall 2014 Tikvah Advanced Institutes. This round, Tikvah will offer institutes in both New York and Jerusalem on topics including Religious Freedom in America, Israeli National Defense, The Hebrew Bible and Jewish Excellence, The Case for Nationalism, and more.  Please let us know if you are interested in further information in the nomination process.  The applications for these programs are open through August 10th, and Tikvah is now beginning the recruitment effort. There is no charge for the institutes, and the opportunity comes with a stipend to cover time and expenses. Below is a list of the topics of the fall institutes. Details about the Tikvah offerings and how to apply can be found at www.tikvahfund.org.   

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:

Rethink 2014: Tweeting Against International Hate Week

Rethink2014 is a clever movement to oppose Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) on Twitter.  Specifically, the group’s Twitter feed last week consisted of photos of young people holding up signs that explain why they are against the annual anti-Israel hate week which is put on in different parts of the world throughout the months of February in March. The group’s Twitter site explains, “Students challenging the apartheid smear and bringing the real Israel to you.  Don’t believe the hype….  Re-educate.  Re-assess.  Rethink.”  Some of the best are presented in this YouTube video.

Rethink2014 Anti-SemitismThese photos, collected on the Rethink2014 Facebook page, reflect the variety of reasons for resisting IAW.  Some student statements are personal and emotional, although they express very different perspectives:

  • I love Israel.
  • Although I am not Israels [sic] biggest supporter, this week singles out the Jewish state and once again chooses to ignore the human rights violations of surrounding Arab states.
  • Someone needs to stand up for Israel’s right to exist.

Many statements focus on the dishonesty of the IAW campaign or the need for genuine education as opposed to propaganda:

  • It is an ignorant, unhelpful campaign.
  • A week is too long to devote to a lie.
  • It ignores Israel’s security needs to promote a one-sided story.
  • Calling Israel an Apartheid state is inaccurate and insulting.
  • Racial supremacy does not exist in Israel.
  • It can wrongly influence those people that are undecided
  • People shouldn’t be bullied into a biased, untrue belief.
  • Let’s educate others not just on the definition but on the reasons why Israel isn’t an apartheid. Let’s strive to educate and learn!

Rethink2014 EqualityOthers offer specific reasons why the comparison between Israel and South Africa makes little sense, including the rights that Palestinians enjoy in Israel but may be denied elsewhere throughout the Middle East:

  • Israel is the only country in the Middle-East where a Palestinian can criticise the government.
  • Arabs in Israel have democratic rights and are represented in the Knesset.
  • Israel has universal suffrage, unlike its neighbours.
  • Muslims have freedom of religion in Israel.
  • I see more of a rainbow nation in Jerusalem’s streets than in London.
  • I, a former South African living in Israel, have proudly voted alongside Arab citizens in the last Israeli election.
  • I interact with Arabs on daily basis. This would not be possible under Apartheid.
  • I see more of a rainbow nation in Jerusalem’s streets than in London.
  • Otherwise a Muslim would not be able to work in the Israel Embassy in London.

Jewish Prisoners’ Kosher Food Case Successfully Resolved in Florida

It is good to see the successful resolution today of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty’s lawsuit establishing the right of Florida prison inmates to kosher food.

Earlier today, Bruch Rich, an Orthodox Jewish Florida prisoner, withdrew his four-year-old complaint seeking a kosher diet, as a result of a a recent court order that requires the State of Florida to provide Jewish state prison inmates with a kosher diet. Despite Florida’s substantial Jewish population, that state had ironically been the only remaining major state penal system refusing to providing kosher meals to Jewish prisoners who observe the orthodox Jewish dietary laws or kashrut.

LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus commented, “Although we deplore the crimes of which Mr. Rich was convicted, we believe that the principle of equal protection of the laws requires that state penal institutions provide reasonable accommodations to religiously observant prisoners, including both Jews and non-Jews.  In this case, we are delighted that the Becket Fund has succeeded in protected this basic constitutional right. This is a case of basic fairness and justice. It is deeply unfortunate that Florida refused to provide this necessary accomodation until they were forced to do so, and the Becket Center is owed a debt of gratitude for bringing a just resolution about.”

Although the Brandeis Center is principally focused on campus anti-Semitism, we have also spoken out against anti-Semitism and religious discrimination in penal institutions and elsewhere.  For example, in November 2012, Marcus testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on the topic of discrimination against Muslim American prisoners.  Marcus has published academic research on this subject as well.  “We deplore discrimination of all religious groups,” Marcus commented, “whether Muslim, Jewish, or what have you.”

The Becket Fund provides the following additional background in a press release issued today:

Bruce Rich was born and raised in an Orthodox Jewish household. Since his incarceration, the Florida Department of Corrections has denied him a kosher diet, citing alleged cost and security concerns. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty represented Mr. Rich, arguing that the denial of a kosher diet violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act because it forces him to choose between his religious practice and adequate nutrition.

Happy Dussehra

The Louis D. Brandeis Center wishes a very happy Dussehra (Dasara) to those who celebrate this festival.  As we mark this joyous occasion, which commemorates the victory of good over evil, we thank those in the Indian community who have joined hands with us in our battles against campus anti-Semitism and in favor of religious…