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LDB Submits Input for United Nations Report on Space for Civil Society


Anne Crowell, Brandeis Blog

September 30, 2015
 

Today, LDB submitted comments to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in response to a request to contribute to a UN report about space for civil society.  Space for civil society is a broad concept that involves creating ways for groups with differing views to engage in productive, meaningful dialogue with one another.  Maintaining this space requires upholding freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment of the US Constitution and international law, such as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.  LDB’s submission for this important UN project is an excellent opportunity for us to share our experience relating to the college campus—an essential space for civil society that is threatened by the rise of anti-Semitism.  It also allows LDB to continue to engage with the UN, following our letter to the Department of Justice earlier this year about the UN’s Universal Periodic Review.

UN EmblemLDB’s comments address the fundamental human rights of freedom of speech and freedom from discrimination, and how these two freedoms can be combined to benefit civil society.  LDB’s namesake, Justice Louis D. Brandeis, expressed his support for freedom of speech, saying, “If there is a time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”  Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, 377 (1927) (Brandeis, J., concurring).  LDB is committed to upholding freedom of speech, and we recognize that freedom of speech is especially important on the college campus, where academic freedom is at stake.

In LDB’s work combating anti-Semitism, we have learned that discrimination against religious, ethnic, racial, and other groups prevents those groups from fully taking part in civil society and exercising their civil rights.  This unequal access to space for civil society has a negative impact on what civil society is able to achieve.  On the college campus in particular, the quality of discussion and learning is enhanced by exposure to the different points of view that members of the college community are able to offer.

The importance of both freedom of speech and freedom from discrimination means that we need to protect everyone’s right to participate equally in civil society spaces like the college campus, so that discrimination such as anti-Semitism does not operate as an obstacle to education.  This is why LDB advocates that colleges and government agencies adopt the State Department definition of anti-Semitism—the definition is clear enough to protect against discrimination, without infringing on the right to freedom of speech.

We have enjoyed this opportunity to share LDB’s unique experience with the global audience that benefits from the UN’s work, and we hope that LDB’s input will be valuable to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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Over 50% of Jewish American college students report that they experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism on their campuses during the 2013-2014 academic year. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has announced that campus anti-Semitism “is a serious problem which warrants further attention.” Campus anti-Semitism can include subjecting Jewish students to different treatment, harassment, violence or a hostile environment. In some cases, campus anti-Semitism is related to anti-Israel sentiment. In other cases, it is not. For most purposes, we define anti-Semitism according to the U.S. Department of State definition of anti-Semitism. .
 
 
 
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Tevi Troy
Tevi Troy is a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute, and a writer and consultant on health care and domestic policy.
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