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Lawsuits Launched against Colleges on Israel De-Legitimization, Intimidation and Harassment

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Lawsuits Launched against Colleges on Israel De-Legitimization, Intimidation and Harassment

Neal Sher, The Cutting Edge
March 28, 2011

As the worldwide campaign aimed at de-legitimizing and demonizing Israel rages on worldwide, the campus has become a major battleground, especially in the U.S. and Canada. Indeed, Israel’s detractors long ago recognized the importance of influencing (and infiltrating) academia, at both the faculty and student levels.

In recent years, groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Student Association have become increasingly hostile and incidents of intimidation and violence against Jewish and pro-Israel students and atmospheres of pervasive hostility and intimidation have been reported on numerous campuses.

With that as background, I along with attorney Joel Siegal in San Francisco and Professor Ed Morgan in Toronto, have initiated legal proceedings against universities for condononing and legitimizing such intimidation and hostility and for their failure to take adequate measures to prevent it.

Last month we filed a groundbreaking federal civil rights case against the University of California at Berkeley on behalf of Jessica Felber, a Jewish student who was assaulted by a leader of a Muslim student organization during a peaceful pro-Israel event. Details of that case can be found at: http://frontpagemag.com/2011/03/08/berkeley-on-trial-over-jewish-students-assault/

In addition, we have filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario on behalf of by Sammy Katz, a student at York University, has charged York with legitimizing an anti-Jewish environment on campus. As part of the complaint, York is accused of having failed to take measures required to counter activities which have created a poisonous atmosphere for identifiably Jewish students. 

The complaint stems from a February 2010 incident at a pro-Israel event held on campus. The complaint describes how Katz was subjected to verbal abuse and a physical assault by persons vehemently hostile to students who support the Jewish state, while campus security failed to intervene or control the volatile situation.

Katz also reveals how York made public statements about the assault aimed at discrediting him, and convened meetings of the media and Jewish organizational leaders at which it spun its own inaccurate version of the episode. The truth is that a university review of the incident concluded that the Jewish students had been swarmed and that Katz had, in fact, been assaulted.

The incident, lack of quick response by York security and the oppressive behavior by York administration in the aftermath is just the latest demonstration of the lack of even-handed treatment by York University against Jewish student groups. Whereas York has legitimized and encouraged anti-Jewish events such as Israel Apartheid Week and makes no proactive effort to address growing incidents of anti Semitic graffiti and vandalism around campus, it has also treated pro-Israel Jewish students to a higher level of scrutiny and suspicion.
There is a sense of fear and anxiety over being openly Jewish at York University felt by Katz and many other students. The administration exacerbates these feelings with a poisonous atmosphere of aggressiveness and antagonism towards organized Jewish student groups. There is a feeling that some groups (i.e. anti-Israel groups) are more preferred than others (i.e. pro-Israel groups).  

The complaint also asserts that the laws and rules which are supposed to apply to all students and organizations are applied much more forcefully against Jewish students. Actions by other students which concern or intimidate Jewish students are often overlooked, while more innocuous actions of Jewish students appear to be subject to the highest scrutiny. This event suggests that this extra scrutiny has progressed to the point where the goal is no longer that of addressing legitimate concerns but rather a targeted and intentional campaign against specifically Jewish groups.

The situation at York exemplifies what has been happening on campuses throughout North America. And, it would be naïve to think that the hostility will abate. The de-legitimizers and denigrators are well financed and extremely well organized. They have no intention of relenting or backing down, certainly not through reasoned intellectual persuasion. . It should be painfully clear that dialogue and engagement has failed miserably. On the contrary, the situation has only worsened.

There has been much discussion and debate about how the other side has engaged in what has been termed “lawfare” - the exploitation of judicial systems to intimidate and harass, among others, pro-Israel and Jewish activists. It is high time to take the initiative and use the law and courts to protect our rights and to demand that universities and colleges live up to their obligations.

These cases – and there undoubtedly will  be others - have been initiated because we firmly believe that our legal system might well be the most effective - perhaps the only - way make sure that universities cease legitimizing and condoning hostility and intimidation towards Jewish students. They must return to being the places ohope and dignity, of academic and personal freedom and of peaceful life and personal safety which they were intended to be.

Neal Sher, a New York attorney, is counsel to the law firm Simon & Partners, LLP.  Previously, he served as Director of the Office of Special Investigations in the U.S. Justice department and Executive Director of AIPAC. He can be reached at www.nealsher.com

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