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Original Article

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Academics Against Israel

Op-ed: Individuals, grassroots movements leading the fight against anti-Israel schools


By Manfred Gerstenfeld, Ynet,
September 14, 2011

Academics have been in the forefront of the international delegitimization campaign against Israel. Its starting point was an open letter in the British daily The Guardian on April 6, 2002. It appealed for a moratorium on all cultural and research links with Israel, at European and national levels. 

Within a few days, several hundred academics from various countries - including Israel - had signed it. From there, the campaign morphed in many directions. It was often accompanied by harassment of Jewish students.

Most Israeli universities have failed to properly share the burden of the anti-boycott battle. This has left the fight to individual academics and grassroots organizations. Of these, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East is the most active one internationally.

Increasingly, legal actions are becoming tools in the fight against the delegitimization of Israel. This approach is now being tested in three countries where the problems are greatest - the United States, Canada and the UK.

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, who teaches Hebrew at UC Santa Cruz, has been a courageous pioneer in the fight against Israel-haters. Several other campuses of the University of California, including UC Irvine and UC Berkeley, are known as hostile environments for pro-Israeli students.

In June 2009, Rossman-Benjamin added new ammunition to her already remarkable arsenal. She registered a complaint with the US Department of Education that academic departments and residential colleges at UC Santa Cruz sponsor “viciously anti-Israel” lecturers and films using campus funds.

Rossman-Benjamin stated that anti-Semitism on campus is a transgression of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This complaint became a hot potato for the authorities. Finally in October 2010, the Department of Education wrote a policy letter stating that federally funded universities have a legal obligation to eliminate anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation and also prevent it from recurring. 

In March 2011, the Department of Education notified UC Santa Cruz that it will be investigated to see whether it had allowed a hostile environment for Jewish students to develop.

In April 2011, the Zionist Organization of America wrote a 15-page letter to the President of Rutgers State University. It cited various reports from students regarding the hostile environment and anti-Semitism on campus, as well as violent threats made against a Jewish student. The letter from the ZOA referred to the policy letter of the Department of Education.

Going to Court

This month, the Israel Law Center wrote to 150 American college and university presidents - including those of Ivy League schools - warning them that they may be liable for huge damages if they do not prevent anti-Semitism on their campuses. The letter also mentioned that universities have a legal obligation to avoid the use of university funds for unlawful activities directed against Israel.

When fighting anti-Semitism on campus, complaining to US authorities is an ideal approach. Anyone can identify offenders and bring a complaint. Thereafter the authorities are obligated to investigate. Such a move costs little time and money.

A far more difficult and expensive approach is taking a university to court for anti-Semitic acts on its campus. Such cases can only be initiated by a victim. In March, Jewish student Jessica Felber sued UC Berkeley because a fellow student named Husam Zakharia assaulted her when she participated in a pro-Israel demonstration. The university knew that this leader of the Students for Justice in Palestine belonged to a group that was earlier responsible for violent incidents on campus. Management had done nothing to deal with the situation.

Felber’s attorney is Neal Sher, former Director of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations. In the same month, he went international by filing, together with a Canadian lawyer, a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal against York University in Toronto. The court case was brought on behalf of Sammy Katz, a Jewish student who alleged that he was hit during a pro-Israel demonstration.

Ronnie Fraser has been the forerunner in the fight against Israel-bashers on British campuses. Two months ago, his lawyer Anthony Julius wrote in a letter to the University and College Union that it had breached the Equality Act of 2010 because it had harassed Fraser due to his Jewish background and created “an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating” and/or “offensive environment for him.” This week it was announced that in view of UCU’s unsatisfactory answer, Julius has filed a claim with the Employment Tribunal. It states that the UCU exhibits institutionally anti-Semitic behavior toward its Jewish members.

Julius is not only well known as the lawyer of the late Princess Diana, but also for having exposed British Holocaust distorter David Irving who lost his court case against American historian Deborah Lipstadt. If Julius succeeds in dealing similarly with the academic trade union, it would be a huge victory against those who continue to delegitimize Israel.

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