Universities, colleges "may be liable for massive damages" if they fail to prevent anti-Semitism on campus, Israel Law Center warns.
By Joanna Paraszczuk, The Jerusalem Post,
September 8, 2011
Hundreds of US college and university presidents were set to receive warning letters on Thursday morning, instructing them of their legal obligations to prevent anti-Semitism on campus.
The letters also remind universities it is their legal duty to prevent university funds from being diverted to unlawful activities directed against the State of Israel.
Civil rights group the Israel Law Center (Shurat HaDin) is carrying out the legal campaign in response to “an alarming number of incidents of harassment and hate crimes against Jewish and Israeli students on US college campuses.”
“Anti-Israel rallies and events frequently exceed legitimate criticism of Israel and cross the line into blatant anti-Semitism, resulting in hateful attacks against Jews,” the center’s lawyer Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said on Wednesday.
One university that has attracted criticism over anti- Semitism on campus is Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.
Aaron Marcus, a senior at Rutgers, says he was dubbed a “racist Zionist pig” in a public Facebook posting by a fellow student.
According to Marcus, that comment was made after he questioned a Rutgers University Student Assembly decision to donate money to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, a nonprofit organization with close ties to Islamic charity the Holy Land Foundation, which funds Hamas.
The political science and history student said he complained about the incident to the university administration, but was told the student’s comments were protected under the US Constitution’s First Amendment, and she had a right to freedom of speech.
“They didn’t even mention that her actions were in direct violation of the student code of conduct or acknowledge the fact that she was taking part in an extreme case of campus bullying,” Marcus said.
Lawyer Kenneth Leitner, Israel Law Center’s director of American affairs, said “perpetrators of hate” are exploiting academic ideals.
“By condoning it, college administrators have allowed an environment of intimidation and hostility against Jewish students and faculty to fester on campus,” Leitner said.
This sort of harassment and intimidation interferes with students’ educational rights, and poses a threat to their physical safety and well-being, according to the Israel Law Center.
The center hopes the legal warnings will prompt US colleges to take action against what it says is a growing problem of campus hatred.
“Jewish and Israeli students are often too intimidated to speak because they fear they will be held collectively responsible for the supposed ‘wrongdoings’ of the Jewish State of Israel,” the Law Center’s warning letter says.
Former Brandeis University student Herschel Hartz said US universities are guilty of a double standard by allowing anti-Semitism to thrive while protecting students of other ethnicities against discrimination.
“Brandeis University ignores anti-Semitism and seeks to brush it under the rug,” he said.
Hartz said that when he confronted his then-roommate over anti-Semitic messages posted on an online instant messaging service, the roommate assaulted him.
He called campus police, but eventually took the issue to court and obtained a restraining order.
Brandeis didn’t do anything to protect him, Hartz said.
“If you look into the history of Brandeis University around that time, a freshman student was expelled for putting posters on the campus expressing an inappropriate joke about Islam. The double standard is amazing,” he said.
The Law Center’s letter also reminds schools of their legal obligation to monitor the funding and activities of all on-campus student groups, and warns them that by failing to do so, they could unwittingly fall foul of stringent US legislation.
The letter cites a recent ruling by the US Supreme Court in the Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project case, which held it is illegal to provide any support to a terrorist organization – even if that support appears to be relatively benign.
In that case, the Supreme Court found providing any support to a terrorist organization, even for supposed humanitarian purposes, was enough to incur criminal liability.
The Law Center points to the Muslim Students Association (MSA), which operates in hundreds of college campuses in the US, and which it describes as “the university arm of the Muslim Brotherhood organization.”
“Although I have no information that any MSA chapter is directly supporting Hamas at this time, certain MSA chapters have openly supported Hamas in the past, and your institution must remain vigilant of the difference between protected speech and prohibited conduct, especially as it pertains to funds that your institution knowingly provides,” the Law Center’s letter reads.
The Law Center also refers to a Rutgers University event last year, in which students group BAKA – Students United for Middle East Justice successfully applied to a student-run allocations committee for an event in support of US To Gaza, an organization that was raising money to buy an American ship to run Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, in support of Hamas.
In its letter, the Law Center warns the funding runs counter to the US Neutrality Act, which makes furnishing money for hostile naval expeditions against any country at peace with the US a crime.