The growing campaign to criminalize pro-justice Israeli-Palestinian campus activism and even thought has come to UC Hastings.
The Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council are probably crowing over their successful effort to get UC Hastings Law school to distance itself from a March 24 conference devoted to the legal rights of Palestinians called “Litigating Palestine: Can Courts Secure Palestinian Rights?” (Read an excellent piece on the events by Lisa Hajjar over at Jadaliyya.)
But the truth is that their efforts to stop–in the name of Jews– a conference promoting legal and human rights for an oppressed people is a profound embarrassment to any of us who consider ourselves part of any Jewish community.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, in an email to supporters, JCRC head Doug Kahn called the conference, which featured an impressive range of human rights lawyers and professors from leading law schools, “anti-Israel”. (The conference was organized by the brilliant and highly regarded legal scholar George Bisharat whose primary crime seems to be that he is Palestinian.) Kahn said the JCRC and the ADL, plus the American Jewish Committee met privately with UC Hasting leaders days before the Hastings’ Board of Directors decided at a closed-door, emergency meeting to “take all steps necessary to remove the UC Hastings name and brand” from the conference. This included canceling a planned welcoming talk by dean and chancellor Frank Wu.
But the pressure didn’t just come from these groups.
Another campaigner against the conference was the prolific anti-free speech crusader, UC Santa Cruz Hebrew lecturer Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, who infamously led a successful effort to cancel a UC Santa Cruz speaking engagement by Israeli and Palestinian peace activists who wanted to talk about the negative impact of militarism on Israeli society. She said that allowing such a talk to happen on campus created the same intimidating environment for Jewish students that a noose created for African American students. (The peace activists were not amused. )
Benjamin, building on longtime and successful efforts of the Zionist Organization of America to get the US Department of Education to reinterpret the Civil Rights Act so that it could be used to stop pro-justice Israeli-Palestinian activism, recently filed a nearly 30 page complaint about anti-Semitism at UC Santa Cruz dwelling almost entirely on programming related to Israel and Palestine. The Office of Civil rights opened an investigation based on her complaint, and in a sharply worded letter to UC Hastings’ Wu , which she ccd to every Jewish pro-occupation group she could think of, she threatened the same including the possible withdrawal of federal funds.
The pressure campaign also succeeded in getting the Cummings Foundation to withdraw funding for the conference, though the ADL continued to bitterly complain that attendees could still earn higher education legal credits and that the UC Hastings logo hadn’t been removed from materials fast enough.
Meanwhile, advocates for legal rights for Palestinians are likely writing private thank you notes to Kahn and company for politicizing an entirely new group of students, administrators and academics who were profoundly ticked off by such a clumsy McCarthyite attempt to use far-right talking points to smear lawyers and police thought in an academic setting. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the UC Hastings’ board decision to yield to the external pressure campaign produced few good feelings:
The directors’ action dismayed Hastings’ faculty. Nearly all of its tenured professors signed a letter to the board last week saying that academic freedom includes providing forums for controversial topics, and that the attempt to disavow the conference “undermines our commitment to maintaining both the college’s fiscal viability and its high standards.”
Way to go Rossmore-Benjamin, ADL, AJC and JCRC! Next time you all shout anti-Semitism! in a crowded room, I’m sure we can REALLY count on these folks (not) to come running for help.
Presumably, while the ADL, AJC and JCRC insist on perpetuating the myth that such embarrassing moves represent the will of the Jewish community, they would have absolutely no trouble with a conference on the legal rights of the Israeli government to build settlements on Palestinian land. Because that is exactly what they stand for when they take these actions.
The only word for the growing anti-human rights campaigns driven by old-school Jewish organizations is Shandah, shame.