Jewish, pro-Palestinian groups claim Israel advocates stifle free speech

“Stifling Dissent,” a report compiled by Jewish Voice for Peace, claims that pro-Palestinian voices are being limited on college campuses.Courtesy of Jewish Voice for Peace
“Stifling Dissent,” a report compiled by Jewish Voice for Peace, claims that pro-Palestinian voices are being limited on college campuses.
Courtesy of Jewish Voice for Peace

Critics of Israel are being silenced on campus, the Jewish Voice for Peace, a Jewish pro-Palestinian group, contends in a newly released report.

The report, titled “Stifling Dissent,” issued Sept. 30, asserts that Israel advocates are using “false charges” of anti-Semitism to silence critics of Israel’s policies. Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights issued a similar work on the same day, called “The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack in the US.”

The 69-page JVP report argues that Jewish communal organizations are seeking to “muzzle political criticism” of Israeli policies and threatening “constitutionally protected speech and academic freedom.” JVP accuses groups such as StandWithUs and the Zionist Organization of America — which JVP describes as “far-right political organizations” — of filing false complaints with the federal government that claim campuses are hostile for Jewish students, pressure university administrators into canceling pro-Palestinian speakers and engage in “blacklisting professors.”

In a conference call with reporters last week, Dima Khalidi, director of Palestine Legal, said that intimidation of pro-Palestinian students is “widespread across the country” and that the incidents detailed in the joint report are “only the tip of the iceberg with a lot more incidents going unreported.”

“We’re seeing disparate treatment for students who are speaking out for Palestinian rights,” said Khalidi. She said that that pro-Palestinian students are punished disproportionately or scrutinized more heavily than other students for violations of university policy, such as delivering mock eviction notices.

But StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein called the reports “a feeble attempt to try to turn the tables,” saying the same tactics JVP and Palestine Legal–CCR accuse Jewish organizations of employing are in reality being used by pro-Palestinian students to stifle the free speech of pro-Israel students.

JVP’s report makes mention of the “Irvine 11 Prosecution.” In February 2010, Muslim students repeatedly interrupted a speech by then-Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren at the University of California at Irvine. For their actions, a court convicted the students of conspiracy to disrupt a public meeting and sentenced them to community service.

Tallie Ben-Daniel, JVP Academic Advisory Council coordinator, said that the students’ actions were “an important tactic that people use all the time” to make their voices heard. She conceded that Students for Justice in Palestine, often connected with similar-style protests, can use “theatrical” and “dramatic” tactics to “make people pay attention.” However, she said she was “troubled” by the idea that such groups should expect a harsh punishment, which JVP maintains is tantamount to a double standard.

Rothstein, who attended Oren’s speech, disputed JVP’s characterization of the event. She said a StandWithUs videographer captured the speech and the students’ actions outside the event. That video was subpoenaed and used to convict the 11 UC Irvine and UC Riverside students.

Several well-known Jewish communal organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee were named in the report. Ben-Daniel said that the issue with these organizations is that they “set a political litmus test” to participate in the Jewish communal world.

The report also criticizes Hillel International for its standards for partnership. Local Hillels cannot partner with organizations that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts against Israel.

Jewish Voice for Peace, said Ben-Daniel, “is proudly taking up the BDS call.”

“Hillel polices Jewish identity, and we want that to change and be more open,” said Ben-Daniel. “What’s concerning to us is that Hillel is seen as the voice of all Jewish students on campus [and] we believe that they should invite students of all political persuasions.”

“ADL and AJC — everybody is concerned about the BDS mission,” said Rothstein. “It’s a continuation of the Arab League boycott and it’s illegal. You can only ignore it for so long. So now the greater Jewish community is concerned and [JVP] doesn’t like that.”

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