Lawyers have responded to nearly 300 incidents of “censorship, punishment, or other burdening of advocacy for Palestinian rights” filed by Palestine solidarity activists on more than 65 US campuses in the last year and a half.
Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) detail the assault in a new 124-page report, “The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack in the US.”
“As the movement for Palestinian rights is growing in the US, so too are concerted efforts to silence any and all criticism of Israel,” said Radhika Sainath, staff attorney with Palestine Legal and cooperating counsel with CCR.
A video featuring students and members of faculty who have experienced silencing, repression and intimidation was also released by Palestine Legal and CCR and can be viewed below.
Tactics of suppression
The report, which is the first of its kind, documents the suppression of Palestine advocacy in the US and identifies nine separate tactics Israel lobby groups use to crush Palestine solidarity activism — especially on campuses.
The groups say that 85 percent of the hundreds of incidents to which Palestine Legal has responded since 2014 involving the targeting of students and scholars “include baseless legal complaints, administrative disciplinary actions, firings, harassment and false accusations of terrorism and anti-Semitism.”
Such tactics have a chilling effect on speech, the report says. “These strategies … [result in] intimidating or deterring Palestinian solidarity activists from speaking out. The fear of punishment or career damage discourages many activists from engaging in activities that could be perceived as critical of Israel,” the report says.
Sainath told The Electronic Intifada that “on the one hand, we’ve seen that peoples’ lives and reputations have been destroyed because of speaking out critically about Israel’s policies — one example is professor Steven Salaita, [whose story] is covered in the report.”
Salaita was fired from the University of Illinois after he expressed his criticism of Israel’s attack on Gaza in the summer of 2014.
In school-related cases, Sainath said that one tactic of suppression is the use of bureaucratic barriers. This is when “administrators throw up all of these hurdles, making it really difficult for students to organize events supporting Palestinian human rights,” she explained.
“These are hurdles like security fees for meetings, reviewing speaker bios and flyers — this can be really exhausting for students, especially students who might also be working part-time jobs in addition to their studies. It makes it really hard to organize.”
Despite the various attacks and attempts at chilling speech, Sainath said that students and professors are still organizing and still speaking out. “In some ways, according to people we’ve interviewed, this is having a little bit of a contrary effect where a lot of people … are seeing how those speaking out for justice in Palestine are being treated differently and [they’re saying] maybe there’s something wrong here.”
Palestine Legal and CCR are planning to send the report to campus administrators while encouraging students to bring it to school officials as well.
Meanwhile, lawyers and students say they are bracing for an array of dirty tactics being planned by Israel lobby groups. Earlier this year, Republican party mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, along with Haim Saban, billionaire supporter of the Democratic party, poured tens of millions of dollars into Israel lobby groups on campus with the explicit intent of suppressing Palestine rights-based organizing on college campuses.
“One of the things that we’re concerned about and preparing for is a wave of anti-boycott legislation,” Sainath said, “as well as increased efforts to stop students from introducing referendums or resolutions for Palestinian rights.”
Political litmus tests
Also today, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) released a 79-page report, “Stifling Dissent: How Israel’s Defenders Use False Charges of Anti-Semitism to Limit the Debate over Israel on Campus.”
It lays out in detail the methods that Israel lobby groups use to stifle debate about Palestine. It also includes numerous case studies and accounts of employment discrimination against US professors who have been targeted for their political views on Israel.
Tallie Ben-Daniel, academic advisory council coordinator for JVP, told The Electronic Intifada that the report grew out of concerns over “the climate of repression” around speech critical of Israel, especially following Salaita’s firing.
Ben-Daniel said that young Jews “are more critical of Israeli state policy than ever before, and are building coalitions through their Palestine solidarity work — and yet are silenced by the very organizations that are supposed to represent them on campus.”
One section of JVP’s report “details how Jewish students are subjected to a political litmus test on Israel in order to participate in Jewish institutional life on campus.”
Organizations such as Hillel, JVP points out, demand that their members abide by guidelines which prohibit co-sponsoring or supporting events of speakers who are critical of Israeli policies and who support the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign.
Ben-Daniel added that JVP’s report “only tallies the cases that gained national attention — there are innumerable more Jewish students who in all probability do not participate in institutional Jewish campus life because of this litmus test.”
JVP says that the report is meant to educate and provide resources to students and faculty alike who may be facing repression or silencing on campus and in classrooms.