Lobby Watch 5 October 2011
A complaint by a professor at Columbia University who co-founded the anti-Palestinian Zionist group “Scholars for Peace in the Middle East” has resulted in the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) opening an investigation into the university.
The civil rights complaint is part of a growing pattern of such actions by Zionist groups across the country to use civil rights laws to suppress campus criticism or even discussion of Israel’s human rights crimes, and to intimidate faculty and students and slander those who dare to teach or undertake activities about Palestinian rights as “anti-Semites.”
Recently, The Electronic Intifada discovered that Israeli officials had even played a direct role in a planned civil rights complaint against another US institution, Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, where students had passed a resolution supporting divestment from Israel.
Columbia rejects attempt to smear Joseph Massad
The complaint also appears to be another attempt to smear Columbia University professor Joseph Massad even though it in fact has nothing to do with him. For years, Massad was the target of an organized campaign of slander and intimidation by Zionist groups who interfered in the university’s processes in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to deny him tenure.
Columbia University President Lee Bollinger has issued a strong statement, according to the Columbia Spectator :
“It is important to note that the individual complaint appears to relate to academic advising at Barnard College and in no way involves Professor Joseph Massad,” Bollinger said. “Based on these facts, therefore, it is extremely unfair for professor Massad to be cited in a matter in which he played no part whatsoever.”
Barnard College is affiliated with Columbia University. It may only be a coincidence that the complaint has come to light just as the first ever Students for Justice in Palestine National Conference prepares to convene at Columbia University from October 14 to 16.
Individuals pushing complaint are members of anti-Palestinian group
According to The Columbia Spectator :
The complaint was filed by Kenneth Marcus, the director of the Initiative on Anti-Semitism at the Institute for Jewish and Community Research. According to Marcus, in January a Jewish student from Barnard was discouraged from taking a class with Joseph Massad, a professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia.
Marcus, who headed the OCR himself between 2003 and 2004, told Spectator that the chair of Barnard’s Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures department illegally “steered” the student away from taking the class because Massad, a sharp critic of Israel, has often been accused of anti-Semitism.
The story also notes:
The incident was brought to Marcus’s attention by Mailman School of Public Health professor Judith Jacobson, who herself heard about it from a third party.
Jacobson, a co-founder of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, said she found the student’s story “distressing,” and not only because steering is illegal.
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East is a well-known anti-Palestinian group and it appears that not only Jacobson, but that one Kenneth Marcus is also a member of its board.
A national strategy to suppress criticism of Israel by abusing civil rights laws
It is notable that Marcus, who is a lawyer, is also former US government official. As the Columbia Spectator reported he headed the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights himself. Moreover, the report states:
Marcus said that Columbia is being investigated for “steering,” a term commonly used in housing discrimination cases to describe realtors directing black families away from white neighborhoods, and vice versa.
Marcus spent years dealing with steering cases while heading the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He said the steering that occurred at Barnard was clearly a violation of the law, but that this case may be breaking new ground.
Could Marcus have a role in the national rash of so-called “civil rights” cases targeting speech that supporters of Israel wish to suppress? It appears that he does.
In March, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the OCR had begun an investigation – the first of its kind – into the University of California-Santa Cruz based on complaints about speech critical of Israel and Zionism
Kenneth L. Marcus, who was the Education Department’s assistant secretary for civil rights from 2002 to 2004 and now directs the Institute for Jewish and Community Research’s efforts to fight anti-Semitism, said on Tuesday that the investigation of Santa Cruz “would have been a nonstarter” if the OCR had not adopted the harder line against anti-Semitism urged by his organization and other Jewish groups.
Israeli government and Stand With Us involved in Evergreen State case
In August, The Electronic Intifada discovered that Israeli officials and the national anti-Palestinian group Stand With Us were jointly discussing a civil rights complaint against Evergreen State College, the former college of Rachel Corrie, in what appeared to be a growing strategy to use US civil rights protections to censor criticism of Israeli racism, war crimes and apartheid on campuses.
It now appears clear that having lost the argument in the public sphere, Zionist groups are turning to legal bullying as their last line of defense to silence people.
Distortion of civil rights laws for censorship
But the latest strategy to suppress free speech has not found universal favor among pro-Israel groups. Kenneth Stern, the American Jewish Committee’s “director on anti-semitism and extremism” co-signed a statement along with the president of the American Association of University Professors stating that using civil rights legislation to stop speech critical of Israel was a form of “censorship” and a “distortion” of civil rights laws.
It remains to be seen whether universities and colleges will recognize the national nature of this effort and fight back to defend the academic freedom of their students and faculty, or will allow extremist anti-Palestinian groups to use bogus charges of “anti-Semitism” to work as those who levy them intend.
- Columbia University
- Office of Civil Rights
- Stand With Us
- Lee Bollinger
- Joseph Massad
- University of California-Santa Cruz
- Barnard College
- Students for Justice in Palestine
- American Association of University Professors
Real issue is criticism of Israel
Permalink ys replied on
Marcus is much more than involved: he's the brainchild of notion that criticism of Israel or Zionism creates a "hostile climate" for Jewish students on campus. Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, universities who receive federal funding may lose that funding if a "hostile environment" is found against students based on their ethnicity or national origin. Subject to pressure from Marcus and other lobby organizations, the US Dept. of Education adopted a regulation granting religious groups protection if they also have shared perceived ethnic characteristics (Jews, Muslims, Sikh, etc). The problem is the next claim, that anti-Israel activity creates a hostile climate for Jewish students. Marcus to my knowledge is the only person to publish a few law review articles and publish a book on the matter.
That said, the basic claim, according to Marcus ( http://www.jewishresearch.org/... ), an academic adviser told a student not to take Massad's class because she would not be "comfortable." Of course that's a stupid thing for an adviser to say, especially if what she meant was: "as a Jewish student you would not be comfortable." In my eyes that's clearly unacceptable. However, the problem starts with Marcus' focus on whether or not Massad's class is actually "uncomfortable" for Jewish students, as the real goal is to bolster the "anti-Israel/anti-Zionist is anti-Semitic" theory. That the adviser has poor judgment does not reflect on Massad at all; and the simple fact that a Jewish student may be "uncomfortable" in her class is not illegal, especially if she's "uncomfortable" because pro-Israel or Zionist ideas will undergo academic scrutiny. The problem is if someone is made to feel uncomfortable on the basis of the fact that they're Jewish.
My guess is the facts are not as clear as reported, there's more to the story, and the Spectator is probably right this is an "isolated" incident.
The world needs more improvement in human rights
Permalink Gate Valve replied on
The development level of human rights in many parts of the world is still very low that much attention shall still be paid to the development level of human rights in poorly-developing countries.