Pro-Israel group targets Jewish professor over Palestine activism

Legislators around the United States are pushing forward bills, resolutions and blacklists to combat the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

This month, lawmakers in New York and Illinois advanced the countrywide anti-BDS effort.

New York senators voted to cut $485 million in state funding to City University of New York (CUNY), shifting the cost burden to the city.

Meanwhile, a CUNY professor who advises Students for Justice in Palestine was hauled before an investigative panel.

Republican State Senator Ken LaValle, who chairs the chamber’s committee on higher education, said the funding cut was meant to “send a message” to the university that it had not done enough to fight anti-Semitism on its campuses.

The slash to the state budget was originally proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo as a way of trimming the state’s operating costs.

However, on 14 March, senators discovered that the Republicans had worded the budget proposal as a penalty to the school for its supposedly insufficient response to alleged anti-Semitic incidents on four of its 11 campuses.

Democratic Senator Liz Krueger from Manhattan said the resolution was “breathtakingly shocking.”

“This was one giant ‘what the heck?’ moment,” she told reporters.

Marty Golden, the sole Senate Republican who represents Brooklyn, criticized the resolution, calling it politically motivated.

Unfounded allegations

The allegations of anti-Semitism at CUNY originated in a 14-page letter authored by Zionist Organization of America president Morton Klein accusing the school’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) group of carrying out anti-Semitic acts over the last three years.

The letter alleges incidents including swastikas appearing on campus and protesters shouting “Zionists go home!”

“The SJP has created a hostile campus environment for many Jewish students, causing them to feel harassed, threatened and even physically unsafe, in violation of the law,” Klein claims.

The letter calls on the university to publicly condemn the group and investigate its funding.

Klein includes no evidence to support the allegations of swastikas on campus or that they were produced by members of SJP.

Radhika Sainath, an attorney at Palestine Legal, who is also advising members of SJP, told the Wall Street Journal that the ZOA inaccurately pinned “some instances of real anti-Semitism” on Palestine activists.

“Here in New York City, the ZOA seems to think that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to students supporting Palestinian rights at CUNY,” Sainath told The Electronic Intifada last week.

ZOA has made similar allegations against campus groups around the country, prompting investigations by the federal Department of Education under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act.

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights dismissed two of these complaints at Rutgers University and the University of California, Irvine. A third complaint was settled before the government could finish its investigation.

In response to the ZOA letter, CUNY Chancellor James B. Millikin hired two lawyers, Paul Schechtman and Barbara Jones, to review Klein’s claims.

CUNY also established two task forces, one to review the school’s “policies on speech and expression” and another to assess how the school can best encourage “a climate of mutual respect and civil discourse.”

In his response to ZOA, Millikin wrote that the school “cannot infringe on the constitutional rights of free speech and association of its students, faculty and staff.”

The Anti-Defamation League praised CUNY’s response, while Klein said he was disappointed, insisting Millikin condemn SJP.

Klein is nonetheless pleased with the Senate’s resolution.

In response to the Senate’s plan to cut CUNY’s budget, Millikin reiterated that his institution cannot infringe on free speech.

“Fabricated or absurd”

Sarah Schulman, a professor of English at CUNY’s Staten Island campus, where ZOA claims swastikas appeared, was called to testify before the CUNY task force on anti-Semitism that Jones and Schechtman are heading.

Schulman, who is Jewish, has been specifically targeted by the pro-Israel groups. The New York Daily News ran an “exclusive” story echoing the ZOA’s accusations of anti-Semitism against her and quoting tweets she made criticizing Israel’s summer 2014 attack on Gaza that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians.

Schulman is a school adviser of the SJP chapter at the College of Staten Island.

Jones presented Schulman with the ZOA’s list of accusations. In a Facebook post recounting her testimony on 22 March, Schulman states all the accusations were “fabricated or absurd.”

Schulman says there is no record that any swastikas were drawn on the walls of the college.

“There is no incident report of anyone ever doing such a thing at [College of Staten Island], even the president of the college does not recall this ever happening,” according to Schulman.

“The letter was really a list of slanders against Muslim students,” Schulman writes of the ZOA accusations. “Over and over there were vague charges that ‘a Muslim student’ said something unpleasant to a Jewish student. But never was there any evidence that this composite Muslim student had anything to do with SJP.”

Schulman told the investigators that the ZOA has been been harassing her on the Internet, sending a daily barrage of tweets to her publisher, reviewers and colleagues and publishing false information on her Wikipedia biography page, including that she visited Gaza as a “guest of Hamas.”

“At the end of the meeting I was asked what I thought the task force should include in their final report,” Schulman writes. “My suggestion: ‘That Students for Justice in Palestine should be treated like every other student group.’”

Meanwhile, in the wake of Klein’s accusations against CUNY, the New York City Council’s Jewish caucus is moving forward with a bill that would require the university to implement a more stringent mechanism to monitor alleged anti-Semitism on campus.

Blacklisting boycotters

Last July, Illinois became the first state to blacklist foreign companies that boycott or abstain from conducting business with Israel’s occupation or settlements in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. The law compels the state’s pension fund to divest from those companies.

On Tuesday, the Illinois Investment Policy Board blacklisted 11 companies.

The list includes financial institutions and supermarket chains which have divested from or stopped conducting trade with businesses and growers in the occupied Palestinian territories.

It includes several European banks, such as Nordea and ASN, that have divested from companies that violate Palestinian rights by participating in Israel’s settlements in the West Bank, all of which are illegal under international law.

The global security and imprisonment firm G4S also appears on the list.

Earlier this month, the UK-based firm, which provides equipment and surveillance technology to Israeli prisons and checkpoints, announced plans to end all business in Israel within the next two years.

The firm’s planned exit from Israel came after it had lost millions of dollars worth of contracts as a result of activist campaigns.

The Illinois investment board also maintains a list of companies the state is blacklisting for failing to boycott Sudan.

In January, Human Rights Watch issued a landmark report calling on all corporations to completely end their business activities in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem.

“The only way for businesses to comply with their own human rights responsibilities is to stop working with and in Israeli settlements,” Arvind Ganesan, director of the business and human rights division at Human Rights Watch, said.

The Illinois law and similar bills around the country seek, in effect, to penalize firms for respecting human rights.




Any "law" that does not ban ALL boycotts is a HATE CRIME. According to the SPLC & ADL an organization is a "HATE GROUP" if it has "beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people".
Therefore ALL anti-boycott "laws" must ban ALL sanctioning/boycotting/
FURTHERMORE ---It is a violation of FREE SPEECH:
(1) Government has ZERO business interfering in Civilian boycotts.
(2)Boycotts are the most Democratic and PEACEFUL of actions.
(3) Boycotts are FREEDOM of SPEECH.
Boycotts are VOTING with dollars.
Boycotts PEACEFULLY withhold "power/energy" from those withwhom one disagrees without engaging in violence.


It is like Obama said when he visited Cuba. The fairytale of the US as worldchampion of human rights is demonstrated here by the sick human pressuregroups and their slandering


I'm a NYer and it is ludicrous to think that Jewish students at CUNY feel intimidated because of their religion. That is standup comedy at its best.


As observed the right to advocate for BDS or for a boycott was
carefully established by the Supreme Court in:

NAACP v Claiborne Hardware Co. 458 US 866 (1982)

(*Info from Ali Abunimah)

In the decision arising from a boycott in a civil rights
environment (Justice Thurgood Marshall recused
himself) the court carefully establishes BDS's rights
under free speech to advocate for a boycott (etc). [In so
doing, it also established the right of others to
advocate against BDS.]

In the passage of some bills the House Judiciary has
referred to the Constitution , Section 8:

["The Congress shall have the Power] to regulate
Commerce with foreign nations..."

Conveniently they just "forgot" the role of the US Supreme
Court in interpreting the US Constitution. It did not
serve their purpose, perhaps. (See: "United States-Israel
Trade and Commercial Enhancement Act of 2015", available
only via "advanced research" and entering the code words
"United States-Israel" in print. See "Congressional actions" for
report of the Judiciary Committee.)

Advocacy is one thing. Action in violation of the Constitution
(as interpreted by the Supreme Court) is quite another.

This writer has no legal expertise. It is absolutely necessary
for relevant persons and organizations mentioned above
to engage the legal talents of those who can construct
a case which will hold in appeal, to research other relevant
decisions. Whether these matters will once again go to
the Supreme Court is uncertain in my (non-legal) view as
the Court has already decided the matter.

The quotation from the Constitution also adds "and
Indians". Those agreements as we know failed to hold.

Do not fear the number (or price) of their lawyers. It
is imperative that our side engage lawyers to protect
our rights. The legal system is not easy for outsiders
to comprehend. Be prepared for work ahead. And patience!!!

----Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA


Once again, I applaud Peter Loeb for his succinct and well put comment. Boycotts are a well established free speech right in America and we should not let this Constitutionally protected right be adulterated.

Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.