Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

Efforts Grow to Limit Campus Mideast Debate

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
August 2015

Across the U.S., there is a concerted effort to limit free and open debate  
about the Middle East in the guise of fighting “anti-Semitism.”  
In 2013, students at the University of California, Berkeley, filed a protest  
with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) concerning  
protests against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, a classroom  
discussion perceived as being hostile to Israel, and critical statements  
made in student government. This, the students argued, had created a  
“hostile environment.”  
The OCR investigated and rejected the “hostile environment” complaints. It  
concluded that the incidents did not constitute actionable harassment,  
stating, “In the University environment, exposure to such robust and  
discordant expressions, even when personally offensive and hurtful, is a  
circumstance that a reasonable student in higher education may experience.”  
Three years ago, in response to similar concerns about allegedly anti-  
Semitic speech on campus, the University of California Advisory Council on  
Campus, Climate, Culture and Inclusion issued recommendations to former UC  
System President Mark Yudof that included a call “to push its current  
harassment and nondiscrimination provisions further” and “seek opportunities  
to prohibit hate speech on campus.” The Council acknowledged the First  
Amendment concerns, but nevertheless advised Yudof to “accept the challenge  
of the litigation that would surely ensue should the recommendation be  
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) pointed out in a  
letter to Yudof that were he to adopt the Council’s recommendations, he  
would risk personal liability for violating clearly established law. FIRE  
warned Yudof that, “In a fight against the Bill of Rights, the University of  
California will not win nor should it.” Yudof, who is Jewish, issued a  
letter declining to stretch UC policies beyond the First Amendment breaking  
Many thoughtful Israelis reject the use of the term “anti-Semitism” as a  
means of stifling campus criticism of Israel. Writing in Jerusalem Report  
(May 4, 2015), Prof. Asher Susser of Tel Aviv University declares: “Israelis  
and their defenders cannot simply dismiss the criticism as anti-Semitism and  
thus absolve themselves of any responsibility for the evils inherent in  
post-1967 Israel. The Israeli occupation and settlement policies of nearly  
half a century, squeezing the Palestinians out of the little less than a  
quarter of historical Palestine that remains for their prospective statehood  
is indefensible. One does not have to be an anti-Semite to see the blatant  
injustice embedded in that reality. Israelis must accept responsibility for  
their actions: they cannot just brush off legitimate criticism as anti-  
Semitic in a desperate effort to continue basking in a false sense of self-  
righteous innocence.”  
In FIRE’s view, “… as government actors, public university systems like the  
UC cannot lawfully maintain and enforce policies that prohibit free speech  
protected by the First Amendment … One foundational principle of First  
Amendment jurisprudence, reinforced in decisions dating back decades, is  
that speech does not lose protection simply because some, many or even all  
find it offensive.” •

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.