From Northeastern University to San Francisco State University to New York University, IJAN has been involved in organizing local, statewide and national defense against campus backlash. We are outraged by the misuse of anti-Semitism and the struggle for civil rights to repress freedom of speech, academic freedom and anti-racist organizing and to protect the ongoing Israeli colonization of Palestine.
A common strategy of Zionist backlash is to accuse those opposed to Israeli racism or Zionist ideology of antisemitism. This is unacceptable on its face. It is a dishonor to the actual history of anti-Jewish persecution and Jewish resistance to it. Such a claim appears still more cynical in light of the real danger those who are the target of US government interests and racism face at home and abroad: Palestinians confronting occupation and the refusal of their right as refugees to return to their land of origin, as well as Arabs and Muslims in the United States facing discrimination, state prosecution and even incarceration without evidence or due process. Indeed, the rhetoric of Israel’s supporters is a cheap exploitation of the quite real history of antisemitism, now used to justify an attack on the West’s newest “other” – those hailing from Muslim and Arab countries. Moreover, it is a dishonor to the history of Jewish participation in collective struggles for liberation including the civil rights movement in the United States.
The Zionist Organization of America worked six years to place a person inside of the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to pass a memo that adds religious discrimination to the list of protections granted by the 1964 Title VI anti-discrimination bill. This was in turn used to define specific criticisms of Israel as anti-Semitic and, therefore, subjects universities receiving public dollars where such criticisms of Israel take place to an investigation by the OCR.
While all of these attempts have failed, they take time and energy and are meant to have a chilling affect. However, student organizing only grows stronger. Moreover, the notion that criticism of Israel created a “lack of safety” for Jewish students has been expressly rejected by the U.S. Department of Education at three University of California campuses in the past year, including a complaint filed by AMCHA. In those cases, the DOE concluded: “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. In this context, the events that the complainants described do not constitute actionable harassment.”
It is offensive to the legacy of the civil rights struggle – a struggle that many Black, Jewish and other activists fought in and some for – to attempt to weaken Title VI protections offered against racism, sexism and homophobia in order to repress today’s anti-racist struggles.
IJAN has and will continue to stand with students and faculty alike against this backlash and will continue to be involved in organizing local, statewide and national defense. Moreover, IJAN is partnering with students from Northeastern to Brown in developing clear strategies for dealing with backlash in ways that strengthen campus organizing and build joint struggle against all forms of racism, including Zionism. IJAN was invited to speak and participate in organizing meetings at both universities as a follow up to our presentations at the October Students for Justice in Palestine national meeting. Meetings included time with Jewish students seeking ways to leverage their anti-Zionist perspectives in support of the pro-Palestinian movement and other anti-racist struggles on campus.