This article deals with how one can use the law to attack Israel-bashers on campus. It is an extension of an article on ynet, which was published yesterday. This one contains new information received yesterday, and published today with permission of the author. KGS
Using the Law against Academic Israel-haters
By Manfred Gerstenfeld
This week it became known that Attorney Antony Julius filed a claim with the Employment Tribunal in the U.K against the University and College Union (UCU). On behalf of his client Ronnie Fraser, he stated that the union exhibits institutionally anti-Semitic behavior toward its Jewish members. The UCU had refuted Julius’ letter to them of two months earlier that it has breached the Equality Act of 2010. That letter stated that the UCU harassed his client, due to his Jewish background, and created “an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating” and/or “offensive environment for him.” Fraser, an engineer, has been the forerunner in the fight against academic Israel-bashers in Great Britain.
Julius is not only well known as the lawyer of the late Princess Diana and as the author of a major book on anti-Semitism in the U.K. He also exposed British Holocaust distorter David Irving, who lost his court case against American historian Deborah Lipstadt. If Julius succeeds in dealing similarly with the academic trade union, it would be a huge victory against those who continue to delegitimize Israel.
Academics have been in the forefront of the international delegitimization campaign against Israel. It all began with an open letter in the British daily The Guardian on 6 April 2002. It appealed for a moratorium on all cultural and research links with Israel, at European and national levels. Within a few days, several hundred academics from various countries – including Israel had signed it. From there, the campaign morphed in many directions and was often accompanied by harassment of Jewish students.
Most Israeli universities have failed to properly share the burden of the anti-boycott battle. This has left the fight to individual academics and grassroots organizations. Of these, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) is the most active one internationally.
Increasingly, legal actions are becoming tools in the fight against the delegitimization of Israel. This approach is now being tested in three countries where the problems are greatest – the United States, Canada and the U.K.
SPME Board member Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, who teaches Hebrew at UC Santa Cruz, has been a courageous pioneer in the fight against Israel-haters. Several other campuses of the University of California, including UC Irvine and UC Berkeley, are known as hostile environments for pro-Israeli students.
In June 2009, Rossman-Benjamin added new ammunition to her already remarkable arsenal. She registered a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education that academic departments and residential colleges at UC Santa Cruz sponsor “viciously anti-Israel” lecturers and films using campus funds. 2 Rossman-Benjamin stated that anti-Semitism on campus is a transgression of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This complaint became a hot potato for the authorities. Finally in October 2010, the Department of Education wrote a policy letter stating that federally funded universities have a legal obligation to eliminate anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation and also prevent it from recurring. In March 2011, the Department of Education notified UC Santa Cruz that it will be investigated to see whether it had allowed a hostile environment for Jewish students to develop.3
In July 2011, the Zionist Organization of America filed a similar complaint against Rutgers State University on behalf of a Jewish student. It followed the university’s unsatisfactory answer to an earlier fifteen page letter to its President. That letter cited various reports from students regarding the hostile environment and anti-Semitism on campus, as well as violent threats made against a Jewish student.4 The ZOA has also appealed the earlier dismissal of its complaint against UC Irvine.
This month, the Israel Law Center wrote to 150 American college and university presidents — including those of Ivy League schools — warning them that they may be liable for huge damages if they do not prevent anti-Semitism on their campuses. The letter also mentioned that universities have a legal obligation to avoid the use of university funds for unlawful activities directed against Israel.5
When fighting anti-Semitism on campus, complaining to U.S authorities is an ideal approach. Anyone can identify offenders and bring a complaint. Thereafter the authorities are obligated to investigate. Such a move costs little time and money. Another example is that the District Attorney of Orange County is proceeding with the criminal prosecution of 11 Muslim students at UC Irvine who disturbed Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech on that campus on 8 February 2010.6
A far more difficult and expensive approach is taking a university to court for anti-Semitic acts on its campus. Such cases can only be initiated by a victim. In March, Jewish student Jessica Felber sued UC Berkeley because a fellow student named Husam Zakharia assaulted her when she participated in a pro-Israel demonstration. The university knew that this leader of the Students for Justice in Palestine belonged to a group which was earlier responsible for violent incidents on campus. Management had done nothing to deal with the situation.7
Felber’s attorney is Neal Sher, former Director of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations. In the same month, he went international by filing, together with a Canadian lawyer, a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal against York University in Toronto. The court case was brought on behalf of Sammy Katz, a Jewish student who alleged that he was hit during a pro-Israel demonstration.8
Much will depend on how many of these cases are won. If however, one U.S. university is condemned to paying fines for having allowed anti-Semitism on its campus, that may lead to a radical improvement of the situation for Jewish students in many other universities.
5 Joanna Paraszczuk, “US colleges to receive warning letters on anti-Semitism, The Jerusalem Post, 8 September 2011. David Lev, US Colleges could Get Sued for Tolerating Anti-Semitism, Israel National News, 12 September 2009.
One of Manfred Gerstenfeld’s books is “Academics against Israel and the Jews” (1997). Its second edition is now on the internet for free at: