Zionism’s ZOA Pushes to Make All Campus Criticism of Israel Illegal

by James M. Wall

What effect will Tuesday’s midterm elections have on US-Israel relations?

Let us count the ways, starting with the impact of the 1964 Civil Rights Act on American college and university campuses.

A new and much more conservative Congress will bring us changes we don’t want to believe in. A recent news release from the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) offers a clue on what we can expect.

Morton Klein, ZOA’s director (pictured above), was downright giddy over what he terms a major victory in his six year fight to expand the US Civil Rights anti-bullying provision.

What prompted Klein’s giddiness was a statement issued last week by US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who announced that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act now includes new guidelines that will bring increased protection for disabled and LGBT students from bullying and discrimination.

Klein’s ZOA organization may also be concerned with other groups affected by the new provisions, but to ZOA the real benefit comes to the state of Israel.

The ZOA descrubes itself as the oldest and one of the largest pro-Israel organization in the US. Just how pro-Israel is ZOA is evident from the line up of speakers at the group’s Annual Louis B. Brandeis Award Dinner, October 29.

Keynoters were William Kristol, founding editor of the Weekly Standard, regular Fox TV panelist and co-founder of the Emergency Committee for Israel, and Gary Bauer, co-founder of Christians United for Israel and president of American Values. Special remarks at the dinner were delivered by Deputy Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Danny Danon.

Just how will tougher provisions in the Civil Rights Act fit Klein’s prime mission to push his Zionist agenda?

In Secretary Arnie Duncan’s announcement, along with protection for LGBT and disabled students, there is now an added category of students who gain protection under Title VI: Members of any religious group that has “shared ethnic characteristics”.

Eyal Mazor warns in a posting on the Jewish Voices for Peace blog, Muzzle Watch, that Title VI’s addition of  “shared ethnic characteristics” should be a concern to anyone concerned about, or working to preserve, the right of students to organize for peace and justice in Palestine and Israel on American campuses.

Mazor believes the ZOA

took up this effort specifically as a way to clamp down on student activism that has pushed universities to hold Israel accountable to international law. How? Title VI of the Civil Rights Act says that colleges and universities that don’t address issues of discrimination can lose their federal funding.

Israel and its US Zionist allies have consistently maintained that criticism of the actions of the government of the state of Israel is, ipso facto, anti-semitism.

If US courts decide to interpret criticism of Israel’s actions as anti-semitism, then colleges and universities, for whom federal funding is the “holy grail” of education, will have been handed a coercive weapon beyond their wildest dreams.

Under ZOA’s reading of the new provisions in Title VI, school officials may arrest, expel, or bring all sorts of what Arlo Guthrie might describe as “mean and ugly” actions against  students. teachers, or even boards of trustees, who use their freedom of speech to criticize Israel’s policies.

As Klein sees it, ZOA has been instrumental in pushing the US Department of Education to place the state of Israel and its student supporters, under the same provision that protects LGBT and disabled students from bullying and discrimination.

Eyal Mazor wrote on MuzzleWatch,

Klein’s campaign seemed to really take off earlier this year when 13 Jewish organizations endorsed a March 16 letter . . urging the Office of Civil Rights to investigate incidents of anti-Semitism.

Among the endorsing groups are Abe Foxman’s ADL, American Jewish Congress (AJC), and Hillel– all of which have a track record of manipulating charges of anti-Semitism to silence critics of Israeli policy.

Peter Schultz does not share the excitement of Mort Klein and the ZOA.

Writing in the current issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, (link for subscribers only) Schultz gives a less hysterical reading to Secretary Duncan’s actions.

In a move being hailed by some Jewish organizations as a major and welcome shift, the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has signaled that it plans to step up its efforts to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitism under a federal law that bars colleges from discriminating based on national origin or ethnicity.

By adopting such a position, however, the office might have increased the likelihood that it will need to grapple with the thorny question of whether it should ever treat verbal or symbolic attacks on Israel or Zionism on college campuses as amounting to anti-Semitic acts that violate federal anti-discrimination laws.

“The elephant in the room is anti-Zionism,” said Kenneth L. Marcus, director of the Initiative on Anti-Semitism at the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, who played a key role in the effort to persuade the department to take a stronger stand against anti-Semitism.

“Lots of observers will be closely watching to see whether OCR can take a firm but reasonable line” in dealing with cases in which criticisms of Zionism or Israel appear to have an anti-Semitic component, he said in interview Thursday.

Mr. Marcus said he wants the civil-rights office to take the position—already adopted by the European Union’s advisory agency on human rights and freedoms—that criticisms of Israel cross the line into anti-Semitism when they are based on anti-Jewish stereotypes.

Morton A. Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said his group similarly has been urging the civil-rights office to take the position that certain statements about Israel—such as arguments that Israel should not exist, or comments comparing the Israeli treatment of Palestinians to the actions of the Nazis—amount to anti-Semitic speech that the Education Department should take action against.

Calls to use federal civil-rights laws to curtail such speech, however, are almost certain to meet resistance from advocates of the First Amendment and academic freedom.

Rachel Levinson, senior counsel for the American Association of University Professors, said applying anti-discrimination law in such a manner would result in there being entire areas of scholarship that “might be cut off, or where people might be reluctant to tread.”

Tuesday’s elections are expected to produce a strong conservative shift to both houses of the Congress. Whether that shift will lead to a stronger pro-Zionist mood in Congress is difficult to predict since almost all liberal Democratic members are already PEPs (Progressive except for Palestine).

What is certain is that because of its strong right wing tilt, the Republican party will be far more open to the desires of organizations like Klein’s ZOA, especially the new members who have an all-expenses paid trip to Israel awaiting them.

Take, for example, the actions of Brad Sherman and Arlen Specter.

Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) joined in ZOA’s campaign to include new wording in the Civil Rights Act that embraces “shared ethnic  characteristics”.  Sherman has represented California’s 27th district since 1997. He is expected to win easily in this week’s election.

Specter, who became a Democrat for pragmatic reasons, after a long career as a Republican, lost a primary race this year to Congressman Joe Sestak, who is now locked in a tight race for Specter’s old seat against a strong conservative, Republican Pat Toomey. As a member of the House, Toomey was already on record as a supporter for Israel. In the current campaign, Toomey has criticized Sestak for accepting an endorsement (and money) from J Street.

Sherman has demonstrated his Zionist bono fides on more than one occasion. In September, he and Specter introduced legislation in both houses of Congress that would codify into federal law the language the Department of Education has just implemented into federal policy.

Mazor reports:

Shortly after the new guidelines were announced, Congressman Sherman released a statement naming only Jewish students who face “severe and persistent anti-Semitic hostility on their campuses” among groups who will enjoy new protections under the policy.

Sherman did not mention any other communities which are “facing religion-based discrimination”, like, for example, Muslims, Sikhs and other groups most impacted by the up-swell of Islamophobic discrimination.

PoliticalNews.me reported on its website this week

Congressman Brad Sherman applauded Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for agreeing to return to its 2004 policy and applying Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to the protection of Jewish students from anti-Semitism on campuses.

“For two years, I have been pushing the U.S. Department of Education to adopt this policy, held numerous meetings with the Department’s officials, and conversations with Secretary Duncan.

The policy is now clear: Colleges and universities will no longer be permitted to turn a blind eye when Jewish students face severe and persistent anti-Semitic hostility on their campuses. The schools will now be compelled to respond.”

The way ahead for the new Congress and its relationship to Zionism, is as yet unclear. It is a good bet, however, that Morton Klein will watch Tuesday’s results closely. He will find ways to reach out to new members in the House and Senate with his views on how best to interpret to the new Congress the provisions of the Civil Rights Act.

Klein and his colleagues in the Israel Lobby, will greet new members with that all expenses paid trip to  Israel, where they will be instructed on the importance of Israel to the security of the US.

The picture above of Morton Klein, President of the Zionist Organization of America, was taken at a pro-Israel rally in New York, Jan. 6, 2009 by Daniel Sieradski/JTA

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
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10 Responses to Zionism’s ZOA Pushes to Make All Campus Criticism of Israel Illegal

  1. If they include a vigorous protection against anit-Muslim speech and actions it might do us good. It could bite them in the [rear end]!

  2. Noushin Framke says:

    Another nail in the coffin of American Democracy…

  3. Alexander Patico says:

    I would be careful not to oppose something in a knee-jerk way, despite what seems like clarity about others’ motives. True anti-Semitism is to be deplored, as are anti-Black, Islamophobic or Asian-bashing activities. The main thing is to be prepared to defend appropriate political speech against someone’s wish to tar it with the brush of racism or anti-Semitism. Everyone who believes in both the right to attend a university without being bullied, as well as the right to have a healthy diversity of views and a free exchange of opinion has to be ready to “duke it out” over these crucial distinctions.

  4. Harris Fawell says:

    Jim: It seems to me that this special action under Title VI to protect members of a religious group’s “shared ethic characteristics” might be more protective of Islam’s cultural, ethnic and religious views than than that of Judaism.

  5. Bill Gepford says:

    The strength of our values as Americans is being sorely tested by such discriminatory issues. We may never be able to return to the promising days of our early republic if we don’t stop giving certain groups privileges. Long live the Constitution!

  6. wallwritings says:

    Harris,

    It is certainly true that the tougher Title VI will go a long way toward the protection of Jewish and Muslim students, as well as LGBT and disabled students, from bullying. However, Morton Klein and the ZOA see in Title VI an instrument with which to police, and therefore silence, those students and faculty members who criticize the policies of the state of Israel. This would cover boycott, divestment and sanctions advocacy. Klein and the ZOA want the federal government to interpret criticism of Israeli government policy as a bullying tactic against US Jewish students. The protection of a foreign power from legitimate criticism when it violates the human rights of its citizens or those of its neighbors, was certainly not in the thinking of the drafters of the original Title VI provision of the 1964 Civil Right Act.

    Jim

  7. William V. Kelly says:

    A few questions with no answers to date:

    WHY are Jewish students being “bullied”

    WHO are the unnamed bullies or bully groups?

    Has anyone contacted the bullies or bully groups to determine why they torment Jewish students?

    Criticism of the actions of the government of the State of Israel is the right of any U.S. citizen. Blaming all Jews for the actions of that government should not be condoned.

  8. Frances Griffin says:

    For a while I was on the mailing list of a Jewish group and I kept getting items equating criticism of the actions of the Israeli government with anti-semitism. This is like saying criticism of US government actions is….anti-Americanism? Or…?
    So are the Jewish Israelis in peace groups in Israel anti-semitic.?
    By the way, are Jewish students really being bullied? Not just confronted when they appear in a public forum?
    I have never seen this kind of bullying. The peace group I belong to criticizes Israel plenty but shuns the lone nut who shows up with an anti-Jewish rant.
    For what it is worth, I went through Catholic schools in San Francisco and I was taught great respect for the Jewish faith.

  9. Richard says:

    WOW! It must be nice to think you’re so special that you can make it illegal to be criticized! GROW UP! BTW we goyim are not so stupid that we don’t understand that this bill is designed by Jews for Jews NOT Muslims. I’m neither but I’m tired of hearing this anti-semitism crap every time someone points out (FACTs) about the wrong doings of Israel which lets face it are PLENTIFUL. Our government, our people and many others have faults and are criticized. Yet, Israel is so special that they need a law against criticism? GIVE ME A BREAK!!!!!!!!!

  10. DDearborn says:

    Are all of you people who are agreeing with the nonsense about critizing Israel as being anti anything except anti Israel completely crazy? Here is the problem with all of this “protection”. It is 100% Unconstitutional, people. Read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The first amendment does NOT say, hey if some else is offended by what you are saying you can’t say it. The first amendment is crystal clear. people. No where in the first amendment is one group given special protection because they don’t like what another group is saying. If jews don’t like people critizing actions of the State of Israel I suggest those people tell Israel to stop doing illegal, immoral and evil things.
    But what these people can NOT do is violate the INALIENABLE rights of others just because they don’t like what is being said.

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

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