Will intimidation win the day? It depends

Will intimidation win the day? It depends

Will intimidation win the day? It depends

As U.S. universities deal with pushback from Israel's supporters and opponents on their campuses, attorneys urge administrators to recognize rights and students to respect rules.

At UC Berkeley, a "centralized group" of civil rights attorneys is using existing laws to advance Jewish student's rights.

The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (Brandeis Center), an independent, nonprofit corporation established to advance the civil and human rights of the Jewish people and promote justice for all, is suing the University of California, Berkeley for the "longstanding, unchecked spread of anti-Semitism" on its campus, which has been rampant since Hamas' invasion of Israel in October.

Rachel Lerman says the Brandeis Center began receiving complaints about it daily.

Lerman, Rachel (Brandeis Center) Lerman

"After October 7, we started getting at least 10 times as many calls a day, and we realized we just couldn't handle everything," she tells AFN. "All these groups got together and said, 'Ok, let's … have one centralized group.'"

According to the Jewish students on campus, Berkeley's administrators have done little to help them.

"Sometimes we can't get that to happen without filing a complaint with the Department of Education, and sometimes an actual lawsuit," Lerman laments. "The civil rights laws are there, and we're using them … on behalf of Jewish students."

Last year, nine law student organizations passed constitutional amendments banning Zionist speakers. That number has swelled to 23 this year.

On the East Coast, Columbia University's administrators have responded differently to the uptick in anti-Semitism.

But now, more than 70 campus student groups are demanding that the university reinstate Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace – two anti-Israel groups that are part of the so-called "Columbia University Apartheid Divest" that were suspended after they published a manifesto last month.

"This decision was made after the two groups repeatedly violated University policies related to holding campus events, culminating in an unauthorized event … that proceeded despite warnings and included threatening rhetoric and intimidation," the November 10 announcement explained.

"During this especially charged time on our campus, we are strongly committed to giving space to student groups to participate in debate, advocacy, and protest," the statement continued. "This relies on community members abiding by the rules and cooperating with University administrators who have a duty to ensure the safety of everyone in our community."

The suspension was only supposed to last "through the end of the fall term," but in addition to their reinstatement, the groups want an apology from the school and for Columbia to cut all ties with Israel, including a partnership with Tel Aviv University and plans for the new Columbia Tel Aviv Global Center, announced in April.

Kissel, Adam (Heritage fellow) Kissel

They claim administrators have endangered, silenced, and discriminated against them, but Adam Kissel of The Heritage Foundation says, "Columbia in this instance was right."

"Free speech doesn't let you violate time, place, and manner restrictions that are appropriately tailored to the school environment," he contends. "Columbia has those rules in place, and the students violated them."

Kissel describes the protestors as "sophomoric" and "lawless;" they clearly do not understand that they need to follow the rules if they want to be taken seriously, he says.

"What we've seen is the anti-Semitic, diversity, equity, and inclusion and world solidarity values taking over ahead of academic values," he observes.

Kissel does not expect Columbia to meet the demands of these rule-breaking students or to reverse its disciplinary action against them.