Letter to the Editor: ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice Fights Israel-Bashing and Anti-Semitism by Susan Tuchman
ZOA in the news
April 4, 2005

Published in the New Jersery Jewish Standard
and several other publications

Dear Editor,

There is no question that the Jewish community must adopt a more public and vigorous challenge to anti-Semitism on college campuses (“How to Stop Anti-Semitic Conferences on College Campuses,” by Mitchell G. Bard, Feb. 18, 2005). Your readers should be aware of the ongoing legal efforts of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) to stop the annual anti-Israel conferences that Mitchell Bard described, and to ensure that Jewish students are protected from harassment, intimidation and discrimination on their college campuses.

The Palestine Solidarity Movement’s anti-Israel conferences are held annually at campuses across the country. About two years ago, the conference was planned to take place at Rutgers University, but fortunately the administration declined to host it. These conferences include workshops and strategy sessions that advocate divestment from holdings in Israel, and provide information about companies to boycott, simply because they do business in or with Israel. The goal is to cripple Israel economically, but this divestment and boycott campaign also harms U.S. trade and investment. The ZOA has challenged these anti-Israel divestment conferences as a violation of the antiboycott provisions of the Export Administration Act. These provisions were passed specifically by the U.S. Congress to respond to economic boycotting activities against Israel.

The ZOA has been urging the Office of Antiboycott Compliance in the U.S. Department of Commerce – which is charged with enforcing the antiboycott laws – to investigate the divestment conferences, shut them down if the evidence warrants it, and impose the appropriate penalties. At the ZOA’s initiative, a bipartisan group of members of Congress – spearheaded by New Jersey congressional leaders Jim Saxton and Rob Andrews – sent a letter to the Office of Antiboycott Compliance, urging that the anti-Israel divestment campaigns be shut down because they violate the federal antiboycott laws. The antiboycott laws will hopefully prove to be an effective tool in stopping these conferences that promote the hatred of the State of Israel and seek to cripple it economically.

Federal law should also be used to fight anti-Semitism more broadly on college campuses. Last October, the ZOA filed a complaint against the University of California, Irvine (UCI) on behalf of Jewish students there, under Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI prohibits harassment, discrimination and intimidation based on religion and ethnicity (among other things) in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. Federal financial recipients like UCI can lose their federal funding if they are found to be in violation of the law, and other remedies can be imposed. In its complaint, the ZOA alleged that Jewish students have been subjected to a pattern of hostility, harassment and intimidation at UCI, that the administration has long been aware of the anti-Semitism, but that it has failed to take any meaningful steps to correct the problem.

The agency charged with enforcing Title VI is the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education. After reviewing the allegations of the ZOA’s complaint, the OCR initiated an investigation, which is now underway. Current and former UCI students have courageously come forward to describe the hostility, harassment and intimidation they have been subjected to on campus. For some students, the environment has made them afraid to wear anything that identifies them as Jews or as supporters of Israel. Some have even been reluctant to affiliate with Jewish programs and activities on campus. If Title VI is effectively enforced to protect Jewish students at UCI, then colleges and universities across the country should get a powerful message: While the principle of freedom of speech must certainly be protected, speech and conduct that threatens, harasses and intimidates a specific religious, racial or ethnic group will not be tolerated.

Susan B. Tuchman, Esq.
Director, Center for Law and Justice
Zionist Organization of America

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