At long last an attempt is being made to curtail blatant anti-Semitic commentary at American universities. The Israel Law Center warns that universities "may be liable for massive damage" if they fail to prevent anti-Semitism on campus.
The center sent hundreds of letters to university presidents drawing a line in the sand. This Israel civil rights center is carrying out this campaign in response to an alarming number of incidents against Jewish and Israeli students at U.S. universities.
A center's lawyer, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said, "Anti-Israel rallies and events frequently exceed legitimate criticism of Israel and cross the line into blatant anti-Semitism, resulting in hateful attacks against Jews." A student at Rutgers, to cite, one example, said he was called "a racist Zionist pig" in a public Facebook posting. That comment was made when the student questioned a Student Assembly decision to donate money to the Palestine Children's Relief Fund, a nonprofit organization with ties to the Holy Land Foundation, a foundation that has funded Hamas - a recognized terrorist organization.
University officials noted that free speech provisions militate against disciplinary action; clearly a case can and should be made for the free and open exchange of ideas on campus. In fact, every provision should be made to foster free speech. However, intimidation is another matter. Using methods to stifle free speech is the overarching issue. As George Santayana noted, "The first duty of the tolerant person is to be intolerant to intolerance."
Ms. Leitner contends that "perpetrators of hate" are exploiting academic freedom and First Amendment provisions to create an environment of intimidation, one that prevents Jews from exercising their free speech.
Presumably the warning distributed by the center will prompt U.S. colleges and universities to take appropriate action against the growing problem of campus hate.
A former Brandeis student Hershel Hartz maintains that universities have a double standard in which anti-Semitism is protected as free speech while other designated ethnicities are scrupulously protected from discriminatory acts.
The center letter also points to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project which held it illegal to provide support to a terrorist organization, even for supposed humanitarian purposes (a clear reference to the Rutgers program).
The center's notice sets the stage for a responsible reaction to the rash of anti-Semitic actions on American campuses. As I see it, it is about time.
Herbert London writes for Family Security Matters and is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of Decade of Denial (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001) and America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books).