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Campus Currents

Shurat HaDin’s newly established American office in New York warned university and college presidents around the United States that their schools may be subject to civil and criminal liability if they do not take necessary measures to ensure the educational rights and safety of Jewish and Israeli students on their campuses.  In letters sent to campus administrators, the Israel Law Center also cautioned that their schools have a duty to reasonably prevent university funds from being diverted to unlawful activities that are directed against the state of Israel.
The warning to more than 150 college and university presidents around the US informs the schools of their legal obligations to prevent harassment and anti-Semitism.  The letter notes that, because they receive federal funding, their institutions have legal responsibilities to prevent a hostile environment on campus.  The letter specifically cites Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin in federally assisted programs and activities.  The Law Center also gave the schools guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and the U.S State Department that clarifies when anti-Israel rhetoric becomes anti-Semitic.
Additionally, the letter informed the schools about their legal obligation to monitor student organization funding and activities.  Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, which held that it is illegal to provide any support to a terrorist organization even if the support appears to be relatively benign, as well as other legal precedents that provide for civil and criminal penalties, the group cautioned the schools to remain vigilant in funding student organizations, especially ones that may have ties to terrorist organizations or that may engage in unlawful activity abroad.
According to Shurat HaDin, “The warning letter was prompted by the alarming number of incidents of harassment and hate crimes occurring against Jewish and Israeli students on college campuses around the United States.  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.  The harassment and intimidation on the campuses not only interferes with the students’ educational rights, but it also threatens their physical safety and well-being.”
As a civil rights group, Shurat HaDin noted that it is mindful of the need for academic freedom and robust speech on college campuses.  As the letter states, “Although we respect and applaud the protection of First Amendment rights, ideas cannot flourish in a hostile environment where Jewish/Israeli students are too intimidated to speak because they fear they will be held collectively responsible for the supposed wrongdoings of the Jewish State of Israel.  If academic freedom means anything at all, it must mean that a Jewish student should feel safe enough to publicly wear his yarmulke across campus and not fear verbal or physical anti-Israel abuse; a campus environment where this cannot occur has failed this student and failed to create a diverse and flourishing academic environment.”
Attorney Kenneth Leitner, Shurat HaDin’s director of American affairs, said that the point of the warning letter was to put the college community on notice that the current status quo against Jewish and Israeli students on college campuses is not acceptable.  “The extremists and perpetrators of hate have exploited the ideals of higher education for too long and by condoning it, college administrators have allowed an environment of intimidation and hostility against Jewish students and faculty to fester on campus.”  He also noted, “the Israel Law Center has a successful model of litigation and, as such, it is our intention that it will not be anti-Semitic business-as-usual on the college campuses this year.  If universities allow their campuses to be utilized by individuals or organizations that provide material support for terrorist organizations and to become a hotbed of Anti-Semitism against Jewish students and faculty, we warn them that they will be subjecting themselves to massive civil liability.  The law is very strict when it comes to aiding and abetting terrorism or politically-motivated violence.”
For more information, contact Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center, 10 Hata’as St. Ramat Gan, 52512 Israel; phone: 972-3-7514175; fax: 972-3-7514174; e-mail: info@israellawcenter.org; web: www.israellawcenter.org.

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