Civil rights orgs warn Northwestern University to protect campus speech

Credit:  Northwestern University

Credit: Northwestern University

Civil rights organizations warn Northwestern University to protect thoughtful debate by rejecting re-definition of anti-Semitism

Today, Palestine Legal, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the National Lawyers Guild sent a letter to Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro urging him to protect campus speech by rejecting calls to adopt a re-definition of anti-Semitism that could be used to silence critics of Israel. The letter warns that the re-definition, which is currently only used for international monitoring purposes by the U.S. State Department, conflates criticism of Israeli government policies with anti-Semitism. If adopted, Northwestern would likely violate its own commitment to academic freedom and free speech.

Israel advocacy groups have increasingly called on colleges and universities to conflate anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel, an emerging tactic in a broader campaign to silence Palestinian human rights activists. In addition to Northwestern, at least three other universities – University of CaliforniaStanford University, and Northeastern University – have faced similar calls. Further, Palestine Legal has documented a number of incidents in which false accusations of anti-Semitism has been used to silence Palestine advocacy.

Today’s letter notes that “recent incidents involving swastikas found on campus warrant thoughtful conversations about how to effectively combat anti-Semitism.” The letter warns that adoption of the re-definition would “be counter-productive to the goal of fostering a thoughtful, safe and welcoming campus environment, making it harder to address genuine anti-Semitic acts.” The letter also notes that the re-definition’s own lead author recently warned against its use in academic settings.

Among many problems, the State Department definition classifies “applying a double standard” to Israel as an example of anti-Semitism. If Northwestern University adopts this vague measure, the letter asks, “[h]ow many additional countries [would] students and professors [be] required to criticize when they criticize Israel?”