This article was originally published in San Jose Mercury News on January 22, 2016. Click here to view the original posting.
Across California, students are increasingly supporting Palestinian human rights through boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) campaigns that promote Palestinian freedom and equality. The movement, similar to the United Farm Workers' nonviolent grape boycott, is designed to create political and economic pressure on Israel to comply with international human rights.
Jewish students are joining Arab, Muslim, black, Latino, LGBT, immigrant rights and other campus communities to ask universities to divest from corporations profiting from human rights abuses in Palestine. Last fall, San Jose State's student body joined nine in California and more than 25 nationwide calling for divestment.
But as criticism of Israeli policies grows on campus, so have efforts to suppress it.
This fall, Palestine Legal published a report documenting widespread attempts to silence students and scholars, primarily through accusations of anti-Semitism and terrorism and through baseless lawsuits aimed at deterring constitutionally protected boycott campaigns.
In 2015, we responded to nearly 250 incidents of suppression, over a third of them on California campuses, ranging from disciplinary actions for peaceful speech activities to smear campaigns, physical assaults, death threats and anti-Arab slurs against activists.
At UC Davis, students were subjected to violent threats and anti-Muslim harassment after their student government passed divestment. At UC Santa Barbara, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine was physically assaulted while holding signs to raise awareness about Palestinian deaths. At UC Irvine, campus police unlawfully prohibited students from distributing fliers outside a speech by an Israeli Supreme Court justice.
In a Jan. 14 Mercury News op-ed by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, "Divestment movement inspires threats to Jewish students," the Israel-aligned activist claimed that anti-Semitism is on the rise, citing Jewish students who say they have felt personally threatened. But the Anti-Defamation League says anti-Semitic incidents on campuses in three of the last four years were actually the lowest they've been since the ADL started tracking them in 1999.
There have been several incidents of campus anti-Semitism, and I join the many voices, including Students for Justice in Palestine, who condemn them. But where is the evidence for the claim that, "almost every anti-Semitic act (on campuses) can be directly linked to BDS"? It's threadbare.
When swastikas were painted on a Jewish fraternity at Stanford, Israel advocates quickly speculated that it stemmed from a recent BDS campaign, but police later identified a teenage perpetrator with no known connections to Stanford or the movement. Instead of evidence, we have the wrongheaded conflation of criticism of Israeli state policy with anti-Semitism.
It is absurd to connect every disturbing event to the multifaith, multiracial BDS movement for human rights. The campaign of suppression also encourages the base notion that Arabs and Muslims are inherently threatening and violent.
Sadly, it is a common tactic to smear and intimidate Palestinian rights activists.
As Donald Trump rides similarly hateful rhetoric to lead Republican candidates, California educators and lawmakers have a heightened duty to take up President Obama's call to "reject politics -- any politics--that targets people because of race or religion."
Widespread and growing suppression of Palestinian human rights advocacy threatens bedrock democratic principles enshrined in our state and federal constitutions. It undermines the rigorous educational environment at our universities.
As the U.S. Ambassador to Israel recently observed, "Too much vigilantism goes unchecked, and at times there seems to be two standards of adherence to the rule of law, one for Israelis, and another for Palestinians."
Can't we protect the rights of California students to voice similar concerns regarding Israeli discrimination?
Liz Jackson is an Oakland-based staff attorney for Palestine Legal, Cooperating Counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights and a Jewish alumnus of UC Berkeley. She wrote this for this newspaper.