Palestine Legal is deeply concerned by recent calls from the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) to investigate and ban Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) from 23 City University of New York (CUNY) campuses.
The ZOA is at the forefront of efforts to pressure universities to censor speech supportive of Palestinian rights by falsely conflating criticism of Israeli policy with anti-Semitism. The organization describes itself as “the oldest pro-Israel organization in America” and receives funding from GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson.
"The ZOA wants to shut down all speech on Israel/Palestine that doesn’t hew to its narrative that Israel can do no wrong,” said Radhika Sainath, who debated the ZOA’s President on MSNBC last May. “They’ve routinely misstated the law, misstated the facts, or both. And this is why their attempts to punish speech critical of Israel routinely fail."
Below is a non-exhaustive list of the ZOA’s failed attempts to silence speech critical of Israel on U.S. college campuses:
- In 2015, the ZOA attempted to censor a Columbia University teacher’s workshop on Israel/Palestine by claiming that the “one-sided” event was “riddled with anti-Israel bias” and violated the Higher Education Act’s “diverse perspectives” requirement. It further claimed that the title of the workshop, Citizenship and Nationality in Israel/Palestine was inaccurate and misleading because there is "no country called 'Palestine’” and falsely accused Professor Katherine Franke, who organized the event, of antisemitism.
- In 2014, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) dismissed a meritless ZOA Title VI complaint alleging that several incidents (including an event featuring Holocaust survivors and a Nakba survivor) at Rutgers created a hostile, anti-Semitic environment for Jewish students. In in its dismissal letter, OCR wrote that the incidents alleged grew out of political disagreements and not racial, ethnic, or religious bias, that it could not corroborate the facts alleged in the ZOA complaint, and the ZOA “failed to substantiate any specific incidents” where Jewish students were specifically targeted.
- In 2013, OCR similarly dismissed a ZOA Title VI complaint alleging that the University of California Irvine (UCI) tolerated a hostile environment with regular anti-Semitic harassment. In its decision, OCR concluded that the majority of incidents of alleged discrimination or harassment that the ZOA complained of involved disagreements “based on the students’ political views,” not the national origin of the complainant.
- The ZOA wrote Northeastern University in July 2013 suggesting that it could be in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act for failing to adequately respond to incidents that created a hostile environment for Jewish and pro-Israel students. The ZOA argued that protected speech criticizing Israeli policy should be restricted, including, for example, student messages such as “ISRAEL IS AN APARTHEID STATE,” stickers equating Zionism with racism, and “one-sided” course readings “hostile to Israel.”