By Josh Nathan-Kazis / Forward
December 5, 2016
“Before Congress imposed its discredited redefinition of anti-Semitism on the DOE [Department of Education], civil rights investigators consistently found that actions critical of Israel — like mock military checkpoints, or teach-ins on Gaza — are the kind of free-speech expression to be expected on a college campus and are not anti-Jewish harassment. After this legislation, it could go the other way.”
After pro-Palestinian student activists set up mock West Bank checkpoints on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, in 2012, Jewish groups filed a civil rights complaint with the federal government.
Jewish organizations charged that the mock checkpoints, meant as a protest against the Israeli government, combined with other incidents to create a hostile environment for Jewish students.
The federal Department of Education dismissed the complaint, saying that the protest was an instance of free expression.
Now, a new bill speeding through Congress could change the way the Department of Education reviews such complaints. If it succeeds, critics say, the federal government could determine that protests like the mock checkpoint constitutes civil rights violations.
The bill “opens the door to considering anti-Israel political statements and activities as possible grounds for civil rights investigations,” said Michael Macleod-Ball, chief of staff of the American Civil Liberties Union’s legislative office in Washington. “Whether you agree with the BDS movement or not, aligning oneself with it and even participating in the effort should not subject someone to a civil rights investigation.”