Ratner Report: The Palestine Exception to the First Amendment
Any criticism of Israel and push for BDS is considered anti-Semitic – such extreme reactions are an indication of the success of the campaign. The most recent Stanford University case is another example of that success.
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Michael Ratner Report on The Real News Network. As you know, Michael Ratner is a President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. Michael, thank you so much for joining us today.
MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: Sharmini, it’s always good to be with you and The Real News.
PERIES: So Michael, what’s in your notebook today for us?
RATNER: Well, there’s a lot going on. But today I want to talk about what for a number of years I referred to as the Palestine exception to the First Amendment, or the Palestine exception to free speech. And what I mean by that is that you can talk about almost anything in the United States and political speech is protected, except in fact when it comes to Palestine.
And what prompts me to talk about it was the recent article in the New York Times that essentially if you read it, and I’ll get to that, talks about antisemitism and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement at Stanford University. And I’ll tell you that’s important, because that’s the way they smear the Boycott Divestment Sanction movement is by claiming it’s antisemitic.
Advocates of the Boycott Divestment Sanction movement or people who criticize Israel for their occupied territories, particularly at universities, are harassed, smeared, special rules are applied, they’re disciplined more than others. And worst of all as I indicated, their criticism of Israel and particularly the push for Boycott, Divestment and Sanction is claimed to be antisemitic. It’s a particularly charge of great potency of course, because of the Holocaust. It cuts off debate on the issue. And it’s implying, really, that people who are antisemitic are people who would have more or less participated in the Holocaust. It’s an absurd charge of course, as we’re talking about a state and not a person. And since when can protesting an occupation that much of the world agrees is illegal be antisemitic?
But unfortunately we’re seeing more and more of it. I think part of it is the reaction to the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement. It’s having a real effect. Universities across this country in the United States, across Europe. And it is one way of perhaps getting Israel to change its policies.
My focus for today though is this article that appeared in the New York Times recently in which very questionable claims of antisemitism by supporters of Boycott, Divestment and Sanction were given high publicity. It’s what I call the Stanford case. It’s noticeable–and the Stanford case typifies coverage of these–is that those types of claims, antisemitism when it comes to people who protest Israel, are given high publicity. But the suppression of the advocates of changes in Israel, of BDS, are not given such attention when in fact that is what is going on at college campuses all over this country.
The scores of suppression, of speech by [people] advocating for Palestine, is well documented. But not known widely in the public. There’s a project set up called the Palestine Solidarity Legal Support project. It’s a website, it’s PalestineLegalSupport.org. And that’s where it’s documented the suppression of speech on Palestine. And that organization as well gives legal representation to [inaud.]
But here’s what occurred a few days ago in the New York Times. Here’s the headline. The headline is, Student Coalition at Stanford Confronts Allegations of Antisemitism. Huge, half page article with a giant picture of a Jewish student who claimed antisemitism. The claim was this: she was being interviewed for an endorsement, because she’s running for some campus office, by a coalition of students of color. And she claims she was asked if her being Jewish affected her views of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement.
Now, I understand how if she was asked because you’re Jewish does that affect your views, that might be seen by some as antisemitic, because it’s a stereotype. And of course many Jews actually do support BDS, Boycott, Divestment and Sanction. Jewish Voice for Peace has thousands of members who support it. But the real question in that article and the wide publicity is was her claim true? Was she asked that question, if being Jewish affected her views, and did it warrant such coverage?
The first five paragraphs of the article would let you think the story was 100% true, because they only talk about her story, her thoughts about it, et cetera. And most people don’t read beyond the headlines, nearly paragraphs. Only when you reach the sixth paragraph does the Times tell us that this claim was denied by nine members of the coalition who did the interview, saying it didn’t happen and it was baseless.
And then after that denial, the New York Times slyly bolsters the student’s–Jewish student’s claim by a quote from the Anti-Defamation League calling it a teaching moment about Jewish identity as if the incident itself had occurred. In other words, they sandwiched the denial between six paragraphs in front of it and paragraphs behind it. So we get this story with the headline and a photo leaving the impression of antisemitism on campus, and in the BDS [movement]. This is all a means of suppressing growing [inaud.] although to put it mildly, that story has been heavily disputed by the nine students on the coalition. They’ve turned over the entire notes of that meeting to the university authorities, et cetera. So it’s a questionable story to say the least.
But as I said, what is actually happening are huge efforts to suppress supporters of BDS and critics of Israel, and that is not [inaud.]. It’s not mentioned, but [ignored]. Let me give you some examples, Palestine Legal Solidarity of the hundreds of complaints that they have received.
First of all there are claims that try and define antisemitism so it includes protests against Israel, violations of human rights by Israel, and support for BDS. California, this was a couple of years ago, passed a House resolution that defined antisemitism to quote, include language or behavior that demonizes, delegitimizes Israel, and student faculty BDS campaigns are claims that Israel is an apartheid state. And just recently the UCLA Student Council passed an analogous resolution condemning antisemitism but also a definition that silenced critics of Israel.
It’s what we call the three Ds. The demonization of Israel, the delegitimization of Israel, applying a double standard. Of course, one can define those terms any way one wants to. And of course it would include things like BDS, criticizing occupied territories, et cetera.
So demonization through antisemitism is one method. A second method is what does the Civil Rights Act of the United States, Title VI, which allows the Department of Education to investigate discrimination based on race, color, or national [inaud.]. Israel’s first [inaud.] have gotten that redefined so [inaud.] can include discrimination against religious groups based on that religious group’s perceived ancestry. Well, who does that arguably apply to? A Jewish people who claim a shared ancestry, and therefore bring it into race.
Universities in California, Berkeley, Rutgers, Barnard, and others have claimed Palestinian activism on campuses and scholarly lectures critical of Israeli policy create an antisemitic hostile climate for Jewish students on campus. Those colleges ran to DOE, Department of Education. It’s serious because it not only the complaint alone starts to intimidate people on campus, particularly the university authorities, but of course it could mean the loss of funding, federal funding for universities.
In this case after much litigation, a lot of it supported by the Zionists, perhaps even the state of Israel, et cetera. There was a win not by the Zionists but by the students, that political speech is protected by the First Amendment.
A third, and some recent events I’ll mention and then we’ll bring this segment to a close, were some recent events that have happened. Students for Justice in Palestine go around the country and at universities they are present proposing divestment resolution on their college campuses. They’re met with hostility, claims of antisemitism, and administrative barriers. One of many occurred recently, University of Toledo. And when I read these, I have trouble believing–there were, they proposed, SJP, Students for Justice in Palestine, proposed the resolution. This university said there could be no public at the hearing on the divestment resolution, and the SJP people had to sit in a separate room while the opponents were presenting their views. I’m guessing, [inaud.] on the [theory] that it was a hostile atmosphere. Palestine Legal and others forced the university back and ultimately one meeting was held, and the vote was heavily in favor of divestment.
A similar kind of action happened with Eastern. The executive [cabinet] of students blocked any discussion of the resolution. It was beat back. Ultimately, unfortunately the resolution failed. But many others are won.
A third happening at universities across the country is that students criticizing Israel are not allowed to use the word apartheid to describe what’s going on in Israel or to describe the wall they’re [building] on campus as a mock apartheid wall. And they’re not allowed to distribute fliers advocating boycotts. Now, all of those are unconstitutional, particularly public universities. And they’re being beaten back.
Recently at Pitzer College in California the administration came down with a ruling that they couldn’t put up a wall, an apartheid wall as a symbol because it would trigger complaints and would harm the aesthetics of the college. Hard to believe all of this stuff, but that’s what’s going on.
Lastly in this area is anti-boycott legislation going on. States like Illinois are trying to prohibit investments by any state entity and companies that support Boycott, Divestment and Sanction. And there’s federal legislation by even very liberal members of Congress trying to limit the ability to do Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction.
This, what I’ve been speaking of is focused in the U.S. but of course it’s happening elsewhere at [all]. But one thing I think is important to understand, we have to take it as a symbol of strength of the BDS movement. The Israel right or wrong, which is what I call people who support Israel no matter what its human rights violations, are worried. BDS is growing. And young people at college campuses across this country can’t understand that if human rights are universal, why is Israel somehow exempted? And there is a great fightback on campus to support BDS [this] oppression.
Palestine Legal and others are fighting what I’m referring to as the Palestine exception to the First Amendment.
PERIES: Michael, as always thank you so much for joining us, and we look forward to linking some of the findings that you have uncovered in this interview just below the interview, right here.
RATNER: Sharmini, thank you for having me on The Real News.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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