by Nora Barrows-Friedman – 27 Sept 2013, Electronic Intifada
A Zionist group based in California has renewed its vicious campaign against a mathematics professor at the California State University at Northridge (CSUN), claiming that he is violating the law by using university resources to express his personal and political views.
The professor, David Klein, an outspoken and unapologetic supporter of the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, has told The Electronic Intifada that the renewed “harassment” has been disruptive.
But Klein says he is heartened by the broad and solid support he has received for his exercise of his free speech rights.
The Amcha Initiative, and its zealous co-founder, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, sent a letter to the California State University board of trustees last week attacking Klein for a website he runs that lists resources on global BDS campaigns. Amcha has attempted to shut down Klein’s website for years without success.
In its latest claim, Amcha alleges that Klein’s actions and his website are “anti-Semitic,” and complains that he has violated state law.
It also adds that he has “misused his CSUN email account” to promote a Green party congressional candidate who supports the BDS movement.
However, as the National Lawyers Guild and the Center for Constitutional Rights point out in a summary of a formal letter they sent to the California State University’s board of trustees on 22 September:
[T]he law Amcha cites merely requires permission from trustees to use the Cal. State University name to imply an official endorsement of a boycott. As the Cal. State administration itself determined in an investigation into the matter, no reasonable person would interpret Prof. Klein’s “Boycott Israel” website as implying that the university officially endorses the views expressed.
The groups add:
Professor Klein’s website is political expression on a matter of grave public importance. He does not need permission. Universities must ensure that debate on Palestine/Israel remains unfettered and academic freedom is protected.
The formal letter urges the California State University’s board of trustees to reject Amcha’s “frivolous charges” which “are not new,” and to “unambiguously and swiftly … deter further instances of harassment and defamation to which Prof. Klein has been subjected for years by Amcha and allied groups.”
“Not in violation”
On Tuesday of this week, the Israel-aligned news website Algemeiner posted a response by the California State University’s interim general counsel which reiterates the previous position held by the university’s president regarding Klein’s website. The interim general counsel states that:
[W]hile we do not endorse or support Dr. Klein’s views, the University’s review, conducted in consultation with the Office of General Counsel, determined that the content of the website does not violate California law and is constitutionally protected speech.
We have also consulted with the Anti-Defamation League which agreed that the website’s contents were not anti-Semitic. Finally, the California Attorney General’s office also reviewed the website in response to an external complaint it had received and determined there was no evidence to support a finding of misuse of the CSU name or state resources.
Speaking to The Electronic Intifada on Thursday, Klein said that Rossman-Benjamin’s resumption of attacks against him has been disruptive, which could be what she’s trying to accomplish. “It’s really harrassment,” he added.
“I’m just grateful that there were people and groups who came out in support of academic freedom and who protected my right to have my website,” he said. “It’s well-justified, because the academic and cultural boycott is properly in the domain of faculty discussion. I’m hoisting a flag to express my support for the BDS movement, and, in particular, the academic boycott component, and that should be allowed.”
At a meeting of the board of trustees earlier this week, Rossman-Benjamin gave a testimony demanding the university address Klein’s actions, which she said were of “great concern … to members of the Jewish community.”
Along with Carol Smith of the National Lawyers Guild, Estee Chandler of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) read a prepared statement in defense of Klein and his academic freedom and freedom of speech. Chandler’s statement, which was seen by The Electronic Intifada, reads in part:
In our opinion, [the accusations] are merely an attempt by Amcha activists to revisit baseless charges, which CSUN has already rejected. As is true of [Jewish Voice for Peace], Amcha doesn’t represent the “Jewish community” — they represent themselves. I am not here today to oppose their positions, but to reject their attempts to limit free expression and robust debate on campuses by attacking groups and individuals in order to limit criticism of the policies of the State of Israel. Shamefully, they often do so by casting the accusation of anti-Semitism or self-hating Jew.
Chandler told The Electronic Intifada that others in the room who were there for a public comment session regarding budget cuts to African and Chicano studies programs “offered positive responses” to the statements read by Chandler and Smith in defense of Klein.
This is not the first time that Amcha and other Israel-aligned groups have targeted Dr. David Klein. In 2012, they demanded that the California State University system censor Klein’s political speech and pull down his website. The university refused.
The Global Frontier Justice Center, a front group for the “lawfare” organization Shurat Hadin/Israel Law Center, then demanded that the California Attorney General prosecute Klein on the same basis. The Attorney General rejected their demands.
Earlier in 2012, as The Electronic Intifada reported, Amcha tried and failed to convince the California State University system to refuse to sponsor lectures by historian Ilan Pappe. Amcha’s request was rejected by three presidents of CSU campuses at which Pappe was scheduled to speak.
In his April open letter, CSUN then-interim President Hellenbrand said that if Amcha had its way, it would “eliminate nearly all political speech that had the slightest trace of public funding in higher education.”
Amcha and Rossman-Benjamin also led an attack campaign against another professor, Dr. David Shorter at the University of California at Los Angeles. They claimed that by listing non-required research material on the BDS movement, as well as a review of a book critical of Zionism published on The Electronic Intifada, Dr. Shorter was “in violation of university policy.”
Despite a lengthy and unprecedented academic review, the university did not find that Amcha’s claims were valid, and no punitive action was taken against Shorter.
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin has a history of virulent hate speech against supporters of BDS and of Palestinian and Muslim students. Earlier this year, it was revealed that she made inciteful and racist remarks against students involved in Palestine solidarity organizing, as well as Muslim and Arab students.
In a widely-circulated video, Rossman-Benjamin remarked that such students “are generally motivated by very strong religious and political convictions, they have a fire in their belly, they come to the university, many of them are foreign students who come from countries and cultures where anti-Semitism is how they think about the world … These are not your ordinary student groups like College Republicans or Young Democrats. These are students who come with a serious agenda, who have ties to terrorist organizations.”
Students at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where Rossman-Benjamin works as a lecturer, launched a campaign urging the University of California to take appropriate action to protect students against her slanderous and racist hate speech.
Rossman-Benjamin has also attempted to use legal claims against the University of California, filing a complaint with the US government’s Department of Education alleging violations of Title VI — part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination against students based on race or ethnicity in federally-funded institutions. Israel-aligned groups and individuals have claimed that Jewish students face anti-Semitism, harassment and intimidation because of activism by Students for Justice in Palestine and Muslim student groups, and have filed claims with the US Department of Education alleging Title VI violations.
However, as we recently reported, the Department of Education threw out three of the Title VI claims against the University of California at Berkeley, Irvine and Santa Cruz (the latter filed by Rossman-Benjamin).
Klein said he was unsure if and when any further action would be taken by the university administration. But he said that since the university’s lawyer acknowledged that what he’s doing is well within the law, “I don’t know what more the trustees can do.”
In the meantime, he has noticed “an uptick” in the amount of hate mail he’s received in the past few weeks since Amcha launched this latest attack.
Following the group’s repeated failed pursuits to shut down discussion critical of Israel and intimidate students, faculty and universities, are Amcha’s activists just causing themselves more embarrassment with this latest smear campaign?