2 pro-Palestinian groups: Israel advocates threaten free speech on campus

Julie Wiener

(JTA) — A Jewish pro-Palestinian group has issued a report claiming that Israel advocates are using “false charges” to silence criticism of Israel on U.S. campuses.

The Jewish Voice for Peace report was released on Wednesday, the same day that Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights issued a separate report making similar arguments.

Called “Stifling Dissent,” the JVP report accuses numerous Jewish organizations of seeking “to muzzle political criticism of Israeli policies” on campus, putting “constitutionally protected speech and academic freedom” under “increasing threat.”

The Palestine Legal-CCR report, called “The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack in the US” documents “the widespread and growing suppression of Palestinian human rights advocacy in the United States,” according to a news release issued jointly by Palestine Legal and CCR.

Both reports claim that activists for Israel have made false accusations of anti-Semitism and argue that off-campus pro-Israel groups are seeking to exert influence over grass-roots student activism.

StandWithUs, a pro-Israel group that is criticized in both reports, issued a statement in response, describing the reports as “shockingly hypocritical.”

The reports “cry ‘victim’ by perpetrators of harassment against the pro-Israel community,” the StandWithUs statement said, adding that campaigns promoting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, against Israel are anti-Semitic “because they single out Israel and apply double standards to it, because they demonize Israel and its supporters, and because they delegitimize the one Jewish country in the world.”

While the two reports accuse off-campus pro-Israel groups of seeking to influence student activism, the StandWithUs statement makes similar claims about off-campus pro-Palestinian groups.

According to a news release issued by JVP, which backs the BDS movement, its report “documents how Israel advocacy organizations bully and intimidate Jewish students who do not pass their political litmus test on Israel …”

The JVP report recommends that campus administrators avoid “policies that conflate the state of Israel with Judaism or the Jewish people.”

In its response, StandWithUs claimed that neither report was “written to protect freedom of speech or academic inquiry,” noting that JVP and Palestine Legal are “at the forefront of academic boycotts against Israelis, which have been widely denounced as violations of free expression and academic freedom.”

The StandWithUs response also noted that recent surveys indicate that the majority of American Jewish students “see opposing Israel’s right to exist as anti-Semitic.”

“These Jews who disagree have every right to voice their opinions, but they are not entitled to veto power over how the organized Jewish community chooses to define anti-Semitism,” the statement adds.

While StandWithUs said it does not view all “criticism of Israel as inherently anti-Semitic,” it believes that “demonizing, delegitimizing, and holding double standards against the world’s only Jewish State is a form of bigotry.”

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