Posted by on August 28, 2013 in Blog

In a victory for free speech, the Department of Education dismisses complaints filed against three California campuses that would have silenced campus activism on Palestine. 

August 28, 2013
Contact: Omar Tewfik 

Washington, 08/28/2013 - Civil rights organizations led by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus welcomed news that the Department of Education's (DOE) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has closed three investigations against three University of California schools, at Berkeley, Santa Cruz, and Irvine, which falsely alleged that Palestinian rights activism created an anti-Semitic climate. The complaints underlying the investigation claimed that student protests and academic programing in support of Palestinian rights and critical of Israel "created a hostile environment for Jewish students."

“The attempt to curtail free speech when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not new,” said AAI President James Zogby. “We have and will continue to face that. The importance of this decision is that it wholly rejects this dangerous approach of equating legitimate criticism of Israeli practices with the very real problem of anti-Semitism. These attempts have had a chilling effect on those who want to raise awareness about the plight of the Palestinian people.”

In its letter to UC Berkeley, OCR officials stated that student demonstrations in support of Palestinian rights "constituted expression on matters of public concern directed to the university community. In the university environment, exposure to such robust and discordant expressions, even when personally offensive and hurtful, is a circumstance that a reasonable student in higher education may experience. In this context, the events that the complainants described do not constitute actionable harassment."

The Berkeley complaint was filed in July 2012 by two attorneys who had previously filed an unsuccessful federal lawsuit on similar grounds. The Berkeley investigation was the latest of the three to be open; the Santa Cruz investigation was opened in March 2011, and the Irvine investigation in 2007.

AAI was pleased to join a number of legal and advocacy groups earlier this year in challenging the misuse of civil rights law to intimidate students and dissuade them from advocating for Palestinian rights on campus.


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