An Israeli civil rights group is advising American universities about their legal responsibilities to protect students from anti-Semitism on campus. The Israel Law Center sent warning letters to the presidents of colleges and universities throughout the United States warning that they "may be liable for massive damages" should they fail to prevent anti-Semitic acts on campuses
"Anti-Israel rallies and events frequently exceed legitimate criticism of Israel and cross the line into blatant anti-Semitism, resulting in hateful attacks against Jews," the center's lawyer Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said on Wednesday. "By condoning it, college administrators have allowed an environment of intimidation and hostility against Jewish students and faculty to fester on campus."
The warning is made even more relevant by the ongoing litigation against University of California, Berkeley administrators. Two students sued the school and administrators for failing to protect them from verbal and physical assaults on campus. They allege they were the targets of attacks as a result of their pro-Israel stances and Jewish identities by members of the Muslim Students Association the Students for Justice in Palestine group.
University officials have claimed that much of the activity constitutes protected free speech, but Kenneth Leitner, the Israel Law Center's director of American affairs, said that condones the behavior, creating "an environment of intimidation and hostility against Jewish students and faculty."
A 2005 paper from the United States Commission on Civil Rights found campus anti-Semitism was "a serious problem warranting further attention." That bigotry often is presented in classic anti-Jewish stereotyping and imagery, but also at times "camouflaged as anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism." Chronic episodes could create a hostile environment for students, in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.