Joining The Battle
Lawyers vow help for students facing campus anti-Semitism.
In post-World War I Germany, Joanna Abramson’s grandfather Ernest Gans suffered intense anti-Semitism while attending law school at the University of Munich. He ultimately fled Germany a month before the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938.
Gans’ granddaughter Joanna, now a West Bloomfield attorney, in sharp contrast, experienced no anti-Semitism whatsoever as a proudly pro-Israel student at the University of Michigan in the 1970s.
But when her son arrived for orientation at the University of Michigan in 2004, new freshmen were met by protestors with signs and chants calling Israel an apartheid state and equating Israel with Nazism.
“It was a completely different University of Michigan than I experienced,” said Abramson. “It was more like the University of Munich that my grandfather experienced.
“This is the experience occurring all over the United States today. As attorneys, we can’t sit by and watch this happen.”
Abramson, a board member of the Jewish Bar Association of Michigan (JBAM), organized a conference of local attorneys with featured speaker Yael Mazar, the director of legal affairs at the pro-Israel advocacy group StandWithUs (SWU). She addressed about 50 lawyers April 7 at the Max M. Fisher Federation Building in Bloomfield Township.
Abramson seeks to inspire attorneys to join the fight against anti-Semitism on campus. She got a positive response from attorneys attending the conference.
Mazar, a Los Angeles native who is currently living in Israel, conducts legal workshops and advises students on confronting extremist activity. Before joining StandWithUs, she specialized in civil rights and hate crimes law with the Anti-Defamation League.
She sought to educate the attorneys attending the conference about anti-Semitism on campus and discuss what they could do to combat it. Providing the student point of view was SWU-Michigan’s campus liaison Andrew Moss, a junior at U-M in Ann Arbor. Moss works with college and high school students across the state to plan and implement pro-Israel programming.
Hatred Of Israel and Jews
Mazar described how easily anti-Israel rhetoric and demonstrations can morph into anti-Semitism, giving the specific definition of anti-Semitism promulgated by the U.S. State Department.
In addition, she spoke about the staged disruptions by anti-Israel factions when pro-Israel speakers seek to speak on campus — which violate the speakers’ First Amendment right to speak and the audiences’ First Amendment right to listen.
She also told of harassment of Jewish students across the country, including, for instance, fake “Israeli-style” eviction notices in college dormitories or bogus student government allegations like those brought up and dismissed recently against U-M student Jesse Arm.
Regarding anti-Semitism, Mazar said that absurd charges of the mass killing of Palestinian children were like the age-old blood libel of Jews killing Christian children to make Passover matzah.
She stated the three criteria of how anti-Israel antagonists cross the line into anti-Semitism, as laid out by the State Department in its Fact Sheet “Defining Anti-Semitism”:
- Demonizing Israel: Using the images of anti-Semitism to characterize Israel, comparing Israel to the Nazis or blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions.
- Double Standard for Israel: Requiring of Israel a behavior not expected of any other democratic nation and focusing only on Israel for human rights investigations.
- Delegitimizing Israel: Denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination and denying Israel its right to exist.
However, the State Department adds, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.
Trouble On Campus
The University of California (UC) regents have recently had to confront rampant anti-Semitism on their campuses.
Mazar gave the example of swastika graffiti and vandalism aimed at a Jewish fraternity at UC-Davis. She pointed out the case at UCLA in Los Angeles where Rachel Beyda was at first summarily rejected for a student government position because questions were raised that her Jewish faith would affect her impartiality.
Also, at UC-Santa Cruz, an anti-Israel faction tried to prevent student representative Daniel Bernstein from voting on a pro-BDS resolution before the student government because he was Jewish.
Mazar also discussed the case of U-M student Jesse Arm, a student government representative who was charged with ethics violations for peacefully disagreeing with the builders of an “Israel Apartheid Wall” on campus. Arm was denied the opportunity to be represented by counsel at a student government hearing but received legal advice in advance from the SWU and West Bloomfield attorney Lawrence Katz. The student government wound up dismissing all allegations against him.
SWU has prepared a pamphlet “Know Your Rights!” for Jewish students affected by anti-Semitic intimidation by anti-Israel factions. Included are issues of suppression of pro-Israel speech, challenging hostile professors, hate speech, anti-Semitism and harassment. Students are given a hotline to get free legal help by filing an incident report through the website EndBDS.com or by calling (844) END-BDS7.
Mazar says SWU has a pro bono legal team that will assist students facing anti-Semitism with legal tools to utilize. She invited Detroit-area attorneys to get involved through Abramson’s efforts.
SWU’s partners in the “Know Your Rights!” project are the American Center for Law and Justice, the Lawfare Project, the Louis D. Brandeis Center and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).
Exceeding The Rules
Mazar said one tactic SWU has used against pro-BDS resolutions has been to examine the bylaws of the resolving organization to see if it exceeded its authority by taking action on inappropriate issues. This succeeded in an instance at UC-Davis. Lawyers can be helpful in advising students about rules and bylaws.
Mazar cautioned that even though pro-BDS resolutions don’t always pass, the torrent of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric could still influence the beliefs of future leaders who are subjected to unsuccessful BDS efforts.
When anti-Israel demonstrators prevent pro-Israel speakers from having their say, Mazar said that the protestors should be arrested and prosecuted. For instance, 10 such demonstrators at UC-Irvine were convicted of disrupting a 2010 speech by then-Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren.
Another weapon against anti-Semitism is Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits federal funding to institutions that discriminate. In cases in 2004 and 2010, Title VI was applied to protect Jews.
In 2013, the ZOA filed a Title VI action against Brooklyn College when the college did nothing when four non-disruptive Jewish students were ejected from a pro-Palestinian event. In light of the action, the college apologized to the students and implemented policies to prevent future similar discrimination from occurring.
Moss, a junior at U-M majoring in political science and international studies, represents SWU-MI and works to fight anti-Semitism and BDS. “I built this position,” he explained, telling how he assists and educates students across the state. He was trained in pro-Israel activity by SWU prior to starting college in its MZ teen intern program.
Moss told the lawyers they should “let the students know the community is behind them” regarding anti-Semitism on campus. He said students are fighting for the ability to present the pro-Israel side.
Larry Katz, the West Bloomfield attorney who volunteered his advice to U-M student Jesse Arm prior to his successful hearing before a student government board, attended the attorneys’ meeting and said, “This meeting is the first step in the creation of a community of lawyers concerned about the BDS movement and growing anti-Semitism, particularly on college campuses.
“We want to make sure Jewish students and faculty know their rights and have the resources to counter this propaganda.”
Attorneys who want to help fight anti-Semitism on campus can contact Joanna Abramson at (248) 706-1700 or email@example.com. Local attorneys are especially needed to serve on the legal help hotline. Their services will be available to people and organizations fighting anti-Semitism.
Abramson told the conference how her grandfather, the University of Munich-schooled attorney, beginning at age 70, returned to Germany every summer for the next 25 years — until age 95 — practicing law by prosecuting compensation cases for Holocaust victims.
This dedication to the Jewish people and against their oppressors is the inspiration she feels herself — and is her call to action to other local attorneys.
By David Sachs, Senior Copy Editor
Support the Detroit Jewish News Foundation
Support the educational mission of the independent, nonprofit Detroit Jewish News Foundation.