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Contentions Universities Receive Legal Warning About Anti-Semitism on Campuses

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September 8, 2011

September 8, 2011 – Campus anti-Semitism is a tricky issue to tackle, and not just because it usually hides behind the mask of anti-Zionism. Pro-Israel students on campus also grapple with a lot of other issues: should they respond to the insane and baseless attacks on Israel from anti-Zionist groups, or would that just give these organizations credibility? Should they try to play up the “positive” contributions Israel and Jews have made the world, or is that overly defensive and banal?

The pro-Israel legal center Shurat HaDin (which I previously profiled here) is taking a different and much blunter approach. If U.S. public universities don’t deal with anti-Semitism on campus, they’re going to have to deal with it in court:

Hundreds of U.S. college and university presidents were set to receive warning letters on Thursday morning, instructing them of their legal obligations to prevent anti-Semitism on campus.

The letters also remind universities it is their legal duty to prevent university funds from being diverted to unlawful activities directed against the State of Israel.

Civil rights group the Israel Law Center (Shurat HaDin) is carrying out the legal campaign in response to “an alarming number of incidents of harassment and hate crimes against Jewish and Israeli students on U.S. college 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.

The letter also calls on universities to ensure student funds aren’t going toward terrorist entities, citing a recent Supreme Court ruling:

The Law Center’s letter also reminds schools of their legal obligation to monitor the funding and activities of all on-campus student groups, and warns them that by failing to do so, they could unwittingly fall foul of stringent U.S. legislation.

The letter cites a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project case, which held it is illegal to provide any support to a terrorist organization – even if that support appears to be relatively benign.

The letter specifically mentions the Muslim Student Association, which it says diverted funds to Hamas in the past. While there’s no evidence the MSA has done this recently, it sounds like the legal center may be closely monitoring specific groups.

Shurat HaDin’s latest campaign isn’t surprising, considering the fact its model is based on the liberal Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC helped destroy the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazi movement. “We talked to [the SPLC] when we started, and they gave us the inspiration,” Darshan-Leitner told me when I spoke to her last month. “They gave us the idea, and we followed what they did.”

If the history of the SPLC is any indication, this is the first of many actions Shurat HaDin will be taking against anti-Semitism on campus.