JVP Student Network Letter to Claremont Presidents’
Dear Presidents Octoby, Schult, Marcus-Newhall, Chodosh, Klawe, Poon, and Schuster,
We are writing to express our concern over recent attacks on freedom of speech at Claremont Colleges, after members of Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace were falsely accused by administrators and campus security of biased and hateful speech for their protests against unjust policies of the Israeli government. Criticism of Israeli policies is not anti-Semitism, and it is the duty of your administration to protect the rights of students to engage on the controversial political issues of our time, including the Israel-Palestine conflict.
As an organization with over 10,000 members across the country, we are inspired by Jewish values of tzedek (justice) and tikkun olam (repairing the world) to fight for an end to Israel’s policies of occupation and apartheid, and for the right of return for Palestinian refugees. We stand firmly against any anti-Semitic speech which targets Jews as an ethnic or religious group. Criticism of the policies of the state of Israel, however, targets the policies of a state, and does not constitute an attack against any ethnic or religious group.
Student demonstrations against the violent and unjust policies of the state of Israel- such as the actions taken by Claremont SJP and JVP on Monday, when they sought to draw attention to Israel’s routine demolitions of Palestinian homes- are not anti-Semitic, but are part of a growing and vibrant movement for human rights and justice. As the student movement for justice in Palestine grows, false charges of anti-Semitism are routinely used to curtail students’ rights to protest. As we documented in our recent report, ‘Stifling Dissent: How Israel’s Defenders Use False Charges of Anti-Semitism To Limit the Debate Over Israel on Campus’, false charges of anti-Semitism, like those brought against Claremont students, are routinely used, on campuses across the country, to pressure administrators to silence student activism for Palestinian rights. We urge you to defend the right of Claremont student activists in SJP and JVP to critique Israel’s policies, free from intimidation and false charges of anti-Semitism.
While we appreciate your follow-up statements on March 10th and March 11th clarifying that the actions of SJP and JVP did not constitute bias and that the situation is resolved, we are concerned that this chain of events has created a chilling effect on free speech on campus. In this climate, it is incumbent upon Claremont administration to vigilantly clarify, to the Claremont community, that criticism of Israel’s policies is not anti-Semitism, that political speech is not hate speech, and that administration is committed to protecting freedom of expression around these issues at Claremont.
We are happy to speak further with members of your administration about the important difference between criticism of Israel’s policies and anti-Semitism.