Organizations respond to university’s handling of Israel-Palestine issue

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The Council on American-Islamic Relations and the local chapter of the National Lawyers Guild have called on UC leaders to establish a more balanced approach concerning student activism around Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a letter published Tuesday.

Zahra Billoo, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations San Francisco Bay Area, and Matthew Ross and Liz Jackson of the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, issued a letter to UC President Mark Yudof, Vice President and General Counsel Charles Robinson and the chancellors of the 10 university campuses upon the dismissal of the lawsuit brought against the university by UC Berkeley alumni Jessica Felber and Brian Maissy.

Felber and Maissy recently dismissed this suit against the university, which claimed the UC system failed to calm hostility towards Jewish students shown in demonstrations in March 2010. According to Billoo, many believe that this lawsuit is part of an ongoing effort to marginalize and chill the efforts of Arab and Muslim students who partake in speech related to the Israel-Palestine issue.

“We call for a more balanced approach, fair treatment, and above all respect for the right of university students and faculty to express their political beliefs, including those critical of Israel,” reads the letter.

Billoo and Ross also emphasized that they do not want the university’s actions to stifle student activism. Their letter stresses that comparisons between anti-Semitism and anti-Israel speech is harmful and inaccurate.

“We see it as a threat on our civil liberties, (and) we see it as very dangerous to conflate anti-Semitism and speech that is critical of Israel,” said Mohamed Haimoud, president of the Cal Muslim Student Association.

As part of the agreement to dismiss the lawsuit, the UC system will consider clarifying its policies regarding campus demonstrations.

“We hope that Jewish students will have the same protection as other minority groups on our campus,” said Arielle Gabai, president of the UC Berkeley Jewish Student Union.

Billoo and Ross’ letter focuses on Yudof’s various campus climate initiatives, citing an open letter published by Yudof in September 2011, as evidence of the unfairness of these initiatives. According to Mohamed Haimoud, president of the Muslim Student Association at UC Berkeley, Yudof’s letter and the lawsuit illustrate the UC administration’s pattern of bias against anti-Israel activism.

Yudof stressed the importance for a campus atmosphere conducive to personal and intellectual growth in his letter.

“As I have said on many occasions, I have and will continue to be among the first to speak out against abusive behavior,” said Yudof in his letter.

According to Seth Brysk, Central Pacific regional director of the Anti Defamation League, the organization is pleased to see that the university is recognizing that some UC campuses have become uncomfortable for Jewish students.