Photo Credit: YouTube screenshot
Jewish individual under attack at Umass rally, June 24, 2021.

The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law on Tuesday called on the University of Massachusetts (UMass) to investigate an incident where participants in a rally hosted by the UMass chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) intimidated, harassed, and assaulted an individual for being pro-Israel.

The “unlawful and deeply disturbing” incident took place on June 24 in front of the Anti-Defamation League’s New England Regional Office in Boston at which a journalist was accosted, spat at, shoved, and called a Nazi and a pig solely based on his perceived identity as a Zionist. The reporter, Dexter Van Zile, works for CAMERA, an organization that seeks to bring accuracy to reporting on the Middle East. He was writing his story quietly at the edge of the protest when he was assaulted. The harassment went on for a full seven minutes, and the journalist continues to experience trauma as a result. SJP is a UMass registered student organization.

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The Brandeis Center pointed out that “the students attacked Mr. Van Zile based on his support for the State of Israel, and his association with ‘Zionists,’ a term applied to Jews, and increasingly used as a synonym for Jews,” and the misconduct here “is a case of assault – in the criminal sense of the term.” The event is well-documented in videos taken by other CAMERA reporters:

The incident was immediately reported to UMass and the university has yet to take any action.

“The videos taken by the CAMERA reporters speak for themselves: Mr. Van Zile was attacked at the UMass Boston SJP event because he has been a vocal supporter of Israel. Unfortunately, it appears the University has done nothing in the three-plus months since Mr. Van Zile filed his complaints, accompanied by this documentation. By its silence, the University has implicitly condoned the conduct of UMass Boston SJP…,” wrote the Brandeis Center in its letter to the University today. “If the University fails to act, its Jewish students are left to wonder what might happen to them if they were to go anywhere near a UMass Boston SJP rally, let alone dare to voice their objections to the anti-Semitic discourse of the organization’s speakers.”

SJP’s behavior directly violates UMass’ Student Code of Conduct, which applies to misconduct even at off-campus events that are hosted by or affiliated with student organizations, registered or unregistered. The Code unequivocally condemns the conduct of the type committed here by students, student organizations, and/or their guests, and requires the University to investigate and sanction students or student organizations that violate the Code.

The Brandeis Center warned that should the University fail to investigate as required they are sending a dangerous message that “students and student organizations are free to intimidate, harass, and assault individuals who attend their events, based on such individuals’ perceived support of Israel” and that “the school is a refuge for students (and student organizations) ready to disregard the rights of others and to inflict physical harm on individuals who belong to ‘out’ groups.”

The harm such a message sends is confirmed by a recent poll conducted by the Brandeis Center, revealing that more than 65% of the college students surveyed have felt unsafe on campus, and roughly 50% have felt the need to hide their Jewish identity.

The Brandeis Center called on the University to investigate the incident, identify students who were involved in conduct that violates the Code, and appropriately sanction those students. The Brandeis Center also urged UMass to make a public statement advising its community that it will safeguard the rights of Jewish students for whom Zionism is an integral part of their identity.

Last year, after the Brandeis Center, in consultation with Jewish United Fund and Hillel International, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education on behalf of University of Illinois Jewish students, the University of Illinois issued a similar statement acknowledging that “[f]or many Jewish students, Zionism is an integral part of their identity and their ethnic and ancestral heritage. These students have the right to openly express identification with Israel. The university will safeguard the abilities of these students, as well as all students, to participate in university-sponsored activities free from discrimination and harassment.” The University statement went on to say “[w]e deplore anti-Semitic incidents on campus, including those that demonize or delegitimize Jewish and pro-Israel students or compare them to Nazis. This subjects them to double standards that are not applied to others.”

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