In This Issue

  • Latest Updates
  • AEN Member Commentary on Charlottesville
  • AEN Member Writings and Profiles
  • Scott Cowen on Free Speech on Campus
  • Mark Yudof on the First Amendment and New Campus Challenges
  • Ongoing Opportunities


For more information and updates, please check out our website!

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September 2017 Newsletter

Latest Updates

As the Fall 2017 semester begins, AEN has 473 members on 181 campuses across the country. 

Guide and Resource Book for Faculty
Last week, AEN released a new publication to its faculty members: Academic Freedom, Freedom of Expression, and the BDS Challenge: A Guide and Resource Book for Faculty. The new guide provides a brief critical history of the BDS movement, including its origins and true purposes. It highlights various threats to free speech, as well as the alarming rise of antisemitism, on many campuses. The guide then explores the roles faculty can play in relation to issues that directly impact their fellow faculty members, students, the curriculum and co-curriculum, and gathers suggestions for faculty responses and actions based on an in-depth review of actions in recent years. It also provides a variety of recommendations on other organizations with which faculty can productively collaborate.

AEN Executive Director Ken Waltzer wrote about the Guide in a piece for the Times of Israel.

To request a copy of the Guide, please email

Microgrant Events
On Sunday, October 1, 2017, the Boalt Jewish Students Association (at Berkeley Law) will host retired IDF Colonel Kobi Marom, a leading authority on the complex security, social and humanitarian situation existing along Israel’s border, with the assistance of an AEN microgrant award. The BJSA will be mentored by AEN Advisory Board member Steven Solomon for this event, which is open to both faculty and students. Many BJSA students had met Col. Marom during a Spring 2017 visit to Israel, when he spoke on the Syrian civil war, the refugee crisis, and the Northern border.

Campus Updates
The Associated Students of University of Wisconsin-Madison passed a resolution condemning antisemitism during its first meeting of the semester on September 5. The resolution acknowledged that "anti-Semitic incidents tend to rise when anti-Israel measures are introduced to the student government or student body at a university," adopted the US State Department's definition of antisemitism, and apologized for the student government's controversial actions of the past semester.

The University of California-Irvine placed the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) on probation for two years, due to an incident in May 2017 where members of the group prevented Israeli soldiers from speaking. SJP is appealing the decision.

A group of faculty, led by David Palumbo-Liu of Stanford University and Bill Mullen of Purdue University (both pro-BDS veterans), has formed the Campus Anti-Fascist Network to link with "antifa" actions on campuses and oppose what they perceive as ""fascist" elements.  According to the organizers, their network now has 400 members. AEN will be closely following developments concerning this group and their efforts. 

AEN Member Commentary on Charlottesville

This past month, several AEN members wrote about the tragic events in Charlottesville and their implications for antisemitism, freedom of expression, and increased tensions on campus and in society.

For the History News Network, Jeffrey Herf outlined the troubling similarities, but also the profound differences, between the Trump administration and the early years of the Nazi regime. He also compared the approach to memorialization taken by Germany after the Second World War to that of the United States after the Civil War. "West Germany and unified Germany are not utopias, but the history of the links between memory and democratization and, yes, between antifascism and a commitment to liberal democratic values, is one that should be instructive to Americans of all political persuasions."

In the Herald Times Online, Alvin Rosenfeld denounced the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, tracing their rhetoric back to Nazi Germany. "That's a history that we dare not repeat, yet some of its early signs are now apparent in this country. They need to be quickly and effectively opposed, and from every quarter of the American public."

In the New York Jewish Week, David Ellenson criticized President Trump's remarks on the events in Charlottesville, and praised the more politically responsible Virginian leaders from his childhood. "Governor Almond and Governor Holton understood that America begins not with a place or with a people, but rather with an ideal. It is an ideal of equality and dignity for all persons put forth by Thomas Jefferson in our Declaration of Independence...President Trump should learn a great deal from them. It is hopefully not too late." Ellenson expanded on his support for the moderate leaders of his childhood in a column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

In the New York Times, Todd Gitlin explored the history, tactics, and potential growth of the left-wing "antifa" movement. "If effectively contained and self-contained, many of its supporters would likely return to the kind of nonviolent left-wing, anti-racist organizing that they were involved in before Mr. Trump rejuvenated the nationalist right with fire and fury. But for the foreseeable future, the counter-backlash is not going away."

In Commentary, Jonathan Marks questioned the judgment of the President of Dartmouth College, who publicly disagreed with a visiting scholar sympathetic to the antifa movement. "It is hard to see what good Dartmouth has done by making a statement about one of its visiting scholars. It is not hard to see how, if college presidents keep answering the call to sound off on every stray utterance of their staff members, they might do colleges and universities more harm than good."

AEN Member Writings and Profiles

In the Forward, David Ellenson and Jonathan Sarna defended David Myers as the President and CEO of the Center for Jewish History, against criticism that he opposed the State of Israel and supported the BDS movement. "The writings of David Myers indisputably fall well within the scholarly mainstream of Jewish life and they are unquestionably supportive of Israel’s basic right to exist. They are models of responsible public intellectual discourse."

In Tablet, Richard Landes argued that Europe's culture of post-Holocaust shame leads many Europeans to adopt anti-Israel views. "If Europe is to survive, to defend the remarkable freedoms and citizens’ rights it has already achieved, then it should turn away from Holocaust shame in favor of embracing guilt."

Stacey Aviva Flint gave an ELI Talk called "
Many Faces - One Community: K'hal Amim," about diversity in the Jewish community.

The Religion News Service profiled Laurie Zoloth, the new Dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School.

AEN member Melissa Landa's book, Early Childhood Literacy Teachers in High Poverty Schools, will be published by Lexington Books this October. The book explores the concepts of personal choice and of the complexity of identity as foundations for White literacy teachers in American public schools to cross geographic, cultural, and curricular boundaries on behalf of their students. In the book, Landa also explores her own memories as a White, Jewish child growing up in apartheid South Africa and examines her identity as a Jew in the United States.
We know that our members have lots to say and share about developments in the US, Israel, and around the world. If you are writing, speaking, blogging, or tweeting, please let us know! 

Scott Cowen on Free Speech on Campus

Scott Cowen, a member of AEN's Advisory Board, is President Emeritus and Distinguished University Chair of Tulane University and served as Tulane’s 14th president from July 1998 through June 2014. AEN Senior Communications Associate Raeefa Shams spoke to Cowen about the importance of defending free speech on campus, even in times of tension. Photo credit: Scott Cowen.
What do you see as the key challenges that have emerged for free speech advocates on campus?
The biggest challenge is that universities are more resistant to having controversial speakers on campus. Universities should be beacons of free speech and continue to provide that forum for the campus community.
In this time of political tension and polarization, what are the best arguments to make for the importance of free speech on campus?
Currently, we are overwhelmed by identity politics, not just by race and gender but also by socioeconomic class and belief systems. We need to come together to understand the criticality of free speech as the bedrock of a civil and democratic society.
Every spring semester, I teach a class called “The Mythology and Reality of Leadership” – recently we discussed the presidential race and the candidates. I have always stated in class that my focus is to understand the concept and importance of leadership regardless of party affiliation.  Political differences, while real, should not impede the expression of our views in a respectful and considerate manner. In class, we do not hold back in expressing our views and may not always come to an agreement on an issue, but we should not demonize one another for our differences.
The recent tragic events in Charlottesville have provoked concerns about hate speech. What are some ways to balance a commitment to free speech with the need to ensure a safe environment?
I believe in education, and thinking about what it means to be a citizen in a democracy. We need to talk about the norms of behavior in a civil and democratic society. We have no reason to be tolerant of hate groups such as white supremacists and neo-Nazis, but we must express our differences in non-violent ways.  Having said this, I firmly believe that the safety and welfare of students, faculty and staff are paramount and should always be of the highest priority on our campuses.  This reality is always a factor when we consider events on campus.    Unfortunately, identity politics, combined with an unwillingness to engage in fact-based, civil and principled discussions, erodes our democracy, widens the divide in our citizenry and government, and increases the probability of violent dissent.  
What are some ways in which faculty, students, alumni, and other campus stakeholders can work together with administrators to promote and protect free speech on campus?
We need to promote a culture that defends free speech, and encourage it among students, faculty and staff. We should avoid bringing our own personal politics into the classroom and spend more time discussing what free speech means and how to more effectively promote it on our campuses.  Current controversies surrounding campus speakers provides an excellent “teachable moment” to discuss the concept and practice of free speech.
As an aside, I would also note that most of the violent agitators on campus – whether in Charlottesville or Berkeley-come from the outside community, not the campus.
What are some ways in which supporters of Israel can effectively push back against BDS campaigns while upholding the principle of free speech?
I would emphasize education above all. One of the best things about Tulane’s Hillel is that it is inclusive – people who are not Jewish go there, classes are held there. We wanted to do as much as we could to educate students, regardless of their religion, about Judaism and create interactions with Jewish students. When people of diverse background come together they learn more about each other and they are more likely to work together in a productive manner when controversy arises.
I see BDS as being anti-Semitic, not just anti-Israel. I feel it is unwarranted for several reasons in the case of Israel but also believe people have the right to discuss the issue. To advocate otherwise is antithetical to free speech. I don’t accept the arguments for BDS as they apply to Israel, but I will not demonize those who believe otherwise as long as they civilly express their views.
I will end my comment by circling back to where I began. If universities aren’t beacons of free speech, then what will be?

Mark Yudof on the First Amendment and New Campus Challenges

The events in Charlottesville brought multiple important issues to the forefront: the line between free speech, hate speech, and violence; the role of campus administrators in policing that line while defending the principle of freedom of expression; and the potential of pro-BDS groups appropriating the cause of fighting the extreme right. AEN Advisory Board Chair Mark Yudof discussed potential developments on these fronts with Raeefa Shams. Photo credit: Lumina Foundation.
The recent events in Charlottesville have provoked debates about free speech, hate speech, and violence. As a First Amendment scholar, where do you think we should draw the line?
Hate speech generally is protected under the First Amendment. For speech to be outside that protection, there must be incitement to violence (not just advocacy), which is specific, immediate, intentional, and directed at specific individuals. This test comes from the Brandenburg case, which involved a KKK rally (and the speech was deemed protected). The capacity of the audience to act on the speaker’s incitement is a factor. There is also a body of law around immediate threats of violence, which generally is framed in similar terms by the courts or sometimes as “fighting words.”
Focusing on the Charlottesville travesties, I believe that a public university could constitutionally decide that only administration, faculty or recognized student organization could invite outside speakers. Some scholars would disagree with me. Private universities could make such decisions because technically they are not governed by the First Amendment. One problem is that many campuses appear to have designated parts of the campus as limited public forums; they would need to change those rules prospectively—without regard to content. But many universities view it as part of the educational mission to invite outside speakers with diverse points of view. Another issue would be that the implementation of those rules would need to be content neutral under long-standing legal doctrine. Still another issue is the potential for violence. If, as in Virginia, the racist/antisemitic speakers are themselves engaged in violence (and armed to the teeth), then their actions are no longer speech protected by the First Amendment. If the violence emanates from counter-protestors, then the administration and police are required to make reasonable efforts to control them before removing the speakers.
How do you think these tensions will play out on campuses in the upcoming academic year?
Lamentably, I fear the worst.  At Illinois, the SJP already has sought to identify Zionism with white supremacy.  A shift in federal policy on undocumented students also will fuel discontent. Right wing speakers are already scheduled for Berkeley, and I fear the reaction, based on last year’s events. Somehow the pro-BDS elements always find a way to cast blame on Israel for whatever the ills of the nation. Faculty should urge administrators to gather intelligence on high-risk events, engage in careful planning, and deploy an adequate police presence.
Is a college or university administration ever justified in disinviting or shutting down a speaker, due to the controversy he/she will cause? If so, under what circumstances?
Campuses that deny a forum to extreme speakers, as occurred at North Carolina and Michigan State, may be subject to a law suit in federal court, seeking to enjoin a university from disallowing the speech. Auburn settled such a case, and one is pending against Berkeley. There is a heavy burden on public universities to justify such “prior restraints.” The universities must show the overwhelming likelihood of violence or the failure of the speaker to abide by content-neutral university rules. The plaintiff will urge that the denial of a forum is a pretext for discrimination against objectionable points of view. The outcome of such litigation is unclear; Charlottesville may have an impact on how judges perceive these cases.
How should college and university administrators - and faculty - articulate the principles of free speech in a context when many are concerned about white supremacist rhetoric leading to violence?
They should vigorously defend freedom of expression while emphasizing that the university is not a public forum, not a public park; the university has an obligation to prevent violence and to protect the community from violent protestors and counter-protestors.
As you know, some pro-BDS groups and individuals are seeking to capitalize on concerns about the extreme right. What are the most effective ways of countering their line of argument?
The emphasis should be on education to historical realities. Like African Americans, immigrants and other groups, Jews in the past and today are the victims of hate speech and discriminatory violence.

Ongoing Opportunities

AEN Speakers Bureau, 2017-18
AEN is pleased to announce our Speakers Bureau for the 2017-18 academic year. 

Members of the Speakers Bureau are available for individual subsidized visits to campuses through AEN member invitations. Each speaker will receive a $1000 honorarium from AEN for a campus visit. AEN will also help contribute to travel and lodging costs, when appropriate. We expect a program with a visiting speaker to include a public talk and also a participatory session with students and faculty in a class or small group setting. 

These AEN members have been selected for their expertise on BDS and on ways to challenge the BDS narrative; on Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict; on Zionism and anti-Zionism; and on several related subjects. One new emphasis this year, in keeping with a grant from the Natan Fund through its “Confronting Antisemitism” initiative, is consideration of rising antisemitism on campus and in society as a whole.

A full list of Speakers Bureau members, as well as their biographies and proposed topics, can be viewed here. If you are interested in hosting a speaker, please apply using this application form.

AEN Microgrants Program
AEN micro-grants are now available to AEN members in amounts of up to $4,000 for the 2017-18 academic year. Initiatives may be aimed at confronting BDS and its claims about Israel, educating about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, affirming academic freedom and free expression on campus, exploring relevant aspects of Israeli society, culture, and diversity, and combating antisemitism. If you are interested in applying for an AEN micro-grant, please fill out the application on our website.
Copyright © 2017, Academic Engagement Network, All rights reserved.

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