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Here we go again—California group attacks California professor for pro-BDS website

The AMCHA Initiative, a California-based Israel advocacy group, is at it again. The group dedicated to monitoring Palestine solidarity groups on campus and filing legal complaints to halt activism is continuing to target Professor David Klein, who teaches math at California State University Northridge (CSUN).

The Israel advocacy group sent a letter last week to the California State University Board of Trustees alleging that Klein broke the law by promoting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement on a website hosted by the university. The letter also blasts Klein for using his university e-mail to promote a Green Party Congressional candidate who supports the BDS movement.
The attempt to use the law to target Klein is part of the AMCHA Initiative’s larger campaign of policing BDS activity on campus, which they label as anti-Semitic.

The complaint is largely a reprise of past attempts to use legal measures to bar Klein from hosting the BDS website. But the university has rejected the claims lodged by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a University of California lecturer and the head of the AMCHA Initiative, that Klein violated the law with his web page.

When Rossman-Benjamin has brought up similar complaints in the past, the university’s president, while saying he was personally uncomfortable with some of the web material, affirmed that “the University does uphold and preserve the principles of academic freedom—and Professor Klein’s right to express his views. Our review affirmed that this right extends to the use of an individual’s web pages, as part of the University website, as a vehicle for expression.” The CSU president also said Klein’s web page does not mean that the university endorses his views. The California Attorney General likewise rejected Benjamin’s request to prosecute Klein over alleged “misuse of state resources” last June.

Now, Benjamin is pointing to a part of the California Education Code that bars the use of CSU’s name to promote political initiatives like a boycott. The letter Benjamin sent alleges that, if the university did not grant permission for the web page, Klein is violating the statute by using a CSU website to promote the BDS movement. The AMCHA Initiative letter also warns CSU that if they don’t agree with her, “we will inform the alumni, donors, Jewish supporters and members of the Jewish community throughout the state and across the country that the CSU Board of Trustees not only condones anti-Semitic behavior at California State University, but is directly responsible for its spread.”

Benjamin testified on the matter at a CSU Board of Trustees meeting yesterday. Her testimony was followed by statements made by two members of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP): Estee Chandler and Carol Smith. Chandler, a chapter organizer with JVP, told the Board of Trustees “that she rejects attempts to limit free expression and robust debate on campuses by attacking groups and individuals in order to limit criticism of the policies of the State of Israel.”

JVP’s efforts bolstered moves by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild to push back against Benjamin’s claims.
In a September 22 letter sent to CSU’s trustees, attorneys Liz Jackson and Jim Lafferty said that Benjamin was distorting the spirit of the law she cited. “It is clear from the context that the purpose of the statute is to deter people from attempting to misattribute their own expressed beliefs as having official university endorsement. There is no evidence that Prof. Klein implied university endorsement of his views,” they wrote.

The lawyers added that Benjamin’s attacks on Klein were aimed at silencing “discourse by students, faculty and others who speak out in criticism of Israeli government policies.”

Alex Kane is an assistant editor for Mondoweiss and World editor for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.
This article was originally published in Mondoweiss and reprinted with permission of the author.


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