(October 26, 2021 / JNS) A Jewish civil-rights group is calling on the University of Massachusetts Boston to investigate an incident that occurred this summer, where pro-Palestinian activists targeted and accosted a journalist over his views on Israel.
The event took place on June 24 in front of the Anti-Defamation League’s New England Regional Office in Boston.
Dexter Van Zile, a journalist with the watchdog group CAMERA, was “accosted, spat at, shoved, and called a Nazi and a pig solely based on his perceived identity as a Zionist,” by members of the UMass Boston chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), who were protesting in front of the ADL office, according to the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under the Law.
The group says that the incident was immediately reported to UMass, which has not taken 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 on Tuesday to the university.
It added that “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.”
According to the Brandeis Center, the behavior by the pro-Palestinian students “directly violates the 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.”
It also noted that the university is required to investigate and sanction students or groups that violate this code.
The center warned that should the university fail to do so, administrators send 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.”
“It is outrageous that participants in a protest hosted by a registered student group would feel free to insult, intimidate and physically assault a reporter silently covering the event simply because he was identified as a ‘Zionist,’ ” Rachel Lerman, vice chair of the Brandeis Center, told JNS. “If the university does nothing about attacks like this, it effectively condones them, sending an ugly message and setting a dangerous precedent. It’s almost a wink and a nod at groups like SJP that their behavior will be given a pass, even when it violates the law and the university code of conduct, so long as the target is a ‘Zionist.’ ”
Lerman added that “we know from our recent survey that Jewish students are already wary of publicly expressing their Jewish identity. Groups like SJP and Sunrise DC cannot be given carte blanche to treat supporters of Israel as racists—marginalizing and excluding Jews who affiliate with Israel as part of their ethnic identity is not just unlawful, history has shown us that it leads to violence, as this instance demonstrates.”
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