The head of a campus watchdog group railed against a recent "broadside attack" on its activities, calling the accusation that it aims to hamper the free speech of anti-Israel campus activists through claims of antisemitism "defamatory."
Responding to an op-ed in Salon.com by Stanford Professor of Comparative Literature David Palumbo-Liu, AMCHA Initiative director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin told The Algemeiner on Monday that her organization is "very clear" in stating it believes "criticism of Israel is not necessarily antisemitic."
In the piece, entitled "New attack on free speech: Pro-Israel groups wage war on campus freedom," Palumbo-Liu asserted that anti-Israel student activists are intimidated by AMCHA and other such organizations, which, he said, call them out and taint their reputations.
Citing the US State Department's official definition, Rossman-Benjamin said that legitimate criticism crosses the line into antisemitism "when Israel is denied the right to exist and Jews are denied the right to self determination."
Rossman-Benjamin also scoffed at Palumbo-Liu's charge that AMCHA and others inappropriately meddle in campus affairs, as it "is unusual...for pressure to come from groups outside the university."
"What does he think Palestine Legal or Jewish Voice for Peace or CAIR (the Council on Islamic-American Relations) are?" she asked rhetorically. "These are all outside organizations that routinely get involved in university affairs."
Rossman-Benjamin called it "very hypocritical and disingenuous" of Palumbo-Liu to depict groups like Palestine Legal — whose self-described mission is "is to bolster the Palestine solidarity movement by challenging efforts to threaten, harass and legally bully activists into silence and inaction" — as anything but "an outside group that comes on campus to talk about issues of concern to itself."
She told The Algemeiner that the actions of AMCHA and Palestine Legal are equally protected under the First Amendment, adding, "As members of the public, we have the right to complain — to say we believe faculty are gaming the system — abusing it for their personal agendas."
She also challenged Palumbo-Liu's critique of AMCHA's involvement in an open letter to the chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), signed by 43 organizations concerned about the school's offering of a controversial student-run course called "Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis."
Though he accused her group of urging the UC Berkeley administration to censor the course, Rossman-Benjamin told The Algemeiner, "We consciously did not ask that the class be suspended or censored, because we felt that is not in our purview. We asked that the school prohibit political indoctrination in the classroom, as per the UC Regents' policy."
Palumbo-Liu told The Algemeiner that he does not consider his views to be antisemitic, because he is not "criticizing Israeli policies as if they were inextricably and naturally tied to policies that are Jewish by definition. I do not condemn certain Israeli policies because they may be made by a certain ethnic group. I condemn the policies themselves."
Elliot Kaufman, news editor of The Stanford Review, the university's independent political magazine, told The Algemeiner that Palumbo-Liu "has a long record of anti-Israel fanaticism, both on and off campus. I just hope his students know that before they attend his class."
This is not the first time that Palumbo-Liu has aroused the outrage of Jewish and pro-Israel groups. As The Algemeiner reported in April, in a piece for Salon.com — titled "Brutal, ugly & illegal: 9 things you need to know about the Israeli occupation of Palestine" — he instructed readers to turn to known anti-Israel sites, such as Mondoweiss, Electronic Intifada and B'Tselem, for explanations on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Do not rely solely on the US mainstream media for your information," he wrote.