December 17, 2020.- Case Western Reserve University has refused to apologize to an organizer whose workshop on the censorship of Palestinian voices—scheduled to take place at the university’s annual Social Justice Teach-In—was canceled and replaced by a pro-Israel workshop.
JVP Workshop on Censorship of Palestine Rights Advocacy
On February 8, 2020, Case Western, in partnership with the InterReligious Task Force on Central America and Lambda Eta Mu, hosted the “2020 Social Justice Teach-In.” The symposium is held annually at Case Western where advocates across Cleveland are invited to hold workshop presentations on topics related to social justice.
This year’s theme, “Peacemaking through Art and Storytelling,” inspired over 40 workshops on decolonization, housing justice, climate change, and racial and border justice.
Mark Weber, a 74-year-old retired librarian and a lifelong human rights activist, proposed a workshop on behalf of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) Cleveland titled “Anti Semitism, Human Rights and the Struggle for Justice in Palestine.” He planned to discuss how accusations of antisemitism have been weaponized to censor speech critical of Israel, including legislation targeting boycotts for Palestinian rights.
Case Western Censors JVP Workshop
Case Western first announced JVP’s workshop on its website in January as part of this year’s Teach-In program. The agenda also included a workshop from Eyewitness Palestine Cleveland on human rights violations in Palestine.
But several days later, JVP’s workshop on antisemitism disappeared from the program and a workshop by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called “Countering the Rise of Antisemitism and Hate” appeared in its place.
The ADL is a staunchly pro-Israel group that has called for the censorship of speech critical of Israel’s human rights abuses, including through its aggressive opposition to boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) and support for a broad definition of antisemitism encompassing criticism of Israel. The organization has also been widely criticized for undermining other justice movements.
The ADL workshop on antisemitism was not submitted prior to the proposal deadline and did not appear on the initial schedule posted on Case Western’s website—unlike the JVP and Eyewitness Palestine workshops.
On February 8, the event continued with the anti-Palestinian organization ADL in lieu of JVP.
Soon after, Mark contacted Case Western for an explanation as to why his JVP workshop was removed. Case Western told him it was a “miscommunication” and that the workshop had been prematurely scheduled. He received no further responses to his questions regarding the alleged error.
But organizers of the event and Case Western faculty members in the months afterwards suggested that JVP’s workshop had been censored by the university due to opposition to BDS.
Palestine Legal Reaches Out to Case Western
On June 12, Palestine Legal contacted Case Western on behalf of Mark to discuss why the JVP presentation had been cancelled and replaced with an ADL workshop.
In a series of phone calls between Palestine Legal and Case Western’s general counsel throughout August, Case Western stated that workshops in support of Palestinian rights must be balanced with an opposing point of view so that “both sides” are presented. Case Western also expressed that there were too many workshops supporting Palestinian rights.
On August 26 and September 18, Palestine Legal wrote to Case Western summarizing these discussions and pointed out there were multiple workshops on several other topics, including border imperialism, housing justice, LGBTQ rights and the Green New Deal.
Case Western’s general counsel replied “not all workshops on social justice issues necessarily have a counterpoint of view that would also be viewed as falling within the scope of this social justice program” and disputed Case Western’s involvement in removing JVP’s program from the February 2020 event.
Case Western refused to provide information on whether it similarly removed or applied a “balancing” treatment to other workshop topics, why the JVP workshop specifically had been cast aside, and if it proactively reached out to the ADL to present a sympathetic viewpoint of Israel in JVP’s place.
Case Western’s Viewpoint Discrimination
In a final email, Palestine Legal wrote to Case Western on November 9 warning that its efforts to circumscribe advocacy for Palestinian rights in the name of providing “balance” violated its own free speech policies guaranteeing the right to hold and express opinions free from university interference.
Case Western’s judgment that there needed to be “balance” on the issue of Palestinian human rights at the Social Justice Teach-in violated its own polices and resulted in the ejection of Mark and JVP’s workshop from the program, which organizers of the Teach-in, including Case Western, replaced with a perspective more sympathetic to Israel – a state notorious for violating Palestinian human rights and international law.
Palestine Legal also noted that Case Western’s disparate treatment of speech on Palestinian rights is part of an ongoing effort to censor Palestine advocacy.
By allowing more than one workshop on the issues of climate change, housing justice, immigration and racial justice at the Teach-In, Case Western gave workshop participants the choice on how to critically engage on these issues, in a way that Case Western determined was not acceptable when it came to Palestine… It would be unconscionable if an event on social justice was forced to provide an anti-Black, anti-immigrant, or climate-denying viewpoint for “balance.” It is shameful that the issue of whether Palestinians should have human rights is deemed to be a topic of controversy and thus be singled out for special treatment.
Palestine Legal requested that Case Western apologize to Mark for preventing his participation at the Social Justice Teach-In and cease its disparate treatment of Palestinian rights on campus.
Case Western Rejects Demands to Treat Palestine Equally
On December 10, the general counsel responded to Palestine Legal that it was denying both of Mark’s demands, stating that “it is inappropriate for the university to offer an apology or provide specific assurances [of non-discrimination] for future occasions.”
“When a distinguished university like CWRU silences those who advocate for the Palestinian people, the university harms both the Palestinian people and its own students,” said Mark.
You can view Palestine Legal’s November 9 email to Case Western here.