In Washington D.C. today, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) opened a probe of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), following reports that the IRS was unfairly targeting conservative non-profit groups affiliated with the Tea Party movement.
Closer to home, the California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), joined by a coalition of other civil rights groups, has petitioned the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), asking that the agency review how it investigates allegations of anti-Semitism at three college campuses: UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz and UC Irvine.
Since 2008, the DOE has investigated the trio of schools for creating a “hostile climate” for Jewish students by allowing discussions to take place on campus that are critical of U.S. support for Israel. According to CAIR, these probes have falsely linked criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism and have unfairly targeted Muslim and other students who have done nothing more than exercise their constitutionally-protected rights to freedom of speech.
“While the DOE should thoroughly look into civil rights complaints, these allegations cross the line between protecting civil rights and targeting certain political views,” says CAIR-LA's lead staff attorney Ameena Qazim, who was featured on the cover of the Weekly's inaugural People issue earlier this year. “By not closing out these investigations, the DOE is undermining the university's responsibility to provide a safe space and equal opportunity for all students to engage in campus activism without fear of harassment or discrimination.”
The letter sent by CAIR to the DOE points out that the agency failed to interview the student groups targeted in the probes despite the fact those groups “repeatedly made themselves available” to the agency. “The abuse of civil rights laws to silence political views tramples on the First Amendment, and is already causing a tangible, detrimental impact on Arab, Muslim, and other students who espouse particular views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” adds Liz Jackson, Cooperating Counsel for the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Following a boisterous protest that took place during a Feb. 2010 speech by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, UC Irvine banned the school's Muslim Student Union from operating on campus. Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas also filed criminal charges against several members of the group in 2011, and won misdemeanor convictions against ten students who interrupted the speech. However, today's letter suggests all those events took place well after the DOE investigation, which began in 2004 before being dismissed three years later.
Joining CAIR in its effort to get the DOE to cease targeting Muslim student groups are the following groups: the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, American Muslims for Palestine, the Arab American Institute, the Asian Law Caucus Center for Constitutional Rights , the California Jewish Voice for Peace, and the National Lawyers Guild.