Faith Leaders Stand in Support of Academic Freedoms

We, the undersigned faith leaders, stand together in support of academic freedoms, the right to open debate, and the right to advocate for Palestinian rights. Kenneth Marcus, President Trump’s head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, has recently adopted a working definition of anti-Semitism that would make criticizing Israel grounds for a federal investigation. In the face of intensifying repression of Palestinian rights activism, it is imperative that we stand united against such efforts that falsely conflate anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel’s practices of apartheid and occupation.

As justice-seeking Christian leaders, we decry anti-Semitism, racism, and prejudice in all its forms. We confess the brutal history of our own religious communities in this type of bigotry and the need to commit to fighting it alongside the oppressed. In an effort to do this, we also decry ways in which the threat of anti-Semitism is used to silence or impede the ways of justice, freedom, and equality of all people. We agree with Marcus that Jews must be protected under civil rights laws, but we disagree with the concept that criticism of Israel is a form of discrimination against Jews. Criticizing Israel’s discriminatory policies is about freedom for Palestinians, who have been denied their rights for decades.

Marcus’ efforts add no new legal protections for Jewish students; rather, they implement an agenda to stifle and silence the voices of advocates of Palestinian human rights on university campuses and beyond. Marcus’ definition undermines our civil rights to protest and hold open debate. We write to preserve these freedoms for students and staff on college campuses and to safeguard the value of open discourse without fear of retribution. If we believe that everyone is entitled to freedom of expression and equal treatment, students and scholars in support of Palestinian human rights should not be made the exception. Students and scholars should be free to support Palestinian rights, too, without the fear of federal investigation, penalization, and intimidation.

As so often has happened before, it is true that college and university students are the ones who now lead the way in political discourse. As faith leaders, we insist on protecting open debate on our nation’s campuses about Israeli occupation and apartheid because it is one of the most pressing moral issues for U.S. taxpayers. Israel has denied Palestinians their basic rights for decades with the support and complicity of the U.S. government and our tax dollars. Our campuses must remain places for students to discuss freely, think critically, and act ethically.

As people of faith, we recognize this as a justice issue rooted in our own deep faith that demands we stand with the vulnerable, the silenced, and the oppressed. We lift up our concerns in service to justice, fairness, and our faith, which demands that we speak out against injustice. We sign this letter as faith leaders from across the United States in firm support of our freedoms to open debate, protest, and advocate for Palestinian rights. We believe that protest of Israel’s apartheid policies and ongoing military occupation of Palestinian land is not only a right but our collective responsibility.

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