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Why Are Dianne Feinstein and Janet Napolitano Backing a McCarthyite Push Against Palestine Activists?

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Reprinted from Alternet

Co-written by Julia Carmel

Going to extremes to stifle a growing movement.

From Diane Feinstein
Diane Feinstein
(Image by Neon Tommy)
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Part three of an ongoing investigation for AlterNet. Read parts one and two.

With a majority of schools in the University of California (UC) system and the UC Student Association voting to divest from companies profiting from Israel's occupation, the pro-Israel lobby is pushing for a clamp-down on Palestine solidarity activity at UC schools. Not only do they want to forbid demonstrations against Israeli policy on campus, they want to effectively ban the BDS movement, which advocates boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel to pressure the country into respecting the human rights of Palestinians.

Shockingly, the extreme demand that the UC system adopt a definition of anti-Semitism that would effectively classify most forms of Palestine solidarity activism as hate speech, and punish them as such, has won support from some of California's most influential Democrats. They include Janet Napolitano, the President of the University of California and former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Also backing the campaign is Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and her husband, the UC Regent and scandal-stained arms profiteer Dick Blum. According to lawyer Ken White, the Democratic power couple has threatened to "make trouble if the [university administration] didn't commit to punish people for prohibited speech." Blum has vowed that anyone who violated the new speech code be punished or expelled.

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Behind this lobbying push is a little-known professor of Hebrew studies at UC-Santa Cruz named Tammi Rossman-Benjamin. A hardcore supporter of Israel's right-wing government, Rossman-Benjamin has helped pioneer the use of speech codes and manipulation of the law to undermine Palestine solidarity campaigns -- a tactic that pro-Israel advocates refer to as "lawfare." Through the AMCHA Initiative, a right-wing nonprofit group that functions as Rossman-Benjamin's personal political vehicle, she helped devise the radical crackdown on free speech at UC schools.

In the past, Rossman-Benjamin unsuccessfully crusaded to force California's Attorney General to prosecute a professor at California State University-Northridge, David Klein, for his support for the BDS campaign. She has repeatedly attempted to compel the federal government to define public criticism of Israel as a violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, insisting that activities that offend the sensibilities of pro-Israel Jewish students constitute a violation of those students' civil rights.

Rossman-Benjamin makes no secret of her contempt for Arab and Muslim students. In a disturbingly vitriolic address to a Jewish congregation in 2012, Rossman-Benjamin claimed that campuses had been "poisoned" by the infiltration of "foreign students who come from countries and cultures where anti-Semitism is how they think about the world."

"These are not your ordinary student groups like College Republicans or Young Democrats," she warned. "These are students who come with a serious agenda, who have ties to terrorist organizations."

Rossman-Benjamin also maintains strong reserves of resentment for left-wing African American academics and activists, accusing them of spreading anti-Semitism across American campuses. In a lengthy paper lamenting the successful push for an ethnic studies department at San Francisco State University in the 1960s, Rossman-Benjamin concluded, "Programs whose core mission includes the promotion of group identity and the pursuit of social justice may be linked to expressions of political animosities in general and anti-semitism in particular." (Her paper was edited by Alvin Rosenfeld, the author of an essay blaming "progressive Jewish thought" for the rise of a "New Anti-Semitism.")

Rossman-Benjamin's attempts to suppress BDS activity on campus have strayed over the line of legitimate activism into the realm of covert surveillance. In 2012, Rossman-Benjamin dispatched a student, Prescott Watson, to spy on a conflict analysis project of the University of California called the Olive Tree Initiative. With the information illicitly gathered by Watson, she produced a report based on private conversations and the personal information of Berkeley students to paint Olive Tree as a vehicle for promoting anti-Semitism. Documents leaked to journalists Asa Winstanley and Nora Barrows-Friedman found that Rossman-Benjamin had become obsessed with monitoring students well beyond this single initiative; she had spent years filing away their personal information into a database.

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Rebecca Pierce, a graduate of UC-Santa Cruz and former student of Rossman-Benjamin, told us that the professor would often be seen seated towards the back of Palestine-related events on campus, jotting down notes on BDS activists that she would later turn into files.

Links to Canary Mission and The Islamophobia Industry

Canary Mission, the malicious Israeli government-linked website that seeks to deny employment opportunities to students who campaign for Palestinian rights, has acknowledged its heavy reliance on the material Rossman-Benjamin gathered on the activists she's tracked.

As retribution for her public opposition to Rossman-Benjamin's activities on campus, Pierce received a dossier at Canary Mission and consequently became the target of online harassment that resulted from the malicious listing. While Rossman-Benjamin has denied playing an operational role in Canary Mission, much of Pierce's profile on the site specifically cited her criticism of her former professor, as though Rossman-Benjamin had supplied the material firsthand. Of over 140 students, activists and academics currently designated for blacklisting by Canary Mission, a disproportionate number have been enrolled at the California campuses that Rossman-Benjamin has obsessively monitored.

While some of the Canary Mission listings cite Rossman-Benjamin's AMCHA Initiative as a source, others refer directly to material gathered by Charles Jacobs' Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT) and his former outfit, the David Project. In fact, many of the figures featured on Canary Mission are longstanding targets of Jacobs, from Columbia University professors Joseph Massad and Rashid Khalidi to Northeastern University professor Dennis Sullivan and student Max Geller. To generate its dossier on Geller, Canary Mission relied almost entirely on material first published in David Horowitz's FrontPageMag by the Research Director for Jacobs' APT, Ilya Feoktistov. (Jacobs and Feoktistov have co-authored articles published in right-wing outlets, including Breitbart and the Daily Caller.)

Charles Jacobs is one of the country's leaders in McCarthy-style tactics against Muslims and Palestine solidarity
(Image by Fox News Screen Grab)
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Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author whose articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The Nation, The Guardian, The Independent Film Channel, The Huffington Post,, Al Jazeera English and many other publications. He is a writing fellow for the Nation Institute. His book, (more...)

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