US National Lawyers Guild: American Universities Must Protect Students’ Freedom of Speech on Palestine and Israel

For immediate release: Tuesday, October 11, 2011,  National Lawyers Guild

New York, NY:  University administrators may be violating American students’ First Amendment rights when they curtail criticism of Israel, according to the National Lawyers Guild. Prompted by growing reports of censorship by student activists and the Irvine 11, David Gespass, President of the National Lawyers Guild, issued a letter to over 100 university administrators around the country clarifying their duty to protect the rights of Arab and Muslim students.

“The First Amendment creates no exceptions for criticism of Israel,” said Gespass, President of the National Lawyers Guild, in the letter. “Criticism of Israel and Zionism is constitutionally protected speech targeted at a political ideology, policy, or viewpoint. It reflects a healthy environment in which dissent and debate may thrive.”

Some have claimed that criticism of Israel creates a “hostile climate” for Jewish students, obligating universities to subdue student speech and activism on the issue.  For example, The Israel Law Center recently issued a letter calling on universities to monitor and censor Muslim and Arab student groups.  In response, Gespass’ letter maintains that such claims have no basis in law or fact.  Supressing student speech critical of Israel would violate the Constitution.

On the other hand, Gespass wrote that, “reports indicate that Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian student organizations face unprecedented and potentially unconstitutional obstacles to fair and equitable access to university resources.”

Student groups have reported interference with room booking, prohibition of fundraising events, threats of lawsuits, and repressive actions directed against protests, including the notable criminal case of the “Irvine 11,” in which eleven Muslim students at the University of California-Irvine were criminally prosecuted for engaging in a nonviolent protest of Israeli ambassador Michael Oren’s speech at their university.

The National Lawyers Guild was founded in 1937 and is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state. The letter is available for download in full at


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