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A letter from UO Law Professor Ofer Raban on the Administration’s agreement with the UO Palestine group

To the Law Faculty, the UO President, and the General Counsel, posted by request of Professor Raban:

On May 23, UO President Karl Scholz announced that the university has reached a mutually beneficial agreement with UO Palestine—a coalition of four student organizations that demonstrated on campus for almost a month. The agreement includes, among other concessions, the creation of two new faculty positions (presumably tailored to the ideological preferences of the group), and a taskforce that will consider UO’s divestment from economic interests related to Israel.

The agreement is a disgrace. UO Palestine is a group that calls for the destruction of Israel and appears to support terrorism. UO Palestine demonstrations displayed signs reading “from the river to the sea” — a phrase that calls for the dismantling of Israel, and that has been adopted by Hamas. UO Palestine’s call for a “free Palestine” on its “X” page is accompanied by a map of the entire State of Israel (not only the borders adopted in the 1967 ceasefire)—again suggesting that Palestine should stretch over the entirety of the Jewish State. And the  group describes Zionism – the movement behind Israel’s creation and existence – as a threat to “the safety and security” of Arabs and Muslims, and (ludicrously) as antisemitic.

Since Israeli Jews are not going to voluntarily give up their country, violence is the only way with which to achieve a “free Palestine from the river to the sea”—a goal that Hamas has been pursuing through rape, mutilation,  and mass murder. When members of UO Palestine occupied the steps to the university’s Johnson Hall, they chose to rebrand the building “Alareer Hall” after a deceased Gaza professor whose tweets justified terrorism. Alareer famously wrote: “No form, act, or means of Palestinian resistance whatsoever is terror. All Israelis are soldiers. All Palestine is occupied.” The national leadership of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), one of the four member organization of the UO Palestine Coalition, endorsed the Hamas attacks of October 7.

As part of the agreement with the group, president Scholz issued a statement calling for a ceasefire (which I obviously take to refer to a permanent ceasefire): “I have expressed in the past that it is not appropriate for university presidents to comment on issues of international or national interest,” wrote Scholz before expressing his “support for a ceasefire, return of the hostages, and humanitarian aid that reaches civilians affected by the violence.” The call echoes the negotiations’ position of Hamas, and is, stripped to its essence, a call for Israel to stop dismantling Hamas’ military infrastructure—even as the terror group vows to repeat the October 7 attacks “again and again.” President Scholz sought validation for his statement in President Biden’s support for a ceasefire; but there is an important distinction between the two (beyond the difference in their job descriptions): Biden’s support for a ceasefire does not come at the behest of an organization that appears to approve of Hamas’ goals and methods.

UO Palestine is an organization that propagates hate speech, as that term is understood, among others, by an overwhelming majority of the U.S. House of Representatives. And while hate speech is constitutionally protected even on public university campuses—at least when it does not interfere with a university’s ability to conduct its business—it is one thing to tolerate hate speech, quite another to reward it. What’s more, the University of Oregon has long refused to tolerate hate speech, and even milder forms of offensive speech. To the dismay of many constitutional experts (myself included), for years now the University of Oregon had been busy suppressing offensive speech ranging from microaggressions toidiotic faux pas. But now the university is dancing to a different tune: “We will continue to vigorously uphold the right to free speech,” declared president Scholz in reference to the UO for Palestine demonstrations.

This declaration is not only inconsistent with the university’s past practices, it is also, for that matter, unconstitutional. As the Supreme Court wrote long ago, “under the Equal Protection Clause, not to mention the First Amendment itself, government may not grant the use of a forum to people whose views it finds acceptable, but deny use to those wishing to express less favored or more controversial views. … There is an equality of status in the field of ideas…” A public university cannot suppress hate speech and then turn around and tolerate (and even reward) a different form of hate speech.

This principle is so central to the First Amendment, that the Supreme Court extended it even to unprotected speech: a public university is barred from discriminating on the basis of content or viewpoint even in regard to speech it can otherwise suppress. So even if the University of Oregon was acting lawfully when it formerly punished offensive speech on campus—a doubtful stance it had previously adopted—it would still be violating the U.S. Constitution by employing the double standards we are witnessing now.

So this is where we stand with the leadership at the University of Oregon: moral cowardice and confusion, hypocrisy, and violations of our fundamental law—all dished-out by the people entrusted with educating our youth.

A final point: this is not the place for a lesson on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but too many people are willing to opine on a topic they know too little about. The Palestinian people should and could have had a state long ago; but the peace deals offered by Israel have collapsed again and again over Palestinian insistence on the right of return: the right of six millions descendants of the Palestinian refugees of 1948 to return— not to the future Palestinian state but to the State of Israel. This insistence has been a cornerstone of the Palestinian position in all peace negotiations. In other words, the Palestinian leadership is divided into two camps: one that wants a Palestinian state from the river to the sea (Hamas), and one (the Palestinian Authority) that wants two Palestinian states—one in the territories Israel conquered in 1967, and the other in Israel itself. The Palestinian leadership never truly reconciled itself to the existence of the Jewish State, and it bears much of the responsibility for the present stalemate.

Ofer Raban

Professor of Law and Elmer Sahlstrom Senior Fellow in Trial Law, University of Oregon School of Law

https://law.uoregon.edu/people/directory/ofer

https://www.upress.virginia.edu/title/5631

2 Comments

  1. honest Uncle Bernie 06/10/2024

    Fantastic letter. Has the nerve to say that Scholz caved to a group that “appears to support terrorism.” I don’t know that anyone has put it quite like that at any campus. When this gets around, it will really put UO on the map!

    I really liked: “So this is where we stand with the leadership at the University of Oregon: moral cowardice and confusion, hypocrisy, and violations of our fundamental law—all dished-out by the people entrusted with educating our youth.” Great advertising for student recruiting. Way to go!

  2. Soapbox 06/12/2024

    Thank You Professor Raban! I appreciate your thorough and well documented letter. I agree with your assessment and conclusions, especially; “So this is where we stand with the leadership at the University of Oregon: moral cowardice and confusion, hypocrisy, and violations of our fundamental law—all dished-out by the people entrusted with educating our youth.”

    In May when I wrote a response to the “negotiated” end of the encampment and I made a similar point, although not as eloquently. I wrote: “…the feckless university administration shows their lack of spine and decency. If you take the university hostage and make insipid demands, they will cave, leaving a large portion of students and staff wondering; “who will be harmed next time? What will be the next list of demands?” As well as: “This situation was destined to end with the university rolling over like a simpering dog.”

    I want to applaud you on making a reasoned, legal and moral argument concerning the despicable month of May on this campus. There is a lot to be answered for regarding administration, staff and students, but all the while they are sweeping it under the carpet. Unless you interrupt the presidents speech for Investiture….

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