(Note: The writer is addressing the question, “Have U.S. universities become hotbeds of anti-Semitism by backing boycotts of Israel?”)


TAMPA, Fla. — While acts of anti-Semitism are on the rise in the United States, that does not mean American universities are to blame.


It’s important to note that throughout America’s history, our colleges and universities have been erudite sanctuaries for those promoting social justice as well as free speech.


Backing the plight of the Palestinian people, particularly during a time when the Trump administration encourages further annexation of Palestinian territory by Israel’s current far-right government, is a worthy cause adopted by many institutions of higher learning.


In fact, America’s colleges and universities have always been at the vanguard of protest movements for social and political change. These include emancipation of slaves, women’s suffrage, civil rights for people of color and opposition to the Vietnam War and South African apartheid.


It is unfortunate that one veteran of the anti-Vietnam War protest movement, David Horowitz, is now a leading alt-right proponent of imposing severe restrictions on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.


BDS is aimed at forcing Israel to grant the Palestinians their rights as a people and nation, guaranteed by the United Nations and international law.


Horowitz’s anti-Muslim and anti-Arab operations, which include the “Stop Jew Hatred on Campus” project, have attracted the support of leading members of the Trump administration, most notably Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior adviser, and Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief White House strategist and proponent of a global movement of neo-Nazi and white supremacist political parties.


In fact, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has made no secret of his plan to fully incorporate the West Bank into Israel — with the Palestinians becoming stateless and powerless people within their ancestral homeland — has made common cause with some of Bannon’s alt-right allies in Europe.


In June 2016, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that Netanyahu’s government initiated a program to engage in a “dirty tricks” campaign against campuses around the world that support the BDS movement.


This included a plan to “establish, hire or tempt nonprofit organizations or groups not associated with Israel” to disseminate negative information about campus and educational organizations opposed to Israeli policies through support of academic and cultural boycotts of Israel.


Targeted groups include the American Studies Association, the oldest American academic organization dedicated to the study of American history and culture, and the National Women’s Studies Association.


By their very nature, college and university campuses are places where academic freedom of action and thought should be celebrated, not curtailed.


Attempts to shut down campus criticism of Israeli policies runs counter to America’s constitutionally protected right of free speech.


Accusations that BDS and other campus critics of Israeli policies are anti-Semitic is a canard promoted by Netanyahu’s dirty tricks provocateurs.


Two major supporting organizations for the BDS movement, both active on American campuses, are the Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews for Palestinian Right of Return organization — hardly “anti-Semitic” groups.


Academic and campus organizations in the United States are opposing attempts to stifle student and faculty activism against current Israeli policies.


These include legislative moves at the federal and state levels to criminalize both the boycott of illegal Israeli settlements and advocacy for Palestinian rights by labeling them “anti-Semitic.” Any such criminalization, obviously is glaringly unconstitutional.


Students, faculty, and alumni have a right to legally protest the actions of any government. No actions taken by our government or others should restrict that freedom.


Wayne Madsen is a noted progressive commentator whose columns have appeared in major U.S. and European newspapers. Readers may write him at 415 Choo Choo Lane, Valrico, FL 33594.