(LOS ANGELES, CA – 6/16/2022) – On June 14, 2022, the Los Angeles office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA) joined the South West Asian North African Faculty and Staff Association (SWANA-FSA) at the North Orange County Community College District (NOCCCD) Board of Trustees meeting to address concerns regarding the removal of a letter posted on a NOCCCD website mourning the murder of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and the silencing of pro-Palestinian activism.     

WATCH: CAIR-LA Programs Coordinator Shaheen Nassar Speaks at NOCCCD Board of Trustees Meeting  

On May 11, 2022, Israeli occupation forces deliberately shot Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the head while she was on assignment in the West Bank. In response, SWANA faculty wrote a letter for the NOCCCD website mourning her murder and calling for support of the political Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. BDS aims to apply peaceful pressure on Israel until it complies with international law and recognizes that Palestinians are entitled to basic human rights.    

Although SWANA followed the school’s process for submitting content, and the school initially published the letter, NOCCCD proceeded to remove it from the site after individuals falsely attacked the pro-Palestinian faculty and students for “being antisemitic.”  

NOCCCD cited school policy against “soliciting or proselytizing” for a “political cause” as their reason for removing the letter; however, the NOCCCD website is full of articles and links supporting a political cause or viewpoint, making it apparent to SWANA faculty that NOCCCD is selectively applying its policies to silence pro-Palestinian activism.  

In a statement, CAIR-LA Civil Rights Managing Attorney Amr Shabaik said:       

“The removal of a letter highlighting the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh, a victim of the continuous dehumanization of Palestinians, indicates the extent to which the NOCCCD will go to silence pro-Palestinian activism. The weaponization of antisemitism against pro-Palestinian activism directly targets the free speech, scholarship, and activism of those advocating for justice in Palestine. These suppressive attacks devalue university spaces where students and faculty should be able to discuss, debate and advocate for their opinions without concern of being targeted.  

“Public institutions must not single out or selectively enforce policies against a particular student/faculty group simply because of the political viewpoints they espouse. Doing so is not only unconstitutional, but also creates an unsafe and unwelcome environment for those targeted.”      

In a statement, Vice President of SWANA Faculty and Staff Association Professor Mohammad Abdel Haq said:  

“This is not the first time that this District infringed on our academic freedom. I have had a lot of fellow educators and students approach me and state plainly that they are terrified of engaging in the exchange of ideas and thoughts that humanize the plight of Palestinian and Muslim community. After this most recent incident, now we feel even more constrained in our speech as SWANA employees and students.”  

CAIR-LA is calling on NOCCCD to address the concerns of the SWANA community, uphold the demands of students and faculty, and protect their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.  

CAIR-LA is Southern California’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice and empower American Muslims.     

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CONTACT: CAIR-LA Digital Communications Manager Enjy El-Kadi, (714) 851-4851 or eelkadi@cair.com