I Got Ousted From an NYU Student Council Group for Humanizing Jews

What campus antisemitism reveals is the underlying moral failure of our elite institutions to equally enforce many things: free speech, fair admissions, transparent financing, just hiring practices and accountable student conduct.
January 4, 2024
Jonathan71/Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

As a Jewish student leader at NYU, the widely-viewed House Committee hearing on campus antisemitism last month moved me and articulated the isolation that my Jewish peers and I have been experiencing, simply for partaking in higher education as Jews. From the barring of Rachel Beyda from student government at UCLA in 2015, to Jewish students being removed from a sexual assault survivors organization at SUNY New Paltz in 2022, to last month’s testimonies of exclusion, this discriminatory pattern has proven potent. I’ve unfortunately been no exception.

During the same period President Liz Magill of Penn and President Claudine Gay of Harvard yielded to pressure to resign for their comments on campus “call(s) for Jewish genocide”, I was sent a “Vote to Dismiss and Terminate Position” email, as a Student Justice for New York University’s Graduate Student Council (GSC). My student council president was calling to remove me, one of the only Jewish students in NYU’s student government.

The stated charge thrown against me was that I had “exceeded my powers” by pursuing a student government resolution in our umbrella governing body, the Student Government Assembly (SGA). For those unfamiliar with the SGA structure, introducing a resolution is the right of any member of an SGA, which is common practice across universities and does not require the approval of any fellow members or cosponsors prior. This is widely true, as it is the policy at other universities such as UC Berkeley, Stanford, Duke, Yale, Columbia, Penn, and yes, NYU.

Fabricated “technicalities” brought in bad faith were invoked to falsely accuse me of the unauthorized use of GSC’s name in my resolution, even though my use of the GSC name was solely used as an identifier for my position. I was clear that I was not claiming to speak for anyone but myself and the resolution’s cosponsors.

The true, underlying reason that prompted my removal was that my resolution, which defined and “condemned the endorsement, promotion, or excusing of civilian murder (terrorism) in academia”, undermined the expressions — and by relation the stature — of a number of our radical student senators and their pro-Hamas student backers. In particular, my resolution cited famous justifications, praises, and denials of the October 7th Hamas terrorist attacks by unnamed faculty, student leaders, and student organizations.

Yet, despite indirectly implicating the aforementioned pro-Hamas groups and individuals like the Faculty/Students for Justice in Palestine (FJP/SJP), the resolution also included condemnations of both recent Islamophobic and antisemitic hate crimes and proposed universally beneficial safety measures on hate crime reporting and transparency on free speech.

Not only were these reforms voted down in early stages, contrary to various antisemitic resolutions that passed. I was also singled out by my council president for removal weeks later – simply for voicing opposition to extremist support for terror on campus.

However, the effort to terminate my position wasn’t only unjust on principle. It was also carried out with expedient, unlawful, and corrupt procedures. Our GSC president had secretly modified our governing GSC Constitution and Bylaws on the required vote count and procedures. This took place the day before I was notified of the vote, without any ratification or public notice, to make my removal easier to achieve. I was also given no explanation of the articles that cited ‘bias’ and ‘partiality’ to remove me.

A comparison of articles on “removal” of councilmembers, from the publicly available NYU GSAS GSC Constitution & Bylaws, ratified Spring 2020 (left), and the NYU GSAS GSC Constitution and Bylaws, secretly modified and never voted on for ratification – uploaded to the GSC Drive on December 10, 2023 (right).

Despite notifying administrators and our SGA Elections Commission officials in advance of these offenses, no actions were taken to prevent this inconsistent and discriminatory vote from being carried out. I was removed by less than half of the attending councilmembers.

Unlike Dr. Gay and Dr. Magill, I was not accused of dehumanizing any group, nor subjecting certain people to visible double standards. I, myself, became the target of clear double standards for humanizing myself and my Jewish community amid the backdrop of peers chanting for the very genocidal rhetoric that these former administrators failed to distinguish as violatory.

But sounding this alarm about NYU isn’t just about me, or the brutal and carefully planned murder, rape, and kidnapping of over a thousand Israeli Jewish and Arab citizens. As I stated in my last GSC meeting before being voted out by less than half of our attending council: the October 7th terror attacks targeted citizens of more than 40 different countries across continents that came to Israel.

At NYU, an elite institution with an abundance of global campuses and students attending from all over the world, I could not fathom how so many in my student council – including students from affected countries – could downplay the effect that this moral collapse had on our physical safety.

I witnessed the consequences of unchecked sympathy for terror firsthand. In November at NYU’s Bobst Library, I saw the aftermath of an antisemitic hate crime in real time, where a Jewish student was called slurs and physically assaulted for wearing Israeli and American flags in NYU’s Bobst Library. Security personnel did nothing for minutes on end. The perpetrator was eventually detained by NYPD and released hours later – photographed entering the same library the very next day. 

In Washington Square Park, Jewish students (including myself) were physically threatened by an inebriated man multiple times over the course of months, calling us “animals”, saying “f*** all you Jews”, spitting, and threatening physical attack. Many of us were just wearing a kippah or a Magen David necklace around campus.

These examples are drops in the ocean in the vast record of hate crimes that Jewish-Americans disproportionately face, compared to any other minority group per capita in the U.S. and beyond.

As we saw in the case of Liz Magill and Claudine Gay’s resignations, what campus antisemitism reveals is the underlying moral failure of our elite institutions (and society) to equally enforce many things: free speech, fair admissions, transparent financing, just hiring practices, and accountable student conduct.

What my story of removal from NYU’s Graduate Student Council also illuminates is that this fight is just as much a battle to restore my generation’s recognition of a “shared humanity” – including Jewish humanity – as it is a battle to save liberal values in higher education and our country.

Justin Feldman is an Israel activist and public speaker across the nonprofit Jewish world. You can follow him on X @eishsadehy.

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