May 20, 2019

Pro-Israel Students File Complaint Against NYU

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A group of pro-Israel students has filed a complaint against New York University (NYU) with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

The complaint was filed following an April 17 ceremony where the university’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), received the NYU’s President’s Service Award.

The April 22 complaint obtained by the Journal was filed on behalf of NYU students who are members of student organizations supporting Israel or Jewish issues, and senior Adela Cojab, who was the 2018 president of the student group Realize Israel.

The complaint argues there have been “two years of extreme anti-Semitism on the NYU campus” due to NYU SJP’s actions, and the administration’s inability to properly handle them constitutes a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin.”

The complaint notes that during a Yom Ha’atzmaut rave in April 2018, SJP tried to shut it down by filing a noise complaint. When that failed, a NYU SJP member wrestled a microphone away from a pro-Israel student while attendees were singing Hatikvah and shouted, “Free Palestine!’ The pro-Israel student was injured and the SJP member was charged with assault.

The complaint also cites a quote from then-NYU SJP President Khalid Abu Dawas to the student-run newspaper Washington Square News after the rave saying, “Our point is to make being Zionist uncomfortable on the NYU campus. They shouldn’t be comfortable because the ideology of Zionism is antithetical to Palestinian liberation and Palestinian sovereignty at its core.”

Cojab told the Journal in a phone interview that she met with the NYU administration multiple times in 2018 to tell them SJP’s actions had made Jewish students feel uncomfortable on campus.

Cojab said that when she met with the administration after the rave she was told to “downplay” what had happened and let it “fizzle out.” Administrators said they would handle the matter on “an individual level.”

“I was trusting and hoping that the university, as they told me they would, would get the situation under control,” Cojab said. However, she said NYU SJP’s intimidation tactics continued. These included spearheading a boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) resolution passed by the student government in December, and calling Israel supporters racists.

Following the April 4 announcement that SJP would receive the President’s Award, Cojab said it was like “a stab in the back. They’re basically telling us that the type of behavior that SJP exhibits at NYU is what they’re looking for in students and I was very frustrated, because I was willing to have my organization step into the shadows and I was willing to put it in the hands of administration, who instead of rectifying things, [gave] an award to the only organization on campus that has assaulted, physically, an NYU student.”

Neal Sher, an attorney representing the students and a former Nazi prosecution officer for the Department of Justice and former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) told the Journal in a phone interview that filing the complaint was necessary to “shake things up” on NYU’s campus.

“If the university fails to protect students from a hostile environment… they could lose federal funding,” Sher, an alumnus of NYU School of Law, said, adding that the Department of Education could also “impose all kinds of sanctions” on NYU.

Judea Pearl, chancellor professor of computer science at UCLA, Daniel Pearl Foundation president and an alumnus of NYU, told the Journal in an email, “It is sad that Israel-loving students need to take their case to the Department of Education in a matter that the NYU administration can resolve through a sensible change of policy.”

He added, “Since Zionism is central to the identity of so many students on campus, anti-Zionism should be treated like any other identity-maligning form of racism, e.g., Islamophobia, homophobia, xenophobia or white supremacy; they are all protected by champions of free speech yet morally deplored by shapers of campus norm.”

In light of the award to SJP, in an April 16 letter, Pearl asked NYU President Andrew Hamilton — who did not attend the SJP awards ceremony — to rescind Pearl’s Distinguished Alumni Award, which Pearl received in November 2013.

John Beckman, a spokesperson for the university, said in a statement to the Journal, “The allegation that the University has been unresponsive is neither true nor fair, and it ignores the real record: that those involved in disrupting the rave were referred to the University’s student conduct office, that NYU and its president rejected and criticized attempts to ostracize pro-Israel groups, that the University has publicly, repeatedly, and vigorously repudiated BDS proposals both at NYU and elsewhere (see herehereherehere and here) [and] that NYU is one of the few US universities  to have opened its own dedicated academic facility in Israel, and since launching its site in Tel Aviv, NYU has flatly rejected calls to close it.”

He added, “This clear and compelling record demonstrates NYU’s true position far more clearly than an award that is determined by a group of volunteer Student Affairs staffers and a student representative and that goes to over 150 students and student organizations.”
Cojab responded to Beckman’s statement by telling the Journal in a Facebook message that she had been trying to schedule a meeting with Beckman since April 9, when she said she was referred to him by Gabby Sanes, who oversees the award process.

NYU SJP did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment.

The complaint can be read below:

This article has been updated.