January 18, 2020

Education Department to Investigate NYU’s Handling of Campus Anti-Semitism

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will open an investigation into New York University’s (NYU) handling of anti-Semitism on campus.

In April, the Journal reported that then-NYU senior Adela Cojab filed a complaint against NYU on behalf of Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus. The complaint centered around NYU’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter receiving the President’s Service Award from the university in April despite a member from the group being charged in April 2018 for assaulting a pro-Israel student during a Yom HaAtzmaut rave. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to the Journal’s request for the status of the case.

OCR Compliance Team Leader Anna Moretto Cramer’s letter to Cojab’s attorneys, which was obtained by the Journal, states, “You alleged that the university discriminated against students of Jewish descent on the basis of national origin by failing to respond appropriately to incidents that created a hostile environment for Jewish students at the university. OCR determined that the complaint is appropriate for investigation.”

Cramer later added: “OCR will investigate whether, as a result of incidents that occurred at the university, a hostile environment existed for Jewish students at the university, and if so, whether the university responded appropriately.” The investigation falls under Title VI, which prohibits discrimination on race and ethnicity on college campuses.

Cojab, who now works for the Maccabee Task Force as a Northeast Coordinator, told the Journal in a phone interview that she was thankful that OCR is looking into the matter.

“Students who were celebrating a cultural — not a political — event that celebrates Jewish ancestry in [Washington Square Park], had their national [Israeli] flag and they also had a physical assault during the [Israeli] national anthem,” Cojab said. “Those are the facts.”

Cojab pointed out that pro-Israel students had a feeling before the rave that it might be unsafe because earlier in the month, NYU’s SJP called for a boycott of all NYU pro-Israel groups and posted a photo of a flyer on its Facebook event page quoting Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine founder George Habash calling for a revolt to publicize Israeli Apartheid Week.

Cojab said she had met with NYU administrators before the rave and they forced SJP to take down the flyer, and that NYU increased public safety officers. She argued that the flyer and boycott should have put SJP’s charter in question and that its charter should have been revoked after one of its members was arrested for assault.

“Aside from the fact that action could have been taken before all this to prevent it, no significant action was taken afterwards to prevent it and less than a year later, [SJP] got an award,” Cojab said.

She added that she hopes OCR will hold the university accountable, which would include requiring universities to implement disciplinary measures for groups on campus that create a hostile climate for students.

“I think this is objectively a case of an unsafe campus environment where the university should have had a protocol in place and they didn’t,” Cojab said. “But really, I think that even just having the investigation opened is a positive, because it does show not only NYU, but the universities across the U.S., that this is a serious issue.”

Neal Sher, one of Cojab’s attorneys, similarly told the Journal in a phone interview that OCR has an opportunity to set a precedent among all American universities.

“SJP has branches,” Sher said. “On every campus they have a presence. It’s quite possible down the road if steps are taken on how to deal with SJP, it could have an impact nationwide.”

Judea Pearl, chancellor professor of computer science at UCLA, Daniel Pearl Foundation president and an alumnus of NYU, told the Journal in an email, “The intimidation of Jewish students on US campuses will stop only when it becomes a liability to the intimidating organizations — SJP and [boycott, divestment and sanctions]. This can be accomplished overnight, once the administration decides to fight it on moral grounds,and state explicitly and unambiguously that Israeli and Zionist  students and faculty are welcome on campus for their positive, unique and morally inspiring contributions to the diverse tapestry of the campus community. Thus far, I have not seen the word ‘Zionism’ spelled in any official statement issued by the University. It is about time.” Pearl had asked NYU President Andrew Hamilton to rescind his 2013 Distinguished Alumnus Award after it was announced that SJP was receiving the President’s Award.

NYU Spokesman John Beckman said in a statement that the university wasn’t aware of the investigation.

“If there is one, we shall cooperate, because we know that any suggestion that NYU is anything less than highly supportive of or deeply concerned about its Jewish community is untrue,” Beckman said.

OCR’s full letter can be seen below: