Judge Rules Fordham University Must Allow SJP on Campus

August 7, 2019
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A New York state judge ruled on July 29 that Fordham University has to recognize Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) as a student group on campus.

Judge Nancy Bannon wrote in her decision that while Fordham University is a private institution, the university’s “rules, regulations, and guidelines do not empower the Dean of Students to restrict the university’s recognition of a student club based on its potential for raising issues or taking political positions that might be controversial or unpopular with a segment of the university community.”

She added that she didn’t think there was any evidence to suggest “that SJP might encourage violence, disruption of the university, suppression of speech or any sort of discrimination” and that the contention that SJP singles out Israel “is not an established ground for denying recognition to a student club.”

Bannon went on to say “that SJP advocates only legal, nonviolent tactics aimed at changing Israel’s policies.”

Fordham Dean of Students Keith Eldredge denied SJP recognition in December 2016, stating in an email to then-student Ahmad Awad, who would have led the SJP chapter, “I cannot support an organization whose sole purpose is advocating political goals of a specific group, and against a specific country, when these goals clearly conflict with and run contrary to the mission and values of the university.”

Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Abraham Cooper said in a statement to the Journal, “We commended Fordham University’s initial rejection of a BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] ‘club’ whose sole purpose is to lobby for an anti-Semitic anti-peace campaign that demonizes and delegitimizes the democratic Jewish state and her Zionist supporters and which injects anti-Semitism into the mainstream of campus life globally.”

He urged Fordham to appeal the ruling. 

“BDSers freedom of speech was never at issue as it is well protected both inside and outside the classroom,” Cooper said. “Fordham University set parameters for its clubs long before BDS came on the scene. BDS and Muslim Brotherhood’s goal is [to] bully its critics into silence. Freedom of speech for them is a one-way street.”

StandWithUs Center for Combating Anti-Semitism Director Carly Gammill similarly said in a statement to the Journal, “We believe there may be valid basis for an appeal of this decision. Indeed, it is discouraging that the court ruled against a decision Fordham made with the intention of opposing hate and protecting academic freedom on campus. We are hopeful that a future ruling in this or another case will permit the administrations of private universities like Fordham to exercise their own free speech rights, in accordance with any applicable policies, to say no to groups like SJP that frequently spread hate, encourage violence, and violate the free speech of others.”

AMCHA Initiative Co-Founder Tammi Rossman-Benjamin also said in a statement to the Journal, “The reality is that every one of our studies has found that schools with SJP chapters are, depending on the year, between four and seven times more likely to have acts of anti-Jewish hostility such as assault, harassment, suppression of speech, and destruction of property. And the guilty party behind many of the cases is SJP, both individual members and the group as a whole.”

However, she argued that “as tempting as it is to want to block the establishment of such a group because of the proven negative track record of many other similar groups, it’s troubling to ban a group until they’ve engaged in behavior worthy of being banned. But as soon as those intolerant, harassing and violent behaviors arise, serious consequences must ensue, up to and including shutting down the group.”

A 2017 report from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs states that “SJP has been censured or suspended for anti-Semitism and incitement” on various campuses.

“Northeastern University in Boston suffered violent and anti-Semitic attacks perpetrated by SJP members,” the report states. “However, its chapter continues to operate with relative impunity, regardless of numerous warnings by the university administration. For example, SJP Northeastern stormed a Holocaust remembrance event with anti-Israel signs, chanting ‘Free, Free Palestine!’ During its 2012 Israel Apartheid Week activities, SJP members plastered the Northeastern campus with anti-Semitic messages, targeting a statue of a Jewish trustee of the university.”

Fordham spokesman Bob Howe told the Jerusalem Post in an email, “The university is reviewing the court’s decision before deciding on a way forward.”

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