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April 13, 2018 5:02 pm

Columbia University Students Accuse Anti-Zionist Groups of ‘Systematically Harassing, Silencing’ Opposing Voices

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The Columbia University campus. Photo: Columbia.

Pro-Israel students at Columbia University in New York have called for disciplinary action against anti-Zionist groups on campus, which they accuse of systematically violating their civil rights and school policy.

In a complaint filed in January with Columbia’s Student Governing Board and raised in March with the administration, Students Supporting Israel (SSI) claimed Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) and Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD) “have monopolized the conversation on campus relating to the Israeli-Arab conflict and have systematically maligned, harassed and silenced” Zionist voices.

“The behavior of SJP, JVP and CUAD contributes to an unacceptably hostile environment for those who wish to exercise their constitutionally protected rights in ways that differ from the narratives of these groups,” the students wrote. “One individual’s right to protest does not supersede another individual’s right to lawfully assemble, speak and listen.”

SSI detailed a number of incidents during which it claimed SJP members and their allies breached their rights to free speech and association, including by repeatedly vandalizing and removing SSI flyers and disrupting a speech by Israel’s envoy to the United Nations in February 2017. The group also pointed to an episode in the Fall 2017 semester, when members of SSI were subjected to “anti-Israel and anti-Semitic” chants by SJP members while walking by an event on campus that was unrelated to either group.

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Other recent alleged violations  — which SSI did not include in the official complaint — include a “Gaza solidarity rally” held by JVP and SJP on Wednesday, a couple of hundred feet away from where SSI was conducting a candle lighting in commemoration of Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. SSI has also protested the ejection of their members from a Monday night event co-hosted by SJP, JVP, and CUAD, claiming they were targeted based on their nationality and political views.

Ofir Dayan, the group’s external relations chair, told The Algemeiner that six students were assigned to watch her and her peers once they arrived to the event, “a treatment none of the other 70 students in the room got.”

Shortly afterward, Dayan said she was approached by one of the students supervising her group and asked to stop recording the panelists. She placed her phone down, only to be approached an hour later by the same student, who asked to see her phone. When she refused to comply, the students were asked to leave and public safety officers were called to remove them.

At no stage was there “a problem with any of my friends, and [the] demand that we all leave was based solely on our nationality and affiliation with Israel and pro-Israel activism,” Dayan asserted.

“The persistent attacks on Jewish and pro-Israel students and campus leaders contribute to an overall hostile environment for those of us who are active in dialoguing on critical and complex issues — without ever participating in or encouraging behavior that would make others on campus feel maligned or unsafe,” SSI argued in its complaint.

“Ultimately, if no action is ever taken to ensure that SJP and its members comply with all applicable University policies, SSI and its members will continue to be threatened by SJP’s behavior and will continue to have their rights — as both Columbia students and Americans — violated,” it continued.

Some alumni advocates have also expressed concerns about SJP’s behavior, as well as the university’s response.

Victor Muslin — head of the Columbia University chapter of Alums for Campus Fairness, a group dedicated to combating antisemitism on campus — contacted the school’s director of academic integrity on Wednesday, in response to SSI’s complaint.

“It has come to the attention of numerous alumni that harassment of pro-Israel students has escalated exacerbating the already hostile environment at Columbia and that the administration has not taken any substantive action to combat or prevent such harassment,” Muslin wrote in an email seen by The Algemeiner.

He called for the school to enforce its conduct policy in order to ensure that “pro-Israel students — Jewish or not — will be granted the same protections as every other minority group.”

Muslin told The Algemeiner that he had written to Columbia administrators on previous occasions, including before the planned protest of Israel’s ambassador to the UN in February 2017.

He also helped organize a grassroots campaign to call and write administrators in protest of conditions facing Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus later that month. Despite extensive participation, ACF received no response from administrators, Muslin recalled.

“In general, the attitude of Columbia appears to be to stonewall and simply to ignore alumni,” he said. “Right now we are like flies hitting a glass window.”

Columbia and SJP did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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