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May 17, 2018 5:48 pm

Over 60 Groups Urge Columbia, NYU, Syracuse, UC Irvine to Counter ‘Hostile Climate for Jewish, Zionist Students’

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Anti-Israel demonstrators at Columbia University protesting SSI’s ‘Indigenous People Unite’ event. Photo: Rachel Frommer.

More than 60 groups have called on Columbia University, New York University, Syracuse University, and University of California Irvine on Tuesday to act against “a hostile climate for Jewish and Zionist students” on their campuses.

The coalition — led by the AMCHA Initiative, a watchdog group dedicated to countering antisemitism on university campuses — sent separate letters to the heads of each school detailing a number of concerns and suggested remedies.

In a note to Columbia President Lee Bollinger, the groups pointed to an incident report filed in March by the school’s chapter of Students Supporting Israel, which claimed that anti-Zionist students “have monopolized the conversation on campus relating to the Israeli-Arab conflict and have systematically maligned, harassed and silenced” Zionist voices. An administrator at the university said that the complaint was reviewed, but did not warrant any action.

A letter was also sent to President Andrew Hamilton of New York University, where 53 campus groups led by Students for Justice in Palestine recently pledged to boycott the school’s pro-Israel clubs. While Hamilton denounced the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel at a subsequent town hall, advocates warned last month that in seeking to “marginalize and stigmatize the Jewish student community,” the boycott violates NYU policy and encourages conduct that “could potentially violate state and federal law.”

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The implications of such a boycott “for the safety and well-being of Jewish and pro-Israel students on your campus are highly troubling,” the coalition wrote in its letter to Hamilton. They pointed to comments from NYU SJP’s president, who said the group seeks “to make being Zionist uncomfortable on the NYU campus,” as well as a petition signed by over 2,000 Jewish students and community members, which warned that the boycott “creates a polarizing atmosphere of hatred and animosity that violates our community standards and is dangerous for both our students and the University overall.”

Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud was also urged to take action after a recent campus event with an Israeli ambassador was interrupted by some 20 protesters led by professional activists. “Students who identify as Zionists by religious belief, ethnic identity, national origin or political persuasion report being shaken by recent events and afraid to express themselves and fully participate in campus life,” the coalition wrote.

A fourth letter was sent to University of California, Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman, which noted that an event with IDF soldiers earlier this month was disrupted by students waving Palestinian flags. One of the protesters had a bullhorn and led chants including, “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea.” The saying refers to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territory from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, in place of Israel.

“As you know, this is the third year in a row that anti-Zionist protesters have attempted to aggressively disrupt and shut down a student-hosted Israel-related event on your campus and suppress other students’ free speech rights,” the coalition wrote.

To prevent continued harassment and protect the free speech rights of students, the groups urged NYU and Syracuse to review and update their campus-wide intolerance policy, and take prompt disciplinary measures against those who violate it.

They also called on the universities to renew the club status of student groups on a yearly basis, and discipline those who have been found to repeatedly engaged in “the unlawful suppression of others’ freedom of speech or civil rights.”

To preempt such behavior, the administrations should issue campus-wide statements expressing their commitment to protect students from free speech violations, and instruct members of the campus community on the difference between protests that infringe on the rights of others and more productive alternatives, the coalition argued.

For Columbia and UC Irvine, which already have free speech commitments in place, the coalition recommended public statements denouncing “peer-on-peer harassment that impedes free speech,” in an effort to help targeted students feel welcome to fully participate in campus life.

A spokesperson for UC Irvine told The Algemeiner that the coalition’s letter was received by the Chancellor’s Office and is under review. Representatives for Columbia, NYU, and Syracuse did not answer requests for comment.

The AMCHA-led campaign is the latest in an effort to shed light on the controversial tactics employed by some anti-Zionist campus groups against peers in Jewish and pro-Israel student clubs.

A September report published by the Israel on Campus Coalition advocacy group on the 2016-2017 academic year found that BDS activists repeatedly engaged in “hostile disruptions of pro-Israel events, deliberately interfering with lectures and educational activities.”

“On several campuses,” the report noted, “protesters shouted down Israeli speakers and other guest lecturers, attempting to silence pro-Israel voices.”

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