Judea Pearl Renounces NYU Distinguished Alumnus Status as School Prepares to Award Students for Justice in Palestine
Turing Award winner Judea Pearl has renounced his status as a distinguished alumnus of New York University, following the school’s decision to award its Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter — which orchestrated an ongoing boycott of Zionist student clubs — for “extraordinary and positive impact on the University community.”
Pearl, who graduated with a doctoral degree from NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering in 1965, was granted a Distinguished Alumnus Award by the Polytechnic Alumni Association during a campus lecture in 2013 and is currently a chancellor’s professor of computer science at the University of California, Los Angeles. He also leads a foundation named after his late son, journalist Daniel Pearl, who was killed by Islamic terrorists in 2002 while on assignment in Pakistan.
“In the past five years, SJP has resorted to intimidation tactics that have made me, my colleagues and my students unwelcome and unsafe on our own campus,” Pearl wrote in a letter to NYU President Andrew Hamilton. “The decision to confer an award on SJP, renders other NYU awards empty of content, and suspect of reckless selection process.”
Pearl stated that his efforts to engage with university officials over these concerns “have been met with platitudes about ‘free speech’ despite the fact that the US State Department now includes, in its definition of discrimination, intimidation based on race, religion and ethnicity.”
“Mr. President, I have been in academia for close to 50 years, and I know the difference between free speech and campus norms,” he continued. “Entrusted with the mandate of maintaining a climate of learning and mutual respect, your office should distance itself from the SJP selection and explain to the campus why such distancing is necessary. In the absence of a corrective action by your office the academic standing of this university is begging for other voices to call out the Orwellian character of (SJP’s) award.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, called NYU’s decision to honor SJP “a slap in the face to the Jewish community, including Jewish graduates and significant donors.”
“It is devoid of any ethical basis, rewarding professional propagandists who legitimize terrorism and demonize the Jewish State of Israel,” he argued, before encouraging other NYU community members to follow in Pearl’s footsteps.
In an email last week, an NYU alumni relations official told Pearl that according to university spokesperson John Beckman, the President’s Service Award is annually granted to more than 50 extra-curricular clubs and 100 individuals, which are selected by a group of student affairs staff members and a student representative.
“While many in our university community disagree with the SJP, we will continue to defend the rights of our students and others to express their opposing views,” the official asserted.
SJP first revealed that it would be receiving the award, which will be presented on Wednesday, in a Facebook post earlier this month.
“We are thrilled to announce that we have been selected to receive a presidential service award at NYU,” the group wrote. “Despite the pushback we have received from our institution, we agree that we have made ‘significant contributions to the university community in the areas of learning, leadership, and quality of student life,'” SJP added, quoting a letter it said it had received from the university.
The news was met with concern by some NYU students and alumni, who pointed to SJP’s blacklisting of campus clubs with opposing views and its introduction of a resolution supporting the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, which was adopted by the Student Government Assembly (SGA) in December.
The controversial campaign has been long denounced by major US and global Jewish groups for rejecting the existence of a Jewish nation-state in the Levant and promoting antisemitic tropes. Supporters say it seeks to force Israel to abide by international law and rectify injustices inflicted on Palestinians by the state’s creation.
NYU said at the time it would not adhere to the SGA resolution, noting that President Hamilton’s “opposition to boycotts of Israel is long-standing and well-known.”
The university also shared a 2016 statement by Hamilton, who called academic boycotts of Israel “contrary to our core principles of academic freedom, antithetical to the free exchange of ideas, and at odds with the University’s position on this matter.”
This stance is rejected by SJP, which last April led more than 50 campus groups in announcing a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, as well as “Israeli goods and goods manufactured in the Occupied Territories, except for those manufactured by Palestinians.”
SJP’s coalition further committed to boycotting Realize Israel and NYU’s other Zionist student club, TorchPAC, with signatories agreeing not to co-sponsor events with them.
Several off-campus groups were also included on the SJP blacklist, among them the Anti-Defamation League civil rights group.
Later that same month, two students were arrested and subsequently released after allegedly stealing and burning an Israeli flag while participating in an SJP protest of “Rave in the Park,” an annual celebration held by the NYU club Realize Israel.
Also last year, SJP led more than 30 others groups in an October pledge “not participate in or apply to study abroad programs hosted at NYU Tel Aviv,” while supporting an SGA resolution last March that called on NYU to review “its nondiscrimination policies for Palestinian, Middle Eastern and other affected students traveling to the State of Israel and attending NYU Tel Aviv.”
Responding to news of SJP’s selection, Realize Israel said last week it was “outraged that the University would award an organization that has spent the last several years making Jewish and pro-Israel students feel unwelcome and unsafe on campus.”
“Members of SJP defaced Israel’s flag and physically assaulted pro-Israel students for openly celebrating their identities, and members of SJP brought forward not one, but two one-sided and factually inaccurate anti-Israel resolutions to the Student Government Assembly through a non-transparent, unbalanced, and undemocratic process,” the group noted.
“By presenting the NYU President’s Award to SJP, not only is our university condoning violence and discrimination against members of the NYU community, but it is declaring that this type of behavior represents the ethos of our university,” Realize Israel continued. “[It] is high time that the administration put an end to this endless cycle of intimidation, and we plan to voice our concerns about the systemic anti-Semitism perpetuated by anti-Israel activism that is plaguing our campus.”
SJP, which later appeared to mock Realize Israel’s concerns by claiming the group was “bitter” that it was not selected to receive an award, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.