Students for Justice in Palestine Receives NYU President’s Award in Ceremony Not Attended by President
Students for Justice in Palestine received an award on Wednesday afternoon from New York University over objections from some community members — though several attendees said this year’s ceremony was notably different from those held in the past.
The club first announced earlier this month that it was selected to receive a President’s Service Award, which is granted annually to dozens of groups and individuals at NYU for “extraordinary and positive impact on the University community.”
The move was applauded by supporters of SJP and the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign it champions, while angering other NYU community members, among them Turing Award winner Judea Pearl, who this week renounced an NYU alumni award he received in protest.
According to several student reports, NYU President Andrew Hamilton was not present at Wednesday’s award ceremony, which he attended last year, while the names of honorees were not read aloud by a university representative.
“President Hamilton makes many University events, but he cannot make every one,” NYU spokesperson John Beckman said in a statement to reporters. “He was unable to make this one.”
“[A]ttendees reported a lack of the word ‘president’ through any of ceremony, although the award is supposed to come from the president,” the student-run NYU Local reported.
The changes inspired some to speculate that the university’s administration was seeking to distance itself from the award, which is selected by a group of student affairs staff members and a student representative.
Student Government Assembly (SGA) President Husniye Cogur was recorded reading the names of several student organizations in her opening remarks, and apologizing if she failed to recognize any groups “because I didn’t have enough time.”
Honorees included the Incarceration to Education Coalition, SGA, the Black Student Union, Shades, the Black Student Nursing Association, and Generation Citizen.
“NYU doesn’t respect us enough to call out our names at a ceremony for us,” Rose Asaf, president of the anti-Zionist NYU Jewish Voice for Peace group, wrote on Twitter.
News of SJP’s selection earlier this month was quickly met with objections from Realize Israel, one of two Zionist NYU clubs that was targeted for a boycott last April by SJP and some 50 supporting campus groups. SJP, which successfully helped push a BDS resolution through SGA in December, has also committed to boycotting the Anti-Defamation League civil rights group, all Israeli academic institutions, and NYU’s own Tel Aviv program.
“Members of SJP defaced Israel’s flag and physically assaulted pro-Israel students for openly celebrating their identities,” Realize Israel said shortly after SJP announced its award, in reference to an SJP protest of Realize Israel last year. “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.”
A small group of demonstrators congregated outside the Kimmel Center on Wednesday, where the award ceremony was held, while Realize Israel set up a booth in the area with informational posters and Israeli flags.
“The other groups that were being honored very much deserve the awards,” Adela Cojab of Realize Israel told the Algemeiner. “It’s a shame that NYU, instead of taking back one award that was wrongly given to an organization, decided to demote the entire ceremony. That’s extremely sad.”
She noted that objections to SJP were not simply rooted in its advocacy of BDS, but in “a history of assault.”
“There is a history of students threatening students, and students acting physically against students from that organization,” she said. “The fact that NYU is giving them an award is very absurd.”