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August 8, 2019 10:19 am

New York Judge Rules Fordham University Must Recognize SJP Chapter

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Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus. Photo: Jonathan71 via Wikimedia Commons. – Fordham University in the Bronx must recognize a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine as a university-approved club after declining to do so in 2016, ruled a New York judge on Tuesday.

Following the ruling, the school said that it will review the decision and consider the next step.

The lawsuit was filed in 2017 in response to the university refusing to include SJP as a sanctioned student organization, despite the school’s student government voting otherwise.

Fordham Dean of Students Keith Eldredge stated in the university’s 2016 decision that “while students are encouraged to promote diverse political points of view, and we encourage conversation and debate on all topics, 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.”

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SJP is known to be anti-Israel, promoting BDS and hosting “Apartheid Week” on campuses with an “apartheid wall,” despite the fact that all Israelis are treated equally under the law, and that Palestinians remain under control of a corrupt Palestinian Authority.

In her opinion, Justice Nancy Bannon stated that Fordham “did not abide by its own published rules governing the approval and recognition of student clubs,” and that the university’s own regulations don’t reference whether an organization is “polarizing.”

She wrote that Eldredge, in his original rejection letter, “does not provide a rational basis for concluding that SJP might encourage violence, disruption of the university, suppression of speech, or any sort of discrimination against any member of the Fordham community based on religion, race, sex or ethnicity. His only articulated concern was that SJP singled out one particular country for criticism and boycott. Again, this is not an established ground for denying recognition to a student club.”

StandWithUs, Alums for Campus Fairness and Club Z disagreed with that conclusion.

“Fordham is a private university that decided to stand up to a national organization with a lengthy record of spreading hate, supporting violence and violating free speech,” Carly Gammill, StandWithUs Center for Combating Anti-Semitism director and counsel for litigation strategy, told JNS. “While we understand why the judge reasoned that this ruling was necessary, we have reason to believe that an appeal may result in a different outcome. We hope that a future ruling in this or another case would find that private universities may show courage and moral clarity by saying no to hate groups, within the bounds of their procedural policies.”

“Academic institutions are a place for freedom of thought and discussion, a marketplace of ideas. SJP has an extensive history of antagonistic and hostile behavior towards Zionist students,” Club Z Executive Director Masha Merkulova told JNS. “To that end, we share the real concerns of this school’s Jewish community and hope that Fordham University holds all student groups accountable to the same standard.”

On the other hand, the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented the students, applauded the ruling.

The group’s deputy legal director, Maria LaHood, told Haaretz that “the students’ support for Palestinian rights and their demand to freely express that support truly exemplify Fordham’s stated values, unlike the administration’s shameful actions here.”

“Following yesterday’s court ruling by Justice Nancy Bannon, Alums for Campus Fairness will remain vigilant of Students for Justice in Palestine’s activities on the Fordham campus,” ACF Executive Director Avi Gordon told JNS. “We have seen on universities across America that SJP chapters preach delegitimization of Israel, and marginalize Zionist and Jewish students. We will make it clear that this hate has no place on campus.”

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