Jewish and pro-Israel students on many college campuses have had to contend with the hateful and divisive tactics of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and anti-Israel collaborators like Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). They’ve endured threats and harassment. Their speakers have been disrupted, their signs defaced, and their events shut down. Such menacing behavior becomes even more unnerving when it’s tolerated by university leaders and public officials. That’s exactly what’s happening in response to SJP’s and JVP’s despicable new tactics at New York University, and the administration’s response has been insufficient.
Last week NYU’s SJP and JVP amassed a coalition of over 50 student groups to boycott not only Israeli goods, academic institutions and several off-campus pro-Israel groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). The coalition also pledged to boycott NYU’s pro-Israel student clubs, Realize Israel and TorchPAC, by refusing to co-sponsor any events with them.
In short, organized and incited by SJP and JVP, more than 50 student organizations committed themselves to shunning other NYU students simply because they support Israel, rather than SJP’s and JVP’s goal to harm and destroy the Jewish state. The obvious objective is to silence pro-Israel students, who otherwise risk being isolated and blacklisted by their peers.
These actions contradict everything NYU says it stands for – a university “graciously opened to all.” The university’s Code of Ethical Conduct commits to “equal treatment, opportunity, and respect.” Discrimination, emotional abuse and harassment are prohibited.
SJP’s and JVP’s campaign violates numerous NYU rules and policies, authorizing the imposition of sanctions. The Rules for the Maintenance of Public Order prohibit interfering with or disrupting the university’s regular operations and activities. They also prohibit denying or interfering with the rights of others, including the right of academic freedom. NYU’s Policy on Student Conduct prohibits behavior that disrupts the university’s educational activities and the “suppression of ideas.”
NYU’s Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy prohibits “conduct that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive academic or residential environment or otherwise adversely affects academic opportunities or participating in an NYU activity or benefit.” Prohibited harassment may include “hostile behavior” such as insulting or degrading another person or group.
Despite SJP’s and JVP’s wrongdoing, NYU’s response has been weak. President Andrew Hamilton denounced the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. But he did not condemn the BDS perpetrators on his own campus or their boycott campaign targeting other students and aiming to bully them into silence about their support for Israel.
An NYU spokesperson did criticize SJP’s and JVP’s campaign, describing it as “at odds with our traditions and values, especially our core belief in the free exchange of ideas.” But he never called out the wrongdoers and instead suggested that they “find a pathway forward to engage in constructive dialogue.” Though surely well-meaning, these sentiments no doubt fell on deaf ears, since SJP has a strict policy not to engage with “Zionist organizations,” including Hillel.
Last week, after identifying SJP’s and JVP’s many rule and policy violations, the ZOA urged President Hamilton to publicly condemn SJP and JVP for coordinating a campaign to intimidate, threaten and discriminate against other students; revoke SJP’s and JVP’s registered status because they are purposefully marginalizing students who support Israel; issue a forceful directive to all the other student groups who joined this shameful coalition that the boycott campaign is permanently disbanded, and that they face sanctions if they clandestinely or informally support the campaign; and issue an unequivocal public message that NYU opposes the anti-Israel BDS movement and any BDS efforts or initiatives targeting Israel.
We also notified elected officials about this boycott campaign, noting that New York State has an anti-discrimination law prohibiting boycotts based on national origin. Governor Cuomo has taken a strong stance against boycotts targeting Israel, and federal law protects the right of students to a campus environment free from national origin and ethnic discrimination. Yet shamefully, not a single elected official has condemned what SJP and JVP are doing at NYU. Not one has made it clear that NYU must take immediate and forceful action to stop these groups from deliberately shunning and silencing other students.
NYU’s rules and policies are meaningless if they are not enforced. And no group is entitled to special treatment; SJP and JVP should be required to comply with NYU’s rules and policies just like everyone else. The registered status of SJP and JVP, and all the rights and privileges that come with that status – including university funding – should be revoked until these hateful and divisive groups can demonstrate that they will finally respect the rights and freedoms that belong to every student.
Susan Tuchman is the director of the Zionist Organization of America’s Center for Law and Justice. Morton Klein is the National President of the Zionist Organization of America.