(May 9, 2019 / JNS) New York University has one of the largest number of Jewish college students in the country. But prospective students and their families, alumni and donors should know that the university has a deeply troubling anti-Semitism problem that it won’t acknowledge or address.
Jewish students filed a complaint last month against the university with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Asserting a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the complaint alleges that university officials have failed to remedy “two years of extreme anti-Semitism” perpetrated by a divisive Jew-hating, Israel-bashing student group that calls itself Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
Last week, university faculty got on the anti-Semitism bandwagon when NYU’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis (SCA) voted to end its relationship with NYU’s Tel Aviv campus. SCA will no longer sponsor any faculty exchanges or student study-abroad program there.
Yet NYU president Andrew Hamilton has denied that anti-Semitism is a problem on his campus. He recently claimed that NYU “has long been known as a welcoming campus for Jewish students.”
The facts lead to a different conclusion. It’s time for NYU to own up to the anti-Semitism and fix it.
In April 2018, NYU’s anti-Semitic, Israel-bashing group SJP and its allies assembled more than 50 other student groups to join them in an anti-Israel boycott campaign, which included a pledge to boycott NYU’s pro-Israel student clubs. SJP’s goal couldn’t be clearer: to shun and silence Jewish and pro-Israel students.
When the Zionist Organization of America wrote to President Hamilton—identifying SJP’s violation of the university’s anti-harassment and other policies, and urging him to condemn and put a stop to the hate group’s anti-Semitic and Israel-bashing demonization and marginalization campaign—Hamilton didn’t even respond.
Also in April 2018, SJP tried to shut down a “Rave in the Park” celebration of Israel’s 70th birthday. SJP members wiped their feet and stomped on a flag of the Jewish state. One member set an Israeli flag on fire. Another was filmed grabbing the arms of a student singing “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, and forcibly seizing the microphone from the student before shouting, “Free Palestine, end the occupation.”
Student wrongdoers were reportedly arrested. But there’s no evidence that NYU punished them, or SJP, for their offenses.
SJP is open about its goal to harass, intimidate and silence Jewish and pro-Israel students. At the Israel celebration, its president said, “We’re not going to let them stand by and support Zionism. Our point is to make being Zionist uncomfortable on the NYU campus.”
As appalling as this hate group’s record is, what is equally reprehensible is NYU’s response. SJP recently received a President’s Service Award, which is supposed to recognize student groups “that have had an extraordinary and positive impact on the University community.” The anti-Semitic SJP has had exactly the opposite impact, making Jewish and pro-Israel students feel unsafe and unwelcome.
NYU ignored ZOA’s calls to rescind the decision to reward SJP. Officials wouldn’t even respond to us when we repeatedly tried to confirm that SJP was going to receive this award.
After that ceremony, President Hamilton claimed that neither he nor his office was consulted about the award recipients. “Had it been up to me,” Hamilton said, “SJP would not have received the award.” Really? It’s hard to believe that the president of NYU did not have a say in selecting the student group deemed worthy of receiving the President’s Service Award.
After the SCA vote last week to end its relationship with NYU’s Tel Aviv campus, a university spokesperson pooh-poohed its impact. President Hamilton has publicly criticized anti-Israel academic boycotts in the past, but so far, he hasn’t said a word about the academic boycott instituted on his own campus or SCA’s decision to stifle academic freedom at NYU.
He should learn from another college president, Melvin I. Oliver of Pitzer College. In March, President Oliver appropriately vetoed a recommendation by the College Council (comprised of faculty, students and staff) to suspend Pitzer’s study-abroad program with the University of Haifa in Israel.
In a thoughtful and detailed message to the community, President Oliver explained that implementing the recommendation would harm the college, violate students’ academic freedom and constitute an academic boycott of Israel, which he “categorically oppose[s].” He also noted that the recommendation was “prejudiced” because it singled out Israel, would unnecessarily “alienate a large cross-section of the College’s constituencies” and irreparably harm the College’s reputation.
Anti-Semites and Israel-bashers at Pitzer tried to bully President Oliver into submission. They called for his immediate resignation or removal from office unless he retracted his decision. They even stooped to public, ugly name-calling. But President Oliver and Pitzer have stayed principled and firm.
Unless President Hamilton and NYU start showing the same exemplary leadership, prospective students and their families, alumni and donors should take note—and take action. Prospective students should look elsewhere for college; there are many excellent schools that won’t tolerate anti-Semitism, and where Jewish and pro-Israel students will feel welcomed and safe. Alumni and donors should support other institutions that won’t stand for Jew-hatred or Israel-bashing. Then maybe NYU will finally get the message that there will be consequences for ignoring anti-Semitism, and the harassment of Jewish and pro-Israel students.
Susan B. 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.