Controversial Columbia Law Review Article Subverted Standard Editing Process

Atypical editing process excluded Jewish students and led to board intervention

Columbia Law School (Wikimedia Commons)
June 5, 2024

A Columbia Law Review article that argues Jews "capitalized on the Holocaust to create a powerful narrative that monopolizes victimhood" was subject to an atypical editing process that omitted "a large number of Jewish students," according to sources familiar with the process.

While prospective pieces are typically available for the Law Review's roughly 100 members to assess ahead of publication, the "Nakba" piece was handled behind closed doors by a group of roughly 30 student editors, according to Columbia Law School professor Joshua Mitts.

While that group edited the piece "over several months," Mitts said, other editors—including Jews—were unaware even of the piece’s existence until Saturday, just two days before its publication.

The piece—titled, "Toward Nakba as a Legal Concept"—was supposed to be published on the website of the student-edited Review on Monday, despite a request from the Review's board of directors to delay publication. At issue, the board explained in a letter to student editors obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, was the editing process behind it.

The board, which is led by Columbia law professor Gillian Metzger and includes Columbia Law School dean Gillian Lester, subsequently requested the piece "be delayed for a few days" to ensure "all student editors would have an opportunity" to read it. Initially, the group of student editors behind the piece agreed, according to the board's letter. Then, on Monday morning, they revealed plans to publish the piece immediately. In response, the board "temporarily suspended" the Review's website.

"The secrecy that surrounded this article's editing and substantiation review is unacceptable," the board wrote in its letter. "It is also unprecedented, in that every piece is either worked on by, or available on request to, all student editors during the editing process."

"Whatever the intent, such secrecy is a profound deviation from the norms of respect, trust, and collegiality on which the Review depends. It also invariably raises questions about the adequacy of the editing and substantiation processes to which the piece was subjected."

The ordeal comes as Columbia University leaders continue to grapple with anti-Israel and anti-Semitic demonstrations, even after the conclusion of the 2023-2024 school year.

Over the weekend, for example, a group of Columbia students formed yet another anti-Israel encampment on the school's main lawn, which coincided with the school's alumni reunions. Those who attended the festivities were greeted by a sign outside of the campus reading, "We're back, bitches." Another sign read, "I want your hands on Israel's neck."

The "Nakba" piece, written by Harvard University doctoral candidate Rabea Eghbariah, also included an array of inflammatory rhetoric toward Jews.

In one footnote, he wrote that Israel "capitalized on the Holocaust to create a powerful narrative that monopolizes victimhood to the state." In another passage, he argued that the Holocaust created an "ethnonationalist Jewish identity" that turned a "victimized group" into "victimizers."

"The rise of Nazism to power and its culmination in the Holocaust contributed to the creation of an exclusivist and ethnonationalist Jewish identity among European Jewry, ultimately popularizing the political project of Zionism," Eghbariah wrote.

"If Apartheid taught us about the dangers of racialism and the possibility of reconciliation, and the Holocaust taught us about the banality of evil and warned 'Never Again,' the Nakba can complicate our understanding of these lessons by reminding us that group victimhood is not a fixed category, and that a victimized group may easily become victimizers."

For Mitts, those passages reflect a "terrible article" that is "poorly researched" and "poor scholarship." While law reviews "publish bad scholarship all the time," he told the Free Beacon, doing so can reflect poorly on student editors, stressing the need to ensure all Review members are aware of prospective pieces well ahead of their publication.

"Typically we think of this as kind of an academic freedom issue, but excluding students from the deliberative process around the article is not a matter of academic freedom," Mitts said. "They prevented a supermajority of members from even knowing about the article's existence—prevented them from commenting or vetoing or raising concerns. And that group certainly includes a large number of Jewish students. And that's deeply concerning."

"That's ultimately what concerned the board, because this just wasn't proper process. It wasn't proper governance. It's as if there was a takeover of the Columbia Law Review by a minority. And that's just something that can't be tolerated."

Margaret Hassel, the law review’s 2023-2024 editor in chief and recent Columbia Law School graduate, did not respond to a request for comment. Columbia Law School did not respond to a request for comment.

Founded in 1901, the Columbia Law Review is run by students and governed by a board of directors, which typically consists of faculty members and prominent alumni.

The 2023-2024 board included former Columbia Law School dean David Schizer, Politico editor Peter Canellos, and federal judge Arun Subramanian, a Biden appointee. Their board terms ended on April 11, Schizer told the Free Beacon, adding that he learned of the "Nakba" piece earlier this week. Metzger, a veteran law professor, serves as chair of the current board.

While the board's decision to shut down the Review website prompted criticism—some of which was highlighted in Associated Press and New York Times articles that referred to the "Nakba" piece as merely critical of Israel—Mitts argued that board members responded insufficiently.

"I personally think these students involved should face much more substantial consequences, because this was such a gross departure," he said. "You just shouldn’t do something like this that excludes the perspectives of members of the Law Review in such a systematic and far reaching way. Also it’s deceptive, which in and of itself is usually grounds for termination."

Eghbariah, the author of the "Nakba" piece, is no stranger to inflammatory rhetoric toward Jews. Last month, he spoke at an alternative graduation at Harvard, which was meant to honor students who were prevented from graduating thanks to their participation in an unauthorized encampment. Eghbariah urged attendees to fight for "liberation."

"The student movement will not stop and will not rest," he said. "You understood that liberation is never granted but taken; that freedom is a daily practice and struggle; that there is value in speaking up here and now."