Skidmore College Refuses To Recognize Club Due to 'Troublesome' Pro-Israel Stance

The college recently recognized the anti-Israel Students for Justice in Palestine

College students
College students / Blend Images via AP
March 18, 2021

Skidmore College’s student government refused to recognize a progressive, pro-Israel student group due to its "troublesome" perspective despite recently recognizing the anti-Israel Students for Justice in Palestine.

The Skidmore College Student Government Association denied Progressive Zionists for Peace’s request for a club trial period in a Zoom meeting on March 13. The organization’s leaders were told the group would need to "gain more diverse perspectives" before receiving official club status. Student senator Sarah Baker said a "dialogue focused" group with "one perspective" could be "troublesome."

In its request for recognition, Progressive Zionists for Peace said their intention was to "create a space for pro-Israel, pro-peace students" to promote a "more peaceful, secure, and democratic future for both Israelis and Palestinians." The group said they would provide a "supportive environment" wherein students can learn about "peaceful Zionism" and how to fight anti-Semitism.

"Ultimately, we hope to create an environment that facilitates mutual understandings between Skidmore students with regards to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and all its nuances," Progressive Zionists for Peace’s mission statement reads. 

Progressive Zionists for Peace president Nessa Goldhirsch Brown said in a Facebook post that the reasons she was given for her group's denial were "false, unclear, and transparently partisan." Skidmore College spokeswoman Sara Miga said that Progressive Zionists for Peace were not officially denied recognition and told the Washington Free Beacon that the group was just "asked to return at a later date to clarify their mission and goals."

Despite rejecting the pro-Israel group, the student government recently granted a club trial period to Students for Justice in Palestine, according to a letter from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). 

School officials, the student government, and Progressive Zionists for Peace will meet Friday to discuss the club's official status.

Students for Justice in Palestine chapters have pressured universities across the country to adopt an anti-Israel stance, notably by backing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions measures against the Jewish state. The group also has been known to intimidate Jewish students. Students for Justice in Palestine pushed Tufts University’s student government to impeach a Jewish member who spoke out against a resolution that blamed Israel for militarizing U.S. police forces. 

Skidmore College boasts 19 political and advocacy clubs including Democracy Matters, the Feminist Action Network, College Democrats, College Republicans, and Voices for Planned Parenthood, in addition to the newly approved Students for Justice in Palestine. 

In a letter to Skidmore College president Marc Conner, FIRE pressed school administrators to reverse the student government’s decision. The letter noted that in a similar hearing on March 8, Conner refused to reverse the student government’s "viewpoint-based" denial of another student group on the grounds that club status "is an issue of student governance."

Conner said at that meeting that Skidmore "has been abundantly clear" about its "commitment to freedom of speech and freedom of association and assembly," according to FIRE’s letter.

Goldhirsch Brown told the Free Beacon she believes the student government's decision came from a lack of understanding of Zionism and said she's hopeful the school will reverse their ruling.

"I am grateful for the support from FIRE, and hope Skidmore's Club Affairs Committee takes the concerns seriously," Goldhirsch Brown said. "I am optimistic about the new vote on Friday, and hope for a positive outcome. I do NOT believe there was any maliciousness or anti-Semitic discrimination from CAC, but rather a fear of the word Zionism as well as a misunderstanding about our club. I am hopeful they will reverse their decision, and PZP can move forward in educating Skidmore about peaceful Zionism, creating a space to discuss Israel, and try to alleviate the negative connotation that goes along with the word ‘Zionism.'"

Sabrina Conza, a FIRE program analyst and the author of the letter, said the Skidmore student government’s decision was incompatible with its promises to uphold free speech. 

"Many of Skidmore's student organizations likely engage in debate and dialogue while sharing a singular purpose," Conaz told the Free Beacon. "This denial does not comport with the commitments to freedom of expression and association that Skidmore makes to its students. Skidmore's student government must reverse course and recognize Progressive Zionists for Peace."

The Skidmore College student government did not respond to the Free Beacon’s request for comment in time for publication.