Students at SUNY Booted from Sexual Assault Support Group Due to Jewish Identity

University 'fully aware of the situation,' did nothing to protect students from harassment

A Jewish solidarity march in March 2020 / Getty Images
August 18, 2022

Two Jewish students at the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz say they were booted from a support group for sexual assault victims and harassed by members of the group due to their Jewish identity, according to a complaint filed with the Education Department.

One of the victims, student Cassandra Blotner, says members of the support group threatened to spit on her in public for proudly being Jewish, while others called her a "dumb bitch" who supports "mass genocide" due to her support for Israel. The complaint alleges the university was "fully aware of the situation," yet did nothing to protect the students from the anti-Semitic hate campaign.

"These students have been thrice victimized: first, by sexual predators; second, by the anti-Zionist leaders of a support group who expelled the students, including one of its founders, from the organization; and third, by the University which failed to hold accountable those who had discriminated against the students and failed to satisfactorily address the hostile climate on campus for Jewish survivors of sexual assault," the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under the Law, an advocacy group that helped file the complaint, said in a statement issued on Thursday.

The complaint is another sign that anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist forces on U.S. college campuses are fueling an unsafe environment for Jewish and pro-Israel students. The Education Department is already investigating the University of Southern California for fomenting "a hostile environment of anti-Semitism" and many other schools have experienced a significant rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes. Jewish and pro-Israel students say they are routinely targeted based solely on their support for the Jewish state.

At SUNY, the trouble first began in December of last year. Blotner posted a message on her personal Instagram account: "Jews are an ethnic group who come from Israel. This is proven by genealogical, historical and archeological evidence. Israel is not a ‘colonial’ state and Israelis aren’t ‘settlers.’ You cannot colonize the land your ancestors are from."

The message allegedly angered fellow members of the New Paltz Accountability group (NPA), which Blotner and another student founded to help combat sexual assault. Members of the group allegedly "denounced the post and demanded Blotner defend her views, arguing her personal post ‘concerns the organization as a whole,’" according to the complaint and other information provided by the Brandeis Center.

While Blotner offered to meet with the group and explain her views, "NPA leaders refused the offer to meet and told her that Zionists were not welcome in NPA," according to the complaint.

As "the only Jew of the group … it seems that I am being held accountable for the actions of a foreign government (which is something that I am not and is anti-Semitic)," Blotner said in comments to the Brandeis Center. "I am worried for the future of the group and other survivors who come seeking support. Will they too be made to feel this way due to misperceptions of shared posts, lack of cultural/religious understandings, or general difference of opinions?"

Blotner’s original post was also shared by another support group member, Ofek Preis, who is a Jewish-Israeli student. Soon after, Preis was allegedly banned from the group’s lists and barred access to its online portal. The support group also made clear to Preis that it "was only open to those who reject Zionism," according to the Brandeis Center’s complaint.

Both Preis and Blotner were then subjected to anti-Semitic harassment and bullying online by the group’s members.

The support group "went on to publish numerous statements doubling down on its stance that Zionists are not welcome," according to the complaint. The group extended "its exclusionary and discriminatory stance to all Jewish Zionist and Israeli sexual assault survivors at SUNY New Paltz," and promoted "the anti-Semitic narrative that Zionism is a form of racism and white-supremacy."

Some members posted threatening messages online, saying they would spit on Blotner. Another allegedly called Blotner a "dumb bitch" who supports "mass genocide."

Blotner and Preis both contacted SUNY with fears about their safety, but the schools did not take any action, according to the complaint.

"The university declined Blotner’s request for a security escort to accompany her to class and advised her not to attend," according to the Brandeis Center. "Unable to attend class safely, Blotner left campus to be with her family. The hostile anti-Semitic atmosphere for Jewish Zionist sexual assault survivors brewing on campus after [the support group’s] posts caused Preis … to feel so anxious about her safety she was also unable to attend class."

Denise Katz-Prober, Brandeis Center’s director of legal initiatives, said in a statement that the situation parallels those on other college campuses, where Jewish and pro-Israel students are increasingly concerned about their safety.

"Students are being marginalized and excluded from campus activities on the basis of their Jewish identity, which in some cases is deeply connected to Israel," she said. "At the same time, Israeli students are being targeted by anti-Zionist hatred that invokes classic anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish power and control."

"When Jewish students, like Ms. Blotner and Ms. Preis, are cast out of social justice spaces and campus activities because they express pride in their ethnic or national identity, that is a form of unlawful discrimination, not political speech," Katz-Prober said. "This case is not about the awful things that were said to these women. Rather, it is about the awful things that were done to them."