New York University School of Law may be legally obligated to punish some of its star students after nearly a dozen student groups signed a statement that defended terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians and bemoaned the "Zionist grip on the media."
The statement, drafted by NYU Law School’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, has elicited harassment complaints from Jewish students who say that the letter—and some of the responses it sparked from students—constituted vicious anti-Semitic attacks.
"The Zionist grip on the media is omnipresent," the statement read. "Palestinians are not obligated to engage in racialized ‘nonviolence’ theory and wait around for a United Nations action that will never come as their homes are taken from them."
Several students who signed and organized the statement are attending the law school on scholarship as part of the Root-Tilden-Kern Program, widely considered the most prestigious public interest law scholarship in the country. The scholarship’s winners have gone on to hold federal office: They include Lamar Alexander, a U.S. senator and former secretary of education, and Jenny Yang, who served as chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during former president Barack Obama’s second term.
Current scholars include Zaynab Said, who signed on behalf of NYU’s Black Allied Law Students Association; Maya Goldman, who signed on behalf of the Disablility Allied Law Students Association; Yosmin Badie, who sits on the board of NYU's Students for Justice in Palestine; and Allison Hrabar, who signed with the valediction, "from the river to the sea"—a call for the elimination of Israel.
NYU may have no choice but to punish these students because the university in 2020 agreed to adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward anti-Semitism as part of a settlement with the Department of Education’s civil rights office, which was investigating a string of anti-Semitic incidents at the elite scool. The agreement obligates NYU to "take all necessary actions, including pursuant to its student discipline process," to address anti-Semitism on campus. Should the Biden administration decide to enforce the terms of that agreement, inaction could jeopardize NYU’s federal funding under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
The law school told students on Tuesday that it was investigating the harassment complaints "as required by our policies." But some students doubt the investigation will amount to much.
"Blatantly anti-Semitic remarks can be made in public with zero consequences at this law school," said Gary Dreyer, the president of NYU’s Law Students for Israel. "This has gone on for years, and it has only gotten worse."
The Education Department began investigating NYU after a civil rights complaint alleged that the school had not responded appropriately to incidents of anti-Semitism, thus creating a hostile environment for Jewish students. The incidents included a student tweeting that he wanted "all Zionists to die" and another student assaulting attendees at a pro-Israel dance party.
The latest episode began on April 7 when Law Students for Israel circulated an email to the NYU Law student body. "The Middle East is big enough for all its indigenous peoples to enjoy self-determination, security, and prosperity," the group said. "Do not give credence to those, including in our Law School, who say otherwise."
Two hours later, Students for Justice in Palestine issued a 1,500-word response to the email, arguing that it flipped "the realities of aggressor and victim on its head."
"Framing is everything," Students for Justice in Palestine said. "It is imperative to emphasize that the loss of any lives is a direct result of the Israeli occupation, not the resistance of those who are occupied."
The statement went on to berate the "Islamaphobic, Zionist-funded U.S. and Western media" for presenting the violence as "a ‘conflict’ with two sides."
Over the next 24 hours, 11 student groups wrote to the law school’s all-student listserv to express their support for the statement: the Black Allied Law Students Association, the Middle Eastern Law Students Association, the Muslim Law Students Association, the South Asian Law Students Association, the Disability Allied Law Students Association, the National Lawyers Guild, the Women of Color Collective, the Coalition on Law & Representation, the NYU Review of Law and Social Change, and Ending the Prison Industrial Complex.
When Jewish students protested the pile-on, they encountered a torrent of vitriol. "Quiet, you baby," replied Michael Stamos, a first-year student at the law school. Helen Campbell, a third-year student, ridiculed the suggestion that Students for Justice in Palestine should condemn attacks on Israeli civilians. After all, she wrote, "you don’t condemn an earthquake or a lethal outbreak of flu."
New York University did not respond to a request for comment.
The diverse list of signatories reflects an ongoing shift in progressive attitudes toward Israel—one that has been accelerated by the transposition of American racial politics to conflicts in the Middle East.
"Embedded in the Zionist supremacy narrative," Students for Justice in Palestine wrote, " is the orientalist, Islamophobic idea that Azkenazi [sic] Jewish whiteness is fundamentally superior to Palestinian lives, culture, and identity." That jargon has its roots in black nationalists like Angela Davis, who argued in a 2015 book that Palestinians and black Americans are part of a global struggle against police violence.
The statement from Students for Justice in Palestine also likens Palestinian terrorists to Ukrainian soldiers. "The root of the violence we see today is the violent founding of the Israeli state," the statement reads. "Any Palestinian resistance should be understood with reference to this foundational violence—a concept American media seems to have no trouble applying to the Ukranian [sic] response to Russia."