On Friday, May 2, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights under Law
The two independent national civil rights organizations had been approached by New York University undergraduate students who are concerned about an atmosphere of intimidation and harassment in which mock eviction notices were pushed under the dormitory room doors and into the dormitory rooms of Jewish and non-Jewish students. These flyers contain inflammatory and false accusations and were placed in a manner that created understandable anguish and alarm among the students.
In a letter to President Sexton and Vice Chancellor Linda Mills, the Brandeis Center and The Lawfare Project emphasized that the mock eviction notices raised “serious issues under federal civil rights law.” Specifically, the groups reminded President Sexton and Vice Chancellor Mills that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs that receive federal funds. “More broadly,” the two organizations wrote, “they raise questions about respect, civility, and mutual understanding and about sensitivity for the reasonable concerns of Jewish students.”
At approximately 3:00 a.m. on Thursday, April 24, 2014, mock eviction notices spreading anti-Israel sentiment had been distributed throughout New York University’s Palladium and Lafayette dormitories by members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
The eviction notices state, “Palestinian homes are destroyed as part of the state of Israel’s ongoing attempts to ethnically cleanse the region of its Arab inhabitants and maintain an exclusively Jewish character of the state. By destroying Palestinian homes, the state makes room for illegal Israeli settlements. The Israeli government itself describes this process as Judaization.”
Not only is this grossly inaccurate, but it reinforces pernicious stereotypes and defamations about the Jewish people.
The Brandeis Center and The Lawfare Project explained to Sexton and Mill that “dormitory rooms are virtually the opposite of public forums for speech and debate. Rather, they are spaces in which students are most vulnerable. There is no part of a university campus in which is it more crucial to protect student safety, security, and privacy. This is particularly true during late hours of the night.”
New York University, like many other institutions, has instituted reasonable, content-neutral rules prohibiting the kind of infractions that were committed here. The civil rights groups insisted that it is “absolutely imperative” that NYU “fully and firmly enforce these rules against the perpetrators immediately, taking fully into consideration the invasiveness of the behavior and the foreseeable harms to dormitory students.”
The Brandeis Center and The Lawfare Project also urged NYU to take into proper consideration that the offensiveness of the perpetrators’ actions was heightened by their selection of a dormitory that is well known to house an unusually high concentration of Jewish students.
“As you are no doubt aware,” they wrote, “Palladium is the only dormitory building at New York University that has a Shabbat elevator. A university spokesman has argued that the elevator was installed at this location for reasons that are unrelated to the building’s high concentration of Jewish residents. This is entirely beside the point. Regardless of the reason for which the elevator was initially installed, your students have made clear to us that its existence is one of the reasons that so many prominent Jewish students are known to live there. If Palladium was targeted in any part because of its concentration of Jewish students, then this factor must be considered in determining the nature and severity of the infraction. Either way, however, the perpetrators’ choice of this particular building has aggravated the impact of the infractions.”