Photo Credit: Ariel Hayat
Students for Justice in Palestine rally, September 23, 2014.

As New York University finds itself embroiled in yet another antisemitic scandal, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law on Tuesday urged the US Department of Education not to terminate its oversight of the university.

Federal oversight, which the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and NYU had agreed would cover two academic years after NYU amended its anti-discrimination policy, could conclude as early as this week.

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“In the current circumstance, it would be derelict to permit NYU to run out the clock on OCR oversight and thereby undermine OCR’s critical work,” wrote the Brandeis Center, warning that the university has not “addressed its antisemitism problem or fully complied with the agreement.”

In 2020, NYU signed an agreement to resolve “without further investigation” a complaint filed with the Department of Education alleging NYU has not done enough to prevent “a hostile environment” for Jewish students. Under the settlement, NYU committed to specific measures to ensure that antisemitism did not persist on campus and agreed to report its progress to OCR through at least May 31, 2022.

Yet just weeks ago a new antisemitic scandal broke at NYU when Students for Justice in Palestine struck again. SJP sent school-wide emails invoking the age-old antisemitic trope that the “Zionist grip on the media is omnipresent,” advocating for terrorist violence against innocent Israeli civilians, and dismissing nonviolence as a “racialized theory.” The SJP statement was then endorsed by nearly a dozen NYU student groups. Numerous complaints have been filed with the university since the incident.

The Brandeis Center noted in its letter that the 2020 settlement provided for federal oversight of just these types of incidents and complaints, and required NYU to submit documentation to OCR on its student discipline process and certify that “the University has treated and resolved every allegation of antisemitism as defined in Section 2(a)(i) of Exec. Order No. 13899 in the same way as any allegation of any other discrimination or harassment covered by the Policy and/or the University’s student conduct rules.”

The Brandeis Center argued that ending the federal monitoring and supervision of NYU would be “absurd” and dangerously premature at a time when, as noted in a recent news article, “many of its Jewish students feel under attack.”

In addition, noted the Brandeis Center, NYU has also failed to fulfill numerous commitments under the agreement. For example, it has not properly described how antisemitism can manifest itself in the campus environment nor modified its anti-discrimination policy to explicitly include discrimination against and harassment of Jews based on their ancestral and ethnic identity, including their actual or perceived affiliation with Israel – a common contemporary manifestation of antisemitism and the source of much of the harassment that prompted the agreement.

The complaint described attempting to prevent Jewish students from expressing their ethnic identity, vandalizing symbols associated with that identity, and disrupting events. Yet, none of these behaviors are mentioned in the school’s policy. NYU also failed to include examples related to Holocaust denial or distortion; the demonization or delegitimization of Israel; accusations of dual loyalty targeting Jews; attempts to hold Jews collectively responsible for perceived offenses; or antisemitic conspiracy theories which have fueled several recent violent hate crimes in the United States. Its examples instead focus on the targeting of students due to their physical appearance, religious dress, or country of origin.

In addition, NYU appears to have failed to meet the deadlines it accepted and amend and disseminate to the NYU community its revised discrimination and harassment policy, leaving minimal time for the university or OCR to evaluate the effectiveness of its new policy.

“To discontinue monitoring in this context would send precisely the wrong message: it would tell Jewish students and their harassers that even on campuses under OCR supervision, the government’s civil rights watchdogs will not require universities to keep their word and protect Jewish students facing continued harassment. These students are on their own. This is an unacceptable response to discrimination and harassment,” concluded the Brandeis Center.

The original complaint, filed on behalf of then-NYU senior Adela Cojab, alleged “two years of extreme antisemitism on the NYU campus which has created an intolerable and unlawful hostile atmosphere for Jewish students” due to a slew of antisemitic incidents instigated by members of Students for Justice in Palestine. In one incident a student tweeted he wanted all “Zionists to die,” and another incident involved a physical attack on pro-Israel students in Washington Square Park. SJP also attempted to shut down a student celebration of Israel’s 70th birthday. Although SJP’s actions blatantly violated numerous NYU policies, NYU failed to hold SJP accountable and even presented the group with a service award. The complaint made headlines as the first to be brought after President Trump issued an executive order addressing rising anti-Semitism on campuses nationwide.

“NYU is in the unique position to lead by example and take a strong stance against antisemitism, in all of its forms — which is precisely why I am saddened to see the school place such little weight and urgency on their own Resolution Agreement,” Cojab stated. “To Jewish students, the Resolution Agreement was meant to be a step forward, a sign that NYU, and OCR, were working to properly address and prevent growing anti-Jewish hatred, but the university’s seemingly aloof response makes it seem like it was a mere pleasantry. I, along with current and future Jewish students, am placing my trust in OCR to enforce Title VI, oversee university compliance, and ensure those under its protected classes, Jewish students included, have access to an academic environment free from discrimination and harassment.”

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