How Fordham University Lost to Radical Palestinians in Court

Coinciding with the 2019 National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) conference held in Minnesota this past weekend, the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP) released an alarming report that exposes the toxic ideology that characterizes this radical campus group. The ISGAP report confirms what observers of radicalism in higher education have documented for years: that while SJP purports to be a group whose mission is to achieve a peaceful and just resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict by supporting Palestinian self-determination, in fact, as the report put it, "SJP is steeped in an ideology that has roots in racist and antisemitic extremism."

That toxic campus radicalism has meant that administrators, supporters of Israel, pro-Israel speakers, and Jewish students and organizations have experienced the caustic side-effect of SJP's presence on campus.  As SJP grew more aggressive in its demonstrations and behavior, it occasionally, though rarely, has been sanctioned or restrained.

Finally, in 2016, one university, Fordham University in New York, cognizant of SJP's history of poisoning dialogue on campuses and promoting a campaign of libels, defamation, and lies against Israel and Jewish students, reversed the decision of the student government to allow SJP to become a recognized student organization and decided that SJP, based on its sorry record at other universities, had no place at Fordham.  Dean Keith Eldridge, aware of SJP's methods and ideology, bravely decided that "while students are encouraged to promote diverse political points of view, and we encourage conversation and debate on all topics, I cannot support an organization whose sole purpose is advocating political goals of a specific group, and against a specific country [emphasis added], when these goals clearly conflict with and run contrary to the mission and values of the University[.] ... The purpose of the organization as stated in the proposed club constitution points toward ... polarization."

SJP immediately sued Fordham, in Awad v. Fordham University, 2019 WL 3550713, asserting that the decision to block it from becoming a recognized student organization was, as the judge ultimately found in reversing the dean's decision in  2019, "arbitrary and capricious," and "it must be concluded that [Dean Eldridge's] disapproval of SJP was made in large part because the subject of SJP's criticism is the State of Israel, rather than some other nation," and that "his only articulated concern was that SJP singled out one particular country for criticism and boycott."

In fact, Fordham's instincts were well founded in that the dean knew, based in SJP's record elsewhere, of its pattern of radicalism, misbehavior, toxic speech, and overtly anti-Semitic behavior.  That radicalism has been problematic, particularly since research by the AMCHA Initiative, an organization that tracks anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism at universities, "indicate[s] a significant increase in actions which directly harm or threaten Jewish students, including physical and verbal assaults, destruction of property, harassment discrimination and suppression of speech, at schools with an SJP or similar anti-Zionist chapter."  Equally serious is the report's findings that SJP's presence resulted in "incidents of Israel-related anti-Semitic harassment increase[ing] 70%."

Either because it was ignorant of these statistics or because Fordham had not included them clearly in its defense, in reversing the decision, the court considered only Eldridge's primary argument that SJP singles out Israel for opprobrium and calls for boycotts, protected speech which does not in itself violate Fordham's own mission or codes.  That may have been a strategic error, which may have resulted in a successful decision had, instead, Fordham pointed to SJP's disruption of events and speakers, toxic ideology, intimidation and harassment of pro-Israel organizations and students, and enmity toward Zionism and Jews generally.  That type of behavior, as opposed to expression, is generally prohibited on campus and would not necessarily be protected by First Amendment considerations.

The court even suggested as much in its decision: "In his determination, Dean Eldredge does not provide a rational basis for concluding that SJP might encourage violence, disruption of the university, suppression of speech, or any sort of discrimination against any member of the Fordham community based on religion, race, sex, or ethnicity" (emphasis added).  That is precisely what SJP regularly and promiscuously does on campuses around the country, and it is only because presumably craven administrators are concerned about sanctioning minority-based student groups that the group continues to be recognized and allowed to operate.

No university would tolerate a white supremacist student group that purported to exist only to promote pride in being white and whose activities wholly involve agitating against minorities,   staging Black Inferiority Week events, inviting racist speakers to campus to trumpet the defects of minorities in America, and regularly yelling out at rallies and elsewhere chants to lynch and murder blacks.  But those are precisely the behavior and tactics of SJP, except that its target is Israel, Zionism, and Jewish students.

So while the white supremacist group might chant their desire to lynch blacks, SJP regularly chants an equally grotesque threat: "Intifada, intifada.  Long live the intifada" — in other words, extolling the homicidal rampage in Israel in which psychopathic terrorists have tried to murder and have succeeded in murdering Jewish civilians.  In fact, the use of that word "intifada," frequently heard at SJP-sponsored events, is a grotesque and murderous reference to the Second Intifada that began in 2000, during which Arab terrorists murdered some 1,000 Israelis and wounded more than 14,000 others.  

A university should, and must, have the right and responsibility to its respective community to decide which student groups have a legitimate and valid mission and which are animated by extremist ideology and penchant for spreading bigotry, ethnic hatred, and misreading of history and facts — exactly what SJP has been guilty of wherever chapters have been established.  That Fordham or any other university cannot with good conscience refuse to allow a chapter to find a bulwark on its own campus speaks to the moral vacuity of many administrators, as well as their fear of offending what they perceive to be a campus victim group.  So while they would not hesitate for a moment to condemn and purge their campus of a group whose sole mission was to attack and dehumanize any other ethnic group, when Israel and Jews are the target, sadly, there is an absence of clear conscience, justice, and equity.

"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored," Aldous Huxley once observed.  If universities continue to ignore the poisonous radicalism in their midst, if they do not rid their campuses of toxic extremism and bigotry, they do so at their own peril.

Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., president emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of Dispatches from the Campus War against Israel and Jews.

Coinciding with the 2019 National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) conference held in Minnesota this past weekend, the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP) released an alarming report that exposes the toxic ideology that characterizes this radical campus group. The ISGAP report confirms what observers of radicalism in higher education have documented for years: that while SJP purports to be a group whose mission is to achieve a peaceful and just resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict by supporting Palestinian self-determination, in fact, as the report put it, "SJP is steeped in an ideology that has roots in racist and antisemitic extremism."

That toxic campus radicalism has meant that administrators, supporters of Israel, pro-Israel speakers, and Jewish students and organizations have experienced the caustic side-effect of SJP's presence on campus.  As SJP grew more aggressive in its demonstrations and behavior, it occasionally, though rarely, has been sanctioned or restrained.

Finally, in 2016, one university, Fordham University in New York, cognizant of SJP's history of poisoning dialogue on campuses and promoting a campaign of libels, defamation, and lies against Israel and Jewish students, reversed the decision of the student government to allow SJP to become a recognized student organization and decided that SJP, based on its sorry record at other universities, had no place at Fordham.  Dean Keith Eldridge, aware of SJP's methods and ideology, bravely decided that "while students are encouraged to promote diverse political points of view, and we encourage conversation and debate on all topics, I cannot support an organization whose sole purpose is advocating political goals of a specific group, and against a specific country [emphasis added], when these goals clearly conflict with and run contrary to the mission and values of the University[.] ... The purpose of the organization as stated in the proposed club constitution points toward ... polarization."

SJP immediately sued Fordham, in Awad v. Fordham University, 2019 WL 3550713, asserting that the decision to block it from becoming a recognized student organization was, as the judge ultimately found in reversing the dean's decision in  2019, "arbitrary and capricious," and "it must be concluded that [Dean Eldridge's] disapproval of SJP was made in large part because the subject of SJP's criticism is the State of Israel, rather than some other nation," and that "his only articulated concern was that SJP singled out one particular country for criticism and boycott."

In fact, Fordham's instincts were well founded in that the dean knew, based in SJP's record elsewhere, of its pattern of radicalism, misbehavior, toxic speech, and overtly anti-Semitic behavior.  That radicalism has been problematic, particularly since research by the AMCHA Initiative, an organization that tracks anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism at universities, "indicate[s] a significant increase in actions which directly harm or threaten Jewish students, including physical and verbal assaults, destruction of property, harassment discrimination and suppression of speech, at schools with an SJP or similar anti-Zionist chapter."  Equally serious is the report's findings that SJP's presence resulted in "incidents of Israel-related anti-Semitic harassment increase[ing] 70%."

Either because it was ignorant of these statistics or because Fordham had not included them clearly in its defense, in reversing the decision, the court considered only Eldridge's primary argument that SJP singles out Israel for opprobrium and calls for boycotts, protected speech which does not in itself violate Fordham's own mission or codes.  That may have been a strategic error, which may have resulted in a successful decision had, instead, Fordham pointed to SJP's disruption of events and speakers, toxic ideology, intimidation and harassment of pro-Israel organizations and students, and enmity toward Zionism and Jews generally.  That type of behavior, as opposed to expression, is generally prohibited on campus and would not necessarily be protected by First Amendment considerations.

The court even suggested as much in its decision: "In his determination, Dean Eldredge does not provide a rational basis for concluding that SJP might encourage violence, disruption of the university, suppression of speech, or any sort of discrimination against any member of the Fordham community based on religion, race, sex, or ethnicity" (emphasis added).  That is precisely what SJP regularly and promiscuously does on campuses around the country, and it is only because presumably craven administrators are concerned about sanctioning minority-based student groups that the group continues to be recognized and allowed to operate.

No university would tolerate a white supremacist student group that purported to exist only to promote pride in being white and whose activities wholly involve agitating against minorities,   staging Black Inferiority Week events, inviting racist speakers to campus to trumpet the defects of minorities in America, and regularly yelling out at rallies and elsewhere chants to lynch and murder blacks.  But those are precisely the behavior and tactics of SJP, except that its target is Israel, Zionism, and Jewish students.

So while the white supremacist group might chant their desire to lynch blacks, SJP regularly chants an equally grotesque threat: "Intifada, intifada.  Long live the intifada" — in other words, extolling the homicidal rampage in Israel in which psychopathic terrorists have tried to murder and have succeeded in murdering Jewish civilians.  In fact, the use of that word "intifada," frequently heard at SJP-sponsored events, is a grotesque and murderous reference to the Second Intifada that began in 2000, during which Arab terrorists murdered some 1,000 Israelis and wounded more than 14,000 others.  

A university should, and must, have the right and responsibility to its respective community to decide which student groups have a legitimate and valid mission and which are animated by extremist ideology and penchant for spreading bigotry, ethnic hatred, and misreading of history and facts — exactly what SJP has been guilty of wherever chapters have been established.  That Fordham or any other university cannot with good conscience refuse to allow a chapter to find a bulwark on its own campus speaks to the moral vacuity of many administrators, as well as their fear of offending what they perceive to be a campus victim group.  So while they would not hesitate for a moment to condemn and purge their campus of a group whose sole mission was to attack and dehumanize any other ethnic group, when Israel and Jews are the target, sadly, there is an absence of clear conscience, justice, and equity.

"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored," Aldous Huxley once observed.  If universities continue to ignore the poisonous radicalism in their midst, if they do not rid their campuses of toxic extremism and bigotry, they do so at their own peril.

Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., president emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of Dispatches from the Campus War against Israel and Jews.