Why does NYU Law support anti-Semitic terror?
Last Thursday evening, three innocent Israeli men were hacked to death with an ax, after terrorists heeded the call of a Hamas leader to "get your cleavers, axes, or knives ready." The violent murders, which left behind 16 newly orphaned children, were just the latest in a string of terrorist attacks across Israel in recent weeks. Any decent human being would condemn the killing of innocents.
Last month, however, the NYU Law chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine released a vile anti-Semitic statement that, among other things, endorsed these killings of innocent Israeli civilians. After several Jewish students complained that the letter and ensuing statements of support violated the law school's non-discrimination and harassment policies, the dean sent a fairly milquetoast email announcing that the school would investigate the issue.
Last week, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) sent a letter to NYU urging them to "stop investigating anti-Zionist statement." That letter was legally wrong and its moral relativism deeply offensive. FIRE should immediately retract it and encourage a full investigation.
First, FIRE ignored the facts. In a clear attempt to minimize what the statement actually said, FIRE recognized some of SJP's blatant anti-Semitism in the letter before dismissing it all as nothing more than offensive political expression. In general, FIRE is right, and hate speech is protected. But FIRE failed to account for the main problem with this specific statement, and these particular complaints. As the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has made clear, there are times when "speech" crosses over into verbal harassment and invidious discrimination. This is one of those times.
As they explained in their formal correspondence with the deans, the Jewish NYU law students who complained about harassment have actual family and friends who live in Israel and who are being targeted by terrorists intent on killing all of them. Their classmates, including a total of 12 different student organizations, are openly endorsing the murder of not only their co-religionists, but also their actual family and friends, and they are doing so while using disgusting anti-Semitic tropes.
Because they ignored these crucial facts, FIRE also misinterpreted the law. Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires recipients of federal funding to ensure that their programs and activities are free from harassment, intimidation, and discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin. A violation of Title VI may be found if a school fails to take reasonable steps to eliminate an environment that is "disparately hostile" for certain students relative to their peers. In its letter, FIRE writes that "there is no credible argument" that the behavior of these anti-Semitic law students rose to that level. To be frank, that is utterly ridiculous. The Jewish students at NYU are being confronted with a situation in which dozens of their classmates openly and proudly support the murder of their friends and family, all for the crime of daring to be Jewish in the Jewish homeland. If that does not constitute a disparately hostile educational environment for these students relevant to their peers, such that NYU should have to, at the very least, investigate, then that standard has been rendered meaningless.
This episode also did not take place in a vacuum. NYU has had an anti-Semitism problem for years and was already forced to settle a similar Title VI complaint. That agreement required NYU to update its policies regarding anti-Semitism; provide anti-Semitism training to students, faculty, and staff; and report back to OCR on the success of those efforts. As of now, those reporting requirements are set to expire at the end of the academic year on May 31, but seeing as we are still having a conversation about whether it is problematic for NYU student organizations to call for the deaths of Jews, its efforts to this point have clearly failed, and the terms of that agreement must be indefinitely extended.
For their part, FIRE's letter feeds into the false SJP narrative that confuses speech with harassment and conflates politics with demonizing hate. They should immediately correct the record. You can be pro-Palestinian without being anti-Semitic, and you can even be anti-Semitic without crossing the line into harassment. But when you openly support the murder of innocent "Zionists" while spreading classic anti-Semitism and your Jewish classmates complain, then you are not the victim of a "silencing campaign" — you are in fact the perpetrator.
Image: NYU School of Law.