In response to recent anti-Israel activity across four college campuses, more than 60 civil rights and educational organizations are demanding answers from the college heads representing Columbia University, New York University, Syracuse University, and University of California, Irvine.
At Columbia, the school’s chapter of Students Supporting Israel filed an incident report to the university’s student governing board. In it, they present overwhelming evidence that anti-Zionist campus groups, specifically Students for Justice in Palestine, have “systematically harassed and silenced SSI members and other pro-Israel voices on campus, in apparent violation of university policy and New York state law.”
“If students feel that school administrators address peer-on-peer harassment subjectively or with a double standard – responding promptly and vigorously when harassment is directed against some students but ignoring or downplaying similar behavior directed at others – it creates a sense of inequity and increased vulnerability, which in turn can lead to further suppression of students’ willingness to freely express themselves,” the letter added.
Nearby at NYU, alumni and other members of the university community sent a letter to President Andrew Hamilton in response to a couple anti-Israel events last month.
“The anti-Zionist sentiment that lies at the heart of these student groups’ statement grows out of an ideology whose primary goal on campus is the suppression of any and all pro-Israel expression,” it stated.
The letter continued, “On many college campuses, anti-Zionist sentiment translates into actions that target Jewish and pro-Israel students for harm, including the shutting down or disrupting of pro-Israel events; the vilification and harassment of Jewish and pro-Israel students in order to delegitimize their Zionist perspective or cause them to be too afraid or uncomfortable to express it; and the malevolent manipulation of student government procedure in order to eliminate pro-Israel voices”
Further north, Chancellor Kent Syverud of Syracuse University received a letter regarding an incident last month where 20 student protesters and outside groups, like Code Pink, disruptedan event featuring Ambassador Dani Dayan of the Consul General of Israel in New York.
“The protestors shouted loudly for nearly 30 minutes just outside the event in order to drown out the speaker, and they held signs declaring Zionism to be ‘racism’ and ‘White Supremacy’ and promoting the boycott of Israel,” according to the letter. “Two activists who deceptively came into the event hall as audience members disrupted the talk twice with shouting and the unfurling of anti-Zionist banners. One faculty member who attended the event called the protest ‘an effort to shut down speech and commandeer the campus.’”
On the other end of the country at UC Irvine, the groups called on Chancellor Howard Gillman to address a disturbance that took place at an Israel-related event sponsored by the school’s College Republicans. Anti-Israel protesters, led by a woman with a megaphone, screamed anti-Zionist remarks which disrupted the event for more than three minutes until the demonstrators were escorted out of the room.
“As you know, this is the third year in a row that anti-Zionist protesters have attempted to aggressively disrupt and shut down a student-hosted Israel-related event on your campus and suppress other students’ free speech rights,” the letter to Gillman states, adding, “Students’ freedom of expression cannot be guaranteed unless and until students are secure in the knowledge that they are equally protected from the peer-on-peer harassment that would deprive them of that freedom.”
The call to action in the letters varied from asking for “a campus-wide statement assuring all students that they will be equally protected from peer-on-peer harassment that violates their rights to freedom of expression and full participation in campus life” to a step-by-step plan to ensure the free speech rights of students aren’t violated and to punish violators, in addition to developing educational and training programs, among other solutions.