Fordham’s proper effort to exclude SJP from its campus

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BOCA RATON, Florida — 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, very 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 3550713asserting 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, Eldridge’s instincts had been valid, in that the dean knew, based in SJP’s dismal record on campuses elsewhere, of its pattern of radicalism, misbehavior, toxic speech, and regular instances of 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 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%.”  And as the Fordham dean had accurately predicted—based on SJP’s obsession with calls to boycott only Israel and suppress any and all dialogue in support of Israel, Zionism, or Jews—SJP’s actions on campuses had the end effect that “attempts to exclude Jewish and pro-Israel students from campus activities more than doubled, with expression calling for the total boycott or exclusion of pro-Israel students from campus life nearly tripling.”

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 towards 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, noting that “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].” Of course, 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 which purported to exist only to promote pride in being white but 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 such charming chants as, “send them back to Africa,” or “string them up, string them up,” a call to lynch and murder blacks. Would any university anywhere ever charter a white supremacist group like this and tolerate this behavior—even once—without immediate and forceful condemnation, sanctions, and punishment? Of course not.

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 to rid the country of them, 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 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 1000 Israelis and wounded more than 14,000 others.

Similarly, SJP protestors are fond of shouting out the oft-heard slogan, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” That phrase suggests the same situation that a rekindled Intifada would help bring about, namely, that if the fictive nation of “Palestine” is “liberated,” is free, there will be, of course, no Israel between the Jordan River and Mediterranean—and no Jews. So SJP obviously feels that the Palestinians will realize “justice” only at the expense, and to the detriment of, the Jewish state, and their guiding aspiration is not “two states living side by side in peace,” but the complete extirpation of Israel, suffocating completely Jewish self-determination.

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, and 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.

Fordham’s proper effort to exclude SJP from its campus

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Richard L. Cravatts

Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., author of six books, including Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews, Jew Hatred Rising: The Perversities of the Campus War Against Israel & Jews, and Weaponizing Our Schools: Critical Race Theory and the Racist Assault on America’s Students is President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME).

He is currently a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech.

The creator and founding director of Boston University's Program in Publishing & Digital Media at BU’s Center for Professional Education and former Professor of Practice and Director of the master’s program in Communications Management at Simmons College’s School of Management, Dr. Cravatts has also taught more than 20 courses in advertising, marketing, consumer behavior, advertising, and other areas at Tufts University, UMass/ Boston, Suffolk University, Babson College, Boston University, Wentworth Institute, Emerson College, Northeastern University, Florida Atlantic University, Emmanuel College, and others.

Dr. Cravatts has published over 550 articles and book chapters on campus anti-Semitism, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, campus free speech, terrorism, Constitutional law, Middle East politics, and social policy in the Boston Globe, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Chicago Tribune, Palm Beach Post, Baltimore Sun, Boston Herald, Orange County Register, American Thinker, Jewish Press, Human Events, Harvard Crimson, FrontPage Magazine, Times of Israel, and many others.

He also lectures nationally on the topic of higher education, academic freedom, and the Middle East, and has spoken at, among others, Columbia University, UCLA Law School, Harvard University, Brandeis University, University of Toronto, Stanford University, UC Berkeley, University of Haifa, NYU Law School, Tel Aviv University, and University of Miami.

In addition to serving as a member of the board of directors of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Dr. Cravatts is also a board member of The Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, The AMCHA Initiative, The Israel Group, The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, Alliance for Israel, and the Florida chapter of the Zionist Organization of America, an advisory board member of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, the Abraham Global Peace Initiative, and The Gross Family Center for the Study of Antisemitism and the Holocaust, and a member of SPME’s Council of Scholars.

Read all stories by Richard L. Cravatts