New York University and the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reached a landmark settlement over charges of antisemitism on the university’s campus, The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (LDB) announced on Thursday.
Adela Cojab, an NYU graduate, filed the complaint in April 2019 regarding events that took place in 2018.
According to LDB, the settlement requires that NYU’s anti-harassment policy include a “statement of the university’s commitment to academic freedom and free speech.” Additionally, as a result of the settlement, NYU will use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. NYU President Andrew Hamilton will also issue a statement that “antisemitism will not be tolerated, [the university will] conduct town hall meetings on antisemitism and work with NYU student groups to combat antisemitism.”
The IHRA defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
Following the settlement, LDB President Alyza Lewin said: “The NYU OCR Resolution Agreement confirms the importance of the executive order. To effectively combat antisemitism, universities must first be able to define and recognize antisemitism in all its forms.”
THE EXECUTIVE order to which Lewin refers, which was signed by US President Donald Trump in December, requires the OCR and some federal agencies to use the IHRA definition of antisemitism. A Trump administration official told The Jerusalem Post when the order was signed that the policy of the executive branch is to enforce Title VI, in order to prohibit discrimination rooted in antisemitism, “as vigorously as against all other forms of discrimination,” noting that this will be the language used in the order. The order drew praise from several Jewish organizations.
“Unfortunately, campus antisemitism is spiking, in part, because administrators don’t understand contemporary antisemitism – and therefore can’t properly identify it when it happens,” Lewin added.
Cojab, who filed the complaint, told the Post on Friday that she is pleased with the agreement and said it would have “made a world of difference” had it been implemented before she started her undergraduate years at NYU.
“It’s really great. It means that they recognize that there are issues and that they are issues that [NYU believes it] can fix. It’s a nicer way to come to a resolution; it helps all parties. I was very glad to hear that they signed an agreement. The agreement itself, I think, is a good first step. Overall, very positive.”
She praised the agreement’s specificity and its including examples of antisemitism, which she says will make what is acceptable and what is not more clear for students.
“My favorite part of the agreement is that they constantly meet with Jewish leaders and they have to send constant reporting to the Office of Civil Rights. That way, it really holds the university accountable and gives the students a way to make sure that the university is being held accountable.”
COJAB CONFIRMED that she will be meeting with NYU administrators in the near future and says she is “excited” to work with them and “see NYU take on these new policies.”
However, she is worried that if parts of the agreement are not fully implemented, it could become an issue like it was for her when she was studying at NYU.
“What I’m hesitant about [regarding] the agreement is that I know the OCR and executive order operate with the IHRA definition of antisemitism – which of course includes anti-Zionism – and I’m worried that NYU might not include anti-Zionism in their antisemitism training,” she said, stating that the “brunt of the discrimination” she endured was because of her Zionism and “connection to Israel as a Jewish person.”
Cojab continued: “I’m worried that if NYU doesn’t embrace the Zionism part of the definition, [then the agreement] really is for nothing. You can still have students who go out and burn Israeli flags and NYU might still and say ‘well, was that really antisemitic?’ and that’s what I’m most worried about.”
She stressed the importance of the university including clubs, as she says most of the discrimination she faced was at the hands of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
“SJP was the source of much if not all of the discrimination: them as an organization supported the flag burning; their member is the one that did the physical assaulting; [and] they’re the ones who harassed us on social media,” she said. “SJP is an issue and we couldn’t actually do anything against SJP. All the actions that NYU took were against individuals, even though the organization was promoting the hatred. I wish they would’ve mentioned SJP by name.”
However, she recognizes that many of the “problematic” students graduated and that it would not necessarily be fair to the students who are in SJP now and did not participate in the discrimination.
DESPITE THE hardships and the lawsuit, one thing Cojab made clear was her passion and love for the school.
“I love NYU. NYU was my number one choice; I wanted to go to NYU since I was in 4th grade… NYU was my dream school, continues to be my dream school and still is my school that I love and adore.”
She explained that it was out of this love for the university that she tried to improve it: “When all the discrimination was occurring I was meeting with administrators, not making negative press, not getting out there with a megaphone, not calling [for] large boycotts of NYU. Why? Because I cared about my school. Instead, I was meeting with administrators in their offices to tell them ‘I care about my school and I want to see it get better – and that’s why I’m in your office instead of outside making noise.’
“After all of my meetings, when it became clear that the university wasn’t going to act or they weren’t taking me seriously, that’s when I finally decided to take it to the legal route, which I never wanted to do. It was a very hard decision for me, a very hard decision. I love NYU with all of my heart, but I want to see it be a better school.”
Cojab insisted that NYU had a policy problem, not an antisemitism problem, and said that the school was welcoming to Jewish and Zionist students.
“NYU is not antisemitic, they just had an issue moving forward with discrimination policy as it applied to Jewish students.” She added that in her view, the school is “very much trying to change that.”
In December 2019, after speaking about her experiences in NYU at the Israeli American Council’s annual conference, Cojab told the Post that earlier in her college career, the NYU president invited Jews and anti-Israel students for a joint meeting that was facilitated by a professional mediator, because “they knew it was a hostile environment.”
Following the Post’s report, NYU spokesman John Beckman responded, saying that “NYU has rightly long been known as a place that is welcoming and supportive of Jewish students, and – unwarranted allegations notwithstanding – it is no less true today.”
Omri Nahmias and Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman contributed to this report.