The first settlement with a university to reflect President Trump’s Combatting Anti-Semitism Executive Order, the agreement sets an important precedent in the fight against campus Jew-hate.
Almost a year after embarking on her legal battle, NYU graduate Adela Cojab and her lawyers have won an important victory in the fight for Jewish civil rights on college campuses.
As a student at New York University in 2018, Adela Cojab was active and highly visible in the Jewish and Zionist communities on campus. Her studies focused on the Sephardi Jewish diaspora, she served as president of the pro-Israel group Realize Israel, vice-president of AEPhi sorority, Senator for Jewish and International Students on NYU’s University Senate, and official representative of Jewish Students for the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
When the spring 2018 semester saw 53 out of 360 of NYU student clubs boycott the school’s two pro-Israel student groups; the proposal of yet another in a long series of anti-Israel resolutions in student government; and members of NYU’s SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) storm Realize Israel‘s “Rave in the Park” party, encourage others to report the event, assault a pro-Israel student, scream insults and epithets at the Rave’s guests, and set an Israeli flag on fire, Adela was deeply dismayed.
— Lea Speyer (@LeaRSpeyer) April 27, 2018
Adela complained to the NYU administration, pointing out that Jewish students felt physically threatened on campus, and asked for the university’s help in mitigating hostile anti-Israel behavior.
But as Adela explained, while NYU’s administrators disciplined the two students who had burned the flag and committed assault, they did not address SJP or JVP’s behavior as a whole. They also reportedly instructed Adela “not to post on social media” and to “lower” her “own presence and the presence of my community…”
So, when the university administration even gave SJP the 2019 President’s Service Award—bestowed “to recognize students and student organizations that have positively impacted the NYU community through significant contributions to either community service and civic engagement or student leadership and campus programming”—Adela had had enough. A few weeks before she was due to graduate, Adela and her lawyers—Neal Sher and Joel Siegel—filed a Title VI complaint against NYU, prompting the Department of Education (DoE) to launch an investigation into anti-Semitism at the school.
Mere months later, Adela climbed on stage and stood confidently behind a podium at the 2019 annual Israeli American Council conference. In a strong, clear voice, she described her experiences with anti-Semitism at NYU, and the university administration’s failures to protect its Jewish students. Standing alongside her on stage was President Trump.
Only a few days after Adela’s speech, the president signed a landmark executive order including Jewish students as a protected class under Title IV. Crucially, the EO also defined anti-Semitism according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) classification, which includes bigoted anti-Israel behaviors common to groups involved in campaigns to boycott or demonize Israel.
Now, Adela’s determination has paid off. Earlier this week, Adela’s allies at the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (LDB) issued a press release explaining the settlement they reached with NYU:
The NYU settlement is the first agreement with a university to reflect the executive order. The agreement also contains a notable and unusual provision requiring NYU to include, in its anti-harassment policy, a “statement of the University’s commitment to academic freedom and free speech.” This provision, similar to language included in OCR’s anti-Semitism agreement with Duke University earlier this year, reflects OCR’s commitment to freedom of speech even at private universities that are not otherwise bound by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The following is a statement from Alyza Lewin, president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law about this landmark development:
“The NYU OCR Resolution Agreement confirms the importance of the Executive Order. To effectively combat anti-Semitism, universities must first be able to define and recognize anti-Semitism in all its forms. Unfortunately, campus anti-Semitism is spiking, in part, because administrators don’t understand contemporary anti-Semitism and, therefore, can’t properly identify it when it happens. This resolution does not infringe on speech in any way. Contrary to what some will falsely claim because they misunderstand the law or hope to excuse the anti-Semitism they wish to perpetrate, it will not prohibit or penalize protected speech. The resolution merely requires NYU to utilize the IHRA Working definition as an educational tool, to enable NYU administrators to identify anti-Semitic conduct. The definition will now become part of NYU’s formal anti-harassment policy and training. This is an extraordinary development, a victory for all Jews, and a defeat of anti-Semitism that will undoubtedly improve the climate on NYU’s campus. Other universities that are serious about combating anti-Semitism should follow suit and similarly incorporate the IHRA working definition into their university policies.”
Under the settlement, NYU will revise its discrimination and harassment policies to include anti-Semitism, issue a public statement from NYU President Hamilton that anti-Semitism will not be tolerated, conduct town hall meetings on anti-Semitism, work with NYU student groups to combat anti-Semitism and conduct training with students, faculty and university leadership on how to recognize contemporary anti-Semitism. Beginning now NYU will use the IHRA definition to recognize and identify anti-Semitism.
The types of anti-Semitic behaviors cited in Cojab’s complaint, that will now not be tolerated, include harassment, assaults, battery and vandalism. Cojab’s complaint documented numerous incidents including many that occurred at a pro-Israel celebration at Washington Square Park where a microphone was grabbed out of a speaker’s hands and Jewish students were assaulted. Two students were arrested for committing these acts.
Hopefully, Adela’s settlement will lead to university administrators’ increased awareness and concern about anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on college campuses; at the very least, it should serve as a signal to institutions of higher education that they can no longer condemn some bigotries while brushing others under the proverbial rug.
Note: This post has been edited after publication to clarify the legal counsel representing the student.
Samantha Mandeles is Senior Researcher and Outreach Director at the Legal Insurrection Foundation.DONATE
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