When I sued NYU for campus anti-Semitism, college leaders shrugged. It took the US president to do something about it
By: Adela Cojab Moadeb
On December 7th, I had the honor of standing on stage at the Israeli-American Council’s (IAC) 2019 National Summit while President Trump affirmed the rights of Jewish students to a harassment-free environment on college campuses. Three days later, he signed an executive order to include Jewish students under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
When I first started at NYU, I was excited to go to a school that championed diversity and inclusion – until that diversity and inclusion applied to everyone except my community. After years of overt protests, boycotts, and direct aggression toward Jewish students from NYU’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the university honored the organization with the President’s Service Award for “outstanding contribution to NYU life.”
What did SJP do to “earn” this prize? They organized a 53-group boycott against Realize Israel, a non-political student organization, depicting assault rifles on flyers calling for a revolt. Further, at the 2018 Rave in the Park in which NYU students celebrated Israel Independence Day, one SJP member burned an Israeli flag and another physically assaulted a Jewish student; both students were arrested.
Throughout the year, I spoke with eight administrators from multiple NYU departments – the Office of Student Affairs; Center for Student Life; Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards; and even the Office of Public Safety – about rising hostility against the Jewish community on campus. My concerns were brushed off, and after the arrests, I was asked not to draw attention to the issue.
The presidential award solidified the university’s stance: violent acts against students on the basis of their views are not only tolerated, but celebrated, and the concerns of Jewish students are not to be taken seriously.
When I sued NYU for campus anti-Semitism, college leaders shrugged. It took the US president to do something about it.
NYU’s position stands in direct defiance of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which states, “If an institution knows or has reason to know about student-on-student harassment, Title VI requires that the school take immediate and effective action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and, where appropriate, address its effects on the harassed student and the school community.”
Although my legal complaint argued that NYU’s reaction – or lack thereof – to its Jewish community’s plight already violated Title VI, religion was not a protected class under civil rights law – at least until this week. President Trump’s new executive order not only changes that reality, but corrects a longtime gross injustice against Jewish students. The order expands Title VI’s existing protections to explicitly include discrimination against Jews.
Standing with President Trump on stage allowed me the opportunity to elevate the voices of Jewish students nationwide, voices that up until now were not sufficiently protected under anti-discrimination laws. If a single student watching the speech was inspired to stand up for their rights on a college campus, then my experiences at NYU, however unpleasant, were well worth it.
But for the pro-Israel community, our mission is far from complete. My biggest fear is that despite the new legal protection, countless Jewish students will continue to believe they are not welcome in university environments.
Calls to withdraw support from NYU are a distraction from the issue. If anything, the president’s executive order should serve as a source of empowerment to ensure that Jewish students can proudly live on campuses without checking any part of their identities at the door.
The more Jewish students are excluded from arenas like campus life, the more their position is jeopardized as integral components of the fabric of the academic world. Anti-Semites have won when they are allowed to define where a Jew can and cannot feel comfortable. To that I say, never again.
We fought to have our voices heard, and from here, we cannot flee or hide; we must show up and stand up. Jewish students should go to NYU. I might even say it is our responsibility.
This article originally appeared in the NY Post. Photo credit: J.C. Rice
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