CUNY: Independent Investigators Clear SJP

Former Federal Prosecutor and Former Federal Judge Vindicate Students for Justice in Palestine

Credit: Bonnie Natko

Credit: Bonnie Natko

After a six-month investigation, an independent task force concluded that alleged instances of anti-Semitism on CUNY's campuses were not attributable to Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

The investigation, conducted by Paul Shechtman, a former federal prosecutor, and Barbara Jones, a former federal judge, was commissioned after the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) called for SJP to be banned from over twenty CUNY campuses. Subsequently, 35 New York legislators responded by calling for SJP's suspension, newspaper editorial boards demanded action against the student group, the New York State Senate threatened to cut CUNY's funding and the New York City council considered legislation in response.

In their 24-page report, the “Task Force” emphasized that student conduct supporting Palestinian rights such as die-ins, mock checkpoints and banners is constitutionally-protected speech. The report also described a "tendency to blame SJP for any act of anti-Semitism on any CUNY campus," which it called a "mistake."   

The report focused on four CUNY campuses with active SJP chapters: Brooklyn College, CUNY Staten Island, Hunter College, and John Jay College. It concluded that:

  • Calls for boycotts and divestment in response to Israel’s human rights abuses “should not be tarred as anti-Semitic”
  • SJP was not to blame for genuine incidents of anti-Semitism, such as swastika graffiti or threatening comments at a rally
  • Banners with depictions of a keffiyeh (Palestinian scarf) are protected speech and should not be removed.

The findings also describe incidents of Islamophobia and censorship targeting SJP students, including cyber harassment and vandalism. In one case of censorship, an administrator told John Jay SJP students not to use sheets with red paint to depict Palestinian lives lost in Gaza because they “would make people uncomfortable.”

Citing the Supreme Court, the report emphasized that: “Political speech is often provocative and challenging, but that is why it is vital to university life. If college students are not exposed to views with which they may disagree, their college has short-changed them.”

The ZOA said they were “worse than disappointed” with the outcome which they thought “did the opposite of what it was supposed to do.”

Relevant Links:

Pro-Palestinian Group Vindicated of Anti-Semitism Charges After CUNY Probe

Statement: Banning SJP from CUNY Would be Unconstitutional

ZOA Calls for SJP ban at 23 Schools