City College of New York Censors Pro-Palestinian Book Talk

In April 2018, the City College of New York (CCNY) cancelled a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)-organized book event for fear it would generate negative publicity.

After Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights wrote  to the university warning that the cancellation violated the First Amendment, the college reinstated the event and apologized to SJP. The event, titled The General’s Son: The Transformation of an Israeli in Palestine, featured Israeli-American writer and activist Miko Peled. The event took place as scheduled on May 3, 2018.

CCNY’s Shifting Justification

Two weeks before the event was scheduled to take place, CCNY’s director of student life informed members of SJP that the university was cancelling the event, even though the group properly submitted their paperwork four months in advance. The director told SJP that the administration found the speaker’s views “particularly controversial” and that CCNY wanted to make sure there was “civil discourse” across the college. He also stated that the issue of Peled speaking on campus was “deeply political” and that CCNY was concerned with attracting negative news coverage.

Later that evening, the same director contradicted himself, informing the students the event was being cancelled because the proper paperwork was not on file.

CCNY’s Unconstitutional Viewpoint Discrimination

Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights wrote to the university’s Chancellor and President on April 25, warning that the cancellation violated the First Amendment. The letter demanded that the event be allowed to proceed and that CCNY apologize to the students.

The letter states:

CCNY’s decision to cancel SJP’s May 3 event violates the First Amendment and must immediately be reversed. As you are no doubt aware, the First Amendment is binding on public colleges. By explicitly targeting a particular viewpoint being expressed―one calling for justice and equality for Palestinians―CCNY’s actions strike at the heart of the First Amendment.

CCNY Reinstates Event and Apologizes to SJP

On April 27, CCNY wrote Palestine Legal and CCR agreeing to their demand that the event be allowed to proceed. A CCNY administrator, writing on behalf of the vice-president apologized to SJP.

On May 3, SJP’s event took place, as planned.

Relevant Documents

  • Palestine Legal and CCR April 25, 2018 letter
  • CCNY’s April 27, 2018 response