Since its formation in 2016, Students Supporting Israel (SSI) at Columbia University has filed several harassing complaints against professors and students for speech critical of Israeli policies. All complaints have been dismissed.
Spring 2018: SSI Alleges Violations of NY Penal Code, Complaint Dismissed
On April 10, 2018, Columbia University dismissed an 11-page complaint filed by SSI alleging that campus speech supporting Palestinian rights violated New York criminal law, civil law and university rules. In her dismissal, Director of Academic Integrity Victoria Brown said that SSI’s allegations could not be substantiated.
The complaint contained a mix of false allegations and allegations targeting protected speech criticizing the policies of a state. It accused Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), Columbia University Apartheid Divest and three Columbia students affiliated with these groups of “delegitimiz[ing]” Israel by engaging in the following speech activity:
engaging in street theatre depicting Palestinians stopped at Israeli military checkpoints
“monopoliz[ing] the conversation on campus relating to the Israeli-Arab conflict”
“painting” the Israeli army as “terrorists in gross misrepresentation of reality”
calling Israeli soldiers baby killers and fascists
“demonz[ing]” and “delegitimize[ing]” SSI
SSI’s complaint also falsely accused these groups of removing SSI’s flyers and “slandering” SSI.
The complaint was dismissed on April 10, 2018.
Fall 2017: SSI Columbia Founder Complains About Speech Critical of Israeli Army Abuses, Complaint Dismissed
In October 2017, Columbia dismissed a complaint filed by SSI Columbia founder Rudy Rochman against graduate student Jeff Jacobs. Rochman complained that Jacobs held up a handwritten note criticizing Rochman’s complicity in Israeli army abuses while Rochman was protesting an April 2017 event called The Road to Freedom featuring Omar Barghouti. (Rochman was a member of the Israeli army during Israel’s 2012 assault in Gaza.)
After meeting with Jacobs, Columbia’s Associate Director of Student Engagement informed Jacobs that “The University is not moving forward with the complaint that was filed,” and that the director was available to support Jacobs as he continued his academic career at Columbia.
Palestine Legal regularly advises Columbia University professors and students on matters relating to free speech, academic freedom and false accusations. Such complaints, although without merit, can be time-consuming to defend against, taking time away from scholarship, studies and school activities. They also cause anxiety and have caused students and faculty to censor themselves.