Press Release: Independent investigation clears CUNY Students for Justice in Palestine

Credit: Bonnie Natko

Credit: Bonnie Natko

September 12, 2016

Media contact: Dylan Fahoome,

Report finds the “tendency to blame a mistake”

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 24-page report 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 calls a "mistake."   

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 all CUNY campuses.

Subsequently, 35 New York legislators responded by calling for SJP's suspension, newspaper editorial boards called for 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.

“The report finds what we’ve said all along, that the ZOA’s claims that SJP engaged in anti-Semitic activity are completely unsubstantiated,” said Radhika Sainath, an attorney with Palestine Legal, who testified before the task force last March.

The report 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 SJP not to use sheets with red paint to depict Palestinian lives lost in Gaza because they “would make people uncomfortable.”

Similar allegations were recently dismissed at San Francisco State University and the University of California Irvine (UCI). The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) also dismissed complaints at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, and UCI in 2013, and against Rutgers in 2014.

Citing the Supreme Court, the report emphasizes 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.”

Palestine Legal’s Sainath notes, “Every independent investigator with authority to adjudicate these cases has come to the same conclusion: this is college, this is where students engage in robust political debate. Efforts by Israel lobby organizations to suppress debate will continue to fail."