Media Spotlight: Lawsuit Against Fordham University

On April 26, students filed a lawsuit against Fordham University over its refusal to grant club status to Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). The students argued that the denial is “viewpoint discrimination” in violation of Fordham’s policies protecting free expression. They are represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), cooperating counsel Alan Levine, and Palestine Legal.

The lawsuit has national significance, as suppression of campus activism for Palestinian rights is widespread. We collected some highlights of the media coverage below.

The New York Daily News noted that Fordham’s “opposition to BDS is shared by Gov. Cuomo himself” and drew connections to the governor’s June 2016 executive order divesting New York funds from institutions that support BDS.

Petitioner Ahmad Awad’s affidavit was quoted on “For nearly four years, I had heard Fordham administrators speak out about Jesuit values, about creating moral people, being kind, and taking care of those less fortunate…When I received this decision, I understood this message did not apply to Palestinians.”

In Inside Higher Ed, Elizabeth Redden quoted Palestine Legal attorney Radhika Sainath on the petitioners’ decision to keep the name SJP: “…the name SJP conveys the fact that the students are part of a nationwide movement on college campuses for Palestinian rights. They support that movement and want to make that clear in the club's name.”

In DNA Info, Eddie Small quoted petitioner Sapphira Lurie on the importance of keeping the SJP name, saying, “The name Students for Justice in Palestine is very important to us…and we don’t want to sacrifice that just for the political whims of a top few administrators when we have student support for a club of that name.”

In Electronic Intifada, Nora Barrows-Friedman quoted Sainath saying, “This lawsuit is for all the students around the country who face ongoing suppression…We will not tolerate attempts to censor support for Palestinian rights. For students who want to start SJP chapters or expand your organizing – we have your back, you have legal recourse.”

In New York Magazine, Jesse Singal posed the following questions in response to Dean Eldredge’s explanation for banning SJP: “Who decides what is and isn’t ‘polarizing’? Who decides which countries can and can’t be criticized, and why? Who decides which views are and aren’t a ‘barrier to open dialogue’?”

In Truthout, David Palumbo-Liu wrote that “Jesuit institutions are often rightfully proud of their involvement with liberation theology, and have been openly critical of repressive regimes, especially in Latin America…this is a common feature of the Palestine Exception -- it's permissible to criticize regimes in El Salvador, but not in Israel.”