Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) released the following statement today. Palestine Legal, together with Sulzbacher Professor of Law at Columbia University Katherine Franke, advised the students.
On April 10, 2018, Columbia University dismissed an 11-page complaint filed by Students Supporting Israel (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 called the allegations late and unsubstantiated.
“We’re glad Columbia recognized that this was a fabricated, harassing attempt to silence support for Palestinian freedom,” said Zak, one of the three students specifically named in the complaint. “Nonetheless, these sorts of accusations are serious. Despite being false, they have the potential to follow individuals around for the rest of their lives. They take students away from their studies, research and jobs.”
In their complaint, SSI accused Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and Columbia University Apartheid Divest of “delegitimiz[ing]” Israel by engaging in street theatre depicting Palestinians stopped at Israeli military checkpoints, removing SSI’s flyers, and “monopoliz[ing] the conversation on campus relating to the Israeli-Arab conflict.” The complaint accused these groups of being “liable” for the common law tort of defamation, criminal assault and “disorderly conduct” under the New York penal code.
Since its formation in 2016 Columbia SSI has filed several complaints against professors and students for speech critical of Israeli policies. All complaints have been dismissed. In October 2017, Columbia dismissed a complaint filed by SSI president Rudy Rochman against graduate student Jeff Jacobs for criticizing the Israeli army’s treatment of Palestinians. Rochman also complained that a course taught by Yerushalmi Professor of Israel and Jewish Studies Yinon Cohen was "biased" towards Israel to several news outlets -- all of which declined to publish his story.
“SSI knows they can’t win their arguments on the merits so they resort to bullying and campaigns of complaints,” said Zak. “Though this campaign of false complaints is exhausting, Columbia SJP will not stop advocating for the rights of Palestinians and the rights of all oppressed people around the world, and we will not be silenced by far-right, fascist groups that attempt to step in the way of this mission.”