After a two year legal battle, a group of students at Fordham University have won a landmark victory and a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) club can now be established on their campus.
In December 2016, the school vetoed the Student Government’s approval of SJP, but in April 2017 the students sued the university for violating its own rules with the the Center for Constitutional Rights, Palestine Legal, and cooperating counsel Alan Levine representing them. Today the Supreme Court of New York annulled the school’s decision. In her ruling, Justice Nancy Bannon wrote that Fordham’s “disapproval of SJP was made in large part because the subject of SJP’s criticism is the State of Israel, rather than some other nation, in spite of the fact that SJP advocates only legal, nonviolent tactics aimed at changing Israel’s policies.”
According to a 2018 Intercept piece, SJP members were consistently called to meetings with school administrators while they were attempting to organize the club. The students were allegedly asked about their opinions on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and prodded about their use of the word “apartheid” to describe Israel.
Ahmad Awad graduated from Fordham two years ago, but is one of the students who sued. “The administration unfairly hindered my and my fellow classmates’ abilities to advocate for the human rights of Palestinians,” he said in a statement after the ruling, “Although over 1,000 days have passed since we initiated the process for club status, I did not give up on my fight for human rights and free speech. I continued to advocate for justice in Palestine, and now because of Justice Bannon’s order, no Fordham student will be restricted or prohibited from advocating for justice in Palestine.”
In a press release following the ruling, Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights said, “Awad, et al. v. Fordham University is the first lawsuit in the country challenging institutional censorship of students advocating for justice in Palestine, and this win marks the first major legal victory for free speech for advocates of Palestine on college campuses.”
This historic victory comes just days after House members reintroduced legislation that would broaden the federal definition of anti-Semitism to include some criticisms of Israel. The bill has received support from groups like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Christians United for Israel (CUFI).