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The first major legal win for campus Palestine activists just happened at Fordham

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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).

Michael Arria

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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10 Responses

  1. aloeste on August 7, 2019, 11:23 am

    let’s build a settlement in honor of the celebration

    • Talkback on August 7, 2019, 1:19 pm

      Do you want to tell us that orthodox Jews really exist who honor this with a call to commit war crimes against the Nonjewish natives of Palestine?

      • Talkback on August 7, 2019, 1:46 pm

        Btw is that not trolling? (Article 7 of MW comments policy)

    • amigo on August 7, 2019, 4:55 pm

      Enjoy the triumphalism while you can .fool.

      Your time for honouring yourself is coming to a close and others will knock down illegal squats to honour that celebration.
      And brave hero that you are will point out your fellow zios as the guilty ones .

    • Misterioso on August 8, 2019, 10:08 am

      @aloeste

      Meanwhile, racist/fascistic Zionism, which you well exemplify, continues to rot within. Its day of reckoning is on the horizon.

      https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190803-resounding-collapse-of-us-israel-organisation/

      “Resounding collapse of US-Israel organisation” Middle East Monitor, August 3/19

      “Due to difficulties collecting donations that led to its bankruptcy, The Israel Project (TIP) on Wednesday closed its office in Israel, Haaretz reported yesterday .

      “The US NGO has faced a severe budget crisis and, according to the Israeli daily, is on its way to being completely shut down.

      “Haaretz said that the TIP’s office in Israel was cleared and all staff laid off, reiterating that the Jewish organisation will vanish very soon.

      “’They just have no money left, absolutely nothing,’ one person who has worked closely with TIP over the years was reported as saying by Haaretz. This person also stated that work at TIP’s US office ‘has also come to a halt,’ but TIP’s officials are now debating how to end operations.

      “Speaking to Haaretz, Lior Weintraub, TIP’s vice president and head of its Israel office, said: ‘TIP became the first casualty of the polarization in the pro-Israel community in America.’
      “After speaking with former employees and staff, Haaretz said that they described how the organisation – which for years was considered a leading enterprise in the field of Israel advocacy – went from being ‘the future of the pro-Israel community’ to being on the verge of collapse.

      “TIP was founded in March 2002, at the height of the Second Intifada, in order to reflect a positive image about Israel regarding its violations against the Palestinians. Its founder was political and media consultant Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, who led TIP for a decade.

      “According to Haaretz, the NGO experienced fast growth in its early years, moving from a core mission of working mostly with US journalists to a wider effort to influence how Israel was being covered in multiple countries and languages.

      “TIP expanded its efforts to Latin America and, through digital projects such as the Arabic website Al Masdar, into the Arab world.

      “One of TIP’s signature activities was inviting hundreds of influential international journalists to partake in helicopter tours over Israel in order to highlight the country’s security challenges and its narrow borders.

      “In 2012, Mizrahi left TIP and was replaced as CEO by Josh Block, a former spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

      “Block once compared AIPAC and TIP to a heavy aircraft carrier and a small, vibrant commando force. He took over the organisation at a time when it was already closing some of its international activity and refocusing exclusively on the debate within the United States.

      “Block and TIP’s Washington DC office assumed a prominent role in advocating against the 2015 Iran nuclear deal spearheaded by the administration of then US President Barak Obama. That fight led to discomfort and disappointment among several large Democratic donors to TIP, who wanted the NGO to work with the media to improve Israel’s image, not brief journalists against the signature foreign policy initiative of the Obama presidency.

      “Even so, the organisation succeeded in raising almost $9 million in donations in 2015, and was expanding its operations in both Washington and Jerusalem. However, from 2015 to 2018 TIP lost not just one but several major donors who had previously given large sums of money but were no longer interested in supporting it.

      “Donors affiliated with the US Democratic Party cut their support for reasons such as the organisation’s tough criticism of President Obama and the Israeli government’s sharp turn to the right following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2015 election victory.

      “Other Israel advocacy organisations, Haaretz said, are following TIP’s collapse closely, trying to learn practical lessons from it in order to avoid a similar fate.

      “’The entire combination of things that happened to us over the past years was unique,’ a former TIP employee told Haaretz, ‘but some of the problems we faced can definitely happen tomorrow at another organization — and maybe they are already happening and people just don’t know it yet.'”

      • genesto on August 8, 2019, 3:18 pm

        Unfortunately, the state of Israel continues to generously fund many other organizations committed to defeating, and even destroying, anyone or any organization that’s at all critical of the Jewish state’s government.

        And they are doing it, in part, with US taxpayer money!

  2. Tom Suarez on August 7, 2019, 12:02 pm

    The Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal are fabulous.
    This does not bode well for the various anti-BDS legislations being bandied about. One need merely replace the subject:
    “disapproval of [BDS] was made in large part because the subject of [BDS’s] criticism is the State of Israel, rather than some other nation, in spite of the fact that [BDS] advocates only legal, nonviolent tactics aimed at changing Israel’s policies.”

  3. amigo on August 7, 2019, 1:59 pm

    Oh dear .poor justice bannon had best run and hide and ditch any career advancment hopes she may have had.
    Daring to act against the US.s best friend and ally.

  4. Elizabeth Block on August 8, 2019, 12:01 pm

    The first. Probably not the last!
    I note that Judge Bannon says that she is making this order even though Fordham is a private university, not a public one – which suggests that public universities might be even more liable to requirements like this.

    BTW: I wonder if Ahmed Awad is related to Mubarak Awad, a Palestinian-American who worked in Palestine teaching nonviolence until the Israelis threw him out. I heard him speak, years ago. A very impressive man. His nephew Sami carries on the work.

    • genesto on August 8, 2019, 3:20 pm

      Mubarak stayed at my house during one of his visits. I’ve been wondering how he is doing these days. Anyone out there know?

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