Civil rights

SUNY hit by civil rights lawsuit filed by Jewish students alleging discrimination for pro-Israel views

Two Jewish students who say they were kicked out of a sexual assault survivor group because of their pro-Israel views have filed a lawsuit with the Department of Education asking for an investigation into the university.

The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, which represents students and the group Jewish on Campus, said Thursday that the State University of New York at New Paltz has allowed a “hostile environment to proliferate on the campus for Jewish survivors of sexual assault”. .”

“This case involves a form of anti-Semitic discrimination that is increasingly prevalent on college and university campuses,” said Brandeis Director of Legal Initiatives Denise Katz-Prober. “Students are marginalized and excluded from campus activities on the basis of their Jewish identity, which in some cases is deeply tied to Israel. »

The complaint filed June 10 with the DOE’s Office of Civil Rights accused the university of violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on characteristics such as race, color and national origin.

The students, Cassandra Blotner and Ofek Preis, said they were kicked out of the New Paltz Accountability student group [NPA] after posting Instagram messages refuting the idea that Israel is a “colonial” state and that Israelis are “settlers”.

“The Jews are an ethnic group that comes from Israel. This is proven by genealogical, historical and archaeological evidence,” Ms Blotner said in a December post that was reposted by Ms Preis. “Israel is not a ‘colonial’ state and Israelis are not ‘settlers’. You cannot colonize the land where your ancestors came from.

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She said the leaders of the group asked her to defend her opinions, which she refused to do, arguing that no other member had been “asked to explain or justify their identity or subjected to questioning on his core beliefs.

Ms Blotner, who co-founded the group in May 2021, offered to meet and discuss the post, but NPA leaders “turned down the offer to meet and told her that Zionists were not welcome at the NPA,” according to the complaint.

Students have also faced harassment online, with posts on Yik Yak threatening to ‘spit on’ Ms Blotner and saying that ‘that idiot @cassie is literally a Zionist and how you support mass genocide!!!!! !!”

Ms Blotner said she reported the harassment and requested a security escort, but the university refused and “simply advised her not to attend class”, the complaint states. She left campus for security reasons and received incomplete classes.

“Expressing support for the Jewish homeland is central to my Jewish identity, the two are inseparable, and I shouldn’t have to shed that part of my Judaism to stand up for survivors of sexual assault,” he said. she said Thursday in a statement. “To then be cancelled, stalked and harassed, well, I can’t even put into words the horrible and scary experience that all of this has transformed for me.”

In a Thursday statement, SUNY New Paltz defended its response, saying it “offers access to resources and support for those impacted by the events of the past year.”

“We continue our active engagement to support our Jewish students and employees in the face of rising anti-Semitism, to address issues of anti-Semitism and bias when they arise, and to continue dialogue and educational efforts,” said the university. “As a public institution, we value the First Amendment and support the free exchange of ideas.”

In February, SUNY New Paltz Chairman Donald Christian issued a statement condemning anti-Semitism and stating that the exclusion of students on the basis of various factors, including “personal identity”, is “inconsistent with the values ​​of our campus”.

At the same time, he said the student group was not an official campus organization “which limits the College’s ability to respond to their actions.”

Ms Katz-Prober said “universities often fail to recognize this form of anti-Semitic harassment and discrimination”.

“When Jewish students, like Ms. Blotner and Ms. Preis are kicked out of social justice spaces and campus activities because they express pride in their ethnic or national identity, this is a form of unlawful discrimination, not political speech,” she said. declared.