New York – New York’s Pace University apologized to members of the university’s Jewish community after the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and others complained that the Pace administration had threatened and intimidated Hillel members into cancelling a showing of the documentary, “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” after Muslim students objected to it. In addition, after these complaints to the university, Hillel was finally permitted to screen the film at Pace, without the university’s interference, on Wednesday, April 18, 2007.
“Obsession” chronicles the influence of radical Islam in the Middle East. It has been shown on dozens of campuses and other venues across North America, and has contributed to an understanding of this serious problem. Hillel had originally scheduled the screening for November 16, 2006, during Hillel’s Jewish Awareness Week, and had followed university procedure for showing the film.
On or about October 23, 2006, Hillel gave Pace University’s Muslim Students Association (MSA) notice of the upcoming screening, although it was under no obligation to do so. Hillel invited the MSA to collaborate in presenting the event, and to participate on a panel after the film to discuss the important issues it raised.
The MSA did not respond to Hillel’s overture. But the Hillel’s president began hearing rumors that a university dean was going to prevent the film from being shown. At a meeting with administrators initiated by the Hillel president, a dean gestured toward the two Hillel students at the meeting and threatened them that if they went ahead and showed the film, the police might begin to look into their personal records. (There had been several hate incidents on campus, including some that involved the Koran, and the implication was that the Hillel students might be considered suspects). Because of these threats, Hillel did not show the film on November 16, 2006.
When the administration’s conduct toward Hillel received public attention, the Pace administration issued a public statement on January 10, 2007 — entitled “Pace University Statement on Hillel Charges” — to every member of the campus community and posted the statement on the Pace Web site. The statement personally attacked Hillel and its president, questioning his honesty and credibility and repeatedly noting that the Hillel president had “misconstrued” the university’s intentions. The statement also urged members of the community to “feel free to share this statement with others.”
Troubled by the administration’s actions, which were threatening, intimidating and creating a hostile environment for Jewish students at Pace, the ZOA took action. Susan Tuchman, the Director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, wrote a detailed letter to David A. Caputo, the President of Pace University, criticizing the university’s conduct and alleging a possible violation of Pace’s obligation to provide Jewish students with an educational environment free from harassment, intimidation and discrimination, as required by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The ZOA letter chastised Pace for its “bullying” conduct, and urged the university to “take immediate remedial action,” including issuing a public apology to the Pace Hillel and its representatives, permanently removing the offensive public statement from the Pace Web site, and issuing a public statement affirming Hillel’s right to show “Obsession.”
After receipt of the ZOA letter, Pace removed the offensive statement from its Web site. Additional communications between Pace and the ZOA followed, including a telephone call from Pace President Caputo to Susan Tuchman, which resulted in a conversation between them about the issues in dispute. On March 26, 2007, President Caputo issued a public statement to the members of the university community. In the statement, President Caputo “assured [members of Pace’s Jewish community] that no … coercion or intimidation was intended,” and “apologize[d] for any action that may have unfortunately led to that belief. I also want to apologize for any hurt we may have caused [the Hillel president] and other members of Hillel in issuing the University Statement on Hillel Charges in January.”
President Caputo’s apology statement was posted on the Pace Web site and also e-mailed to the Pace community. It also noted that Obsession was scheduled to be shown on campus. The screening took place on Wednesday, April 18, 2007, without incident.
The ZOA’s National President, Morton A. Klein, commended the Jewish students at Pace for not bowing to coercion and intimidation. “These students were in effect threatened because they wanted to show a film about radical Islam. And then they were threatened because they had the courage to stand up for their right to show the film. We congratulate them on their courage and perseverance in achieving such a favorable result.”
Susan Tuchman, the Director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, commended Pace University for resolving matters without the need for legal action. “President Caputo has made a commitment to making Pace a welcoming place for all, regardless of race religion, ethnicity and gender. The public apology and the university’s cooperation in the showing of the film last Wednesday have gone a long way in healing the hurt that many Jewish students felt as a result of the administration’s actions.”
The president of Hillel at Pace thanked those who helped achieve these results. He said, “The continued efforts of Susan B. Tuchman, Esq. from the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) have been of tremendous help. The legal advice that was continuously provided before and after the incident went public and the legal pressure that was placed on the Pace administration have resulted in great rewards.”