BY E-MAIL AND FIRST-CLASS MAIL
Dr. Karen L. Gould
President, Brooklyn College
2129 Boylan Hall
Brooklyn, NY 11210
Dear President Gould:
We write to you about the frightening and dangerous environment that the so-called “Students for Justice in Palestine” (SJP) group is creating for Jewish and pro-Israel students at Brooklyn College. This group has a history of flouting the rules and norms of civil behavior that other students and student groups have no problem conforming to. Instead of recognizing that the Brooklyn College community is comprised of individuals of many racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds who are deserving of tolerance and respect, the SJP foments hatred and bigotry against Jews and Israel based on factual distortions and outright falsehoods – and now, foments terrorist violence. In the past week alone, the SJP has deliberately been engaging in harassment and intimidation tactics in order to discourage and suppress opposition to their hateful rhetoric. The group has called for and incited violence against Jews. And it has made it crystal clear, using vulgar language, that it has no intention of comporting with the rules and norms that others in the Brooklyn College community are expected to follow. As you already know from recent reports from students and others, the campus environment feels hostile and dangerous to many Jewish students. Given the serious problem of anti-Semitism around the world and the frightening spate of Arab terrorist attacks against Jews in Israel over the past few weeks, your immediate action is urgently needed.
We understand that Jewish students and others have been reporting to administrators their fears and concerns about the SJP’s intimidating and threatening conduct. Here are the details we have gathered so far:
The SJP’s Anti-Israel “Die-In” and Illegal Anti-Israel Chalking
On Tuesday, October 6th, the SJP sponsored a number of anti-Israel events, continuing the group’s pattern of staging their events on a Jewish holiday – this time, Simchat Torah – in order to minimize the number of Jewish students who could be present to counter the anti-Israel lies. The SJP held a so-called “die-in” on the public sidewalk adjacent to Brooklyn College, promoting the false and incendiary notion that Jewish Israelis are oppressing and killing innocent Palestinian Arabs. The SJP also displayed their so-called “apartheid wall,” which included an image glorifying Arab terrorist Leila Khaled, who led a mid-air hijacking of an El Al Flight in 1970, during which her accomplice killed a passenger, and who continued to promote violence against innocent Israelis.
In addition, the SJP chalked demonizing anti-Israel messages on the public sidewalk, which were plainly intended to incite hatred of Israel. The goal – according to the president of the SJP who posted a message on Facebook about the chalking – was “to leave a more lasting message.” The sidewalk messages included an ignorant comment about Zionism and Judaism, and a message that rationalized and promoted violence: “RESISTANCE IS JUSTIFIED WHEN PEOPLE ARE OCCUPIED.” “Resistance,” of course, is code for terrorism and the murder and maiming of innocent Jews.
A Jewish student observed the SJP members chalking without incident – until the student refused one of the SJP’s anti-Israel flyers. Then the SJP member passing out the flyers became harassing and confrontational, aggressively asking “what’s your problem?” and cursing at the Jewish student.
Later that night, another Jewish student at Brooklyn College was waiting for her parents to pick her up near the campus. She saw the hateful messages that the SJP had chalked and was extremely upset by them. She began talking to the Brooklyn College security guard in the area, to find out whether the chalking was allowed. Another student (who, by her comments, was an SJP supporter) repeatedly interrupted the conversation and then yelled at the Jewish student as she walked away. The security guard did not intervene, even to ask if there was anything he could do to help or diffuse the tensions.
After the Jewish student’s parents arrived, they asked the security guard if they could clean the anti-Israel chalking from the sidewalk. The guard confirmed that they could do so. The Jewish student remained in the family’s car, fearful of violent retaliation by the SJP. Her parents began scrubbing away the hateful anti-Israel messages, and then the intimidation tactics intensified.
A young man began harassing the student’s mother and when she commented that she did not even go to Brooklyn College, the young man threatened her, menacingly telling her, “It’s too bad you don’t go to the school. We’d get you tomorrow.” The security guard did not intervene in a timely manner to diffuse tensions or ensure the mother’s feeling of personal safety. Indeed, the guard said that she would take no action unless “matters escalated.”
Several SJP members and supporters continued to arrive as the Jewish student’s parents scrubbed away the hateful anti-Israel chalking, which took hours. Some began taking photos and videos of the parents, over the mother’s strenuous objections. As SJP president Sarah Aly admitted in her Facebook post, she responded to the mother’s objections by lying and denying that she was taking photos, when in fact she was. She continued the picture-taking, even after the security guard finally intervened and asked her to stop. Ms. Aly posted a photo on Facebook of the Jewish student’s parents, garnering a number of derisive comments about them from SJP supporters.
Another student, Shana Palladino, videotaped the Jewish student’s mother over her objection. Ms. Palladino admitted on Facebook that she posted the video on Snapchat. But she wrote that she could not post it on Facebook because it was too long, so Sarah Aly directed Ms. Palladino to send the video to her, presumably so that she could use it herself.
The SJP members’ intent was clear – to harass and intimidate the Jewish student and her parents, so that they would be afraid to continue erasing the SJP’s hateful messages and they would think twice about challenging the SJP’s racist anti-Israel conduct in the future.
SJP president Sarah Aly also published and disseminated lies on Facebook about the Jewish student’s mother. Ms. Aly falsely stated that the mother made racist comments about her. In fact, the mother did not make a single comment about Ms. Aly as she removed the chalking. Because the area was noisy, the mother had trouble hearing what Sarah Aly was saying and simply commented, “I don’t know what you’re saying.” It was Sarah Aly who replied rudely with, “What’s the matter? Don’t you speak English?”
Sarah Aly disseminated falsehoods about the Jewish student’s mother, plainly intending to paint her as bigoted and to incite hatred of her on Facebook. Defamatory actions like these can cause severe damage to an individual’s personal and professional reputation. This is a particular concern for the Jewish student’s mother, who is a teacher and whose reputation must remain impeccable to keep her job.
The SJP’s actions have caused the Jewish student and her parents to fear for their personal safety and well-being. They fear being targeted by the SJP because the SJP posted photos and disseminated lies about what they said and did.
You should be aware that the security guard told the Jewish student’s parents that the SJP had the right to chalk on the sidewalk, which is not true. The SJP violated the law. It is illegal under New York City Administrative Code §§ 10-117 and 19-138 to write on and deface public property, including sidewalks. There is no question that the SJP violated these legal provisions –SJP president Sarah Aly admits it on Facebook – and the SJP must be held accountable.
The SJP’s Promotion and Incitement of Violence Against Jews
The SJP’s actions became even more frightening and intolerable when the group posted a Facebook message last week promoting and inciting violence against Jews. The SJP called for “The Third Intifada,” with the threat to “Expect Resistance.”
Many Jews are justifiably worried about a third intifada, given the wave of random and vicious Arab violence against innocent Jewish civilians in Israel over the past several weeks, which has resulted in the murder of seven Jews and injuries to many others. Jews have been stabbed while walking in the street, riding buses, and waiting at bus stops, and rocks have been thrown at their cars. In one of two terrorist attacks in Jerusalem last Tuesday, a Palestinian Arab terrorist drove his vehicle into a group of people waiting at a bus stop. He then left his car with a meat cleaver and began attacking those who were already wounded and others, killing a rabbi.
Jews everywhere fear what could happen next. Shockingly, the SJP is doing its best to stoke the flames at Brooklyn College, by encouraging and inciting violence against Jewish students. Many students are justifiably worried and even frightened for their safety.
The SJP’s behavior is reprehensible. It is no different from a racist student group promoting violence against African Americans or any other minority group. Such behavior would not be tolerated by school administrators for one second.
Indeed, the behavior was not tolerated at the University of Oklahoma when it occurred earlier this year. Members of a fraternity riding on a bus sang racist chants that used the “n” word and referred to lynching. The university president wasted no time in imposing harsh consequences: Two students were expelled, because of – as the president wrote – their “leadership role in leading a racist and exclusionary chant which has created a hostile educational environment for others.” In addition, the entire fraternity was shut down, even though the incident involved some but not all of the fraternity members.
In contrast, Brooklyn College’s SJP as a group is engaging in anti-Semitic behavior and unambiguously glorifying, promoting and inciting violence against innocent Jews. Not only that, this hate group plainly believes that it is exempt from the rules and regulations that apply to all students and student groups.
The SJP has Made it Clear that the Group will Not Comply With Campus Rules
Brooklyn College devotes an entire section in the Student Handbook to campus citizenship – the obligation of all students to “be considerate of all individuals at the college by observing basic standards of conduct.” The Handbook requires that students “demonstrate respect for differences” among fellow students,” and to “be sensitive to their feelings.” As the Handbook notes: “You’re one of more than one hundred nationalities represented on campus, and that provides you a unique opportunity to learn about a multitude of different ideas and opinions . . . .” (See http://www.brooklyn.cuny.edu/web/off_dosa/110901_StudentHandbook.pdf at 23.)
Similarly, the College’s Rules and Regulations for the Maintenance of Public Order call for “an atmosphere of mutual respect, civility, and trust” on campus, so that intellectual freedoms can flourish. (See http://www.brooklyn.cuny.edu/web/about/initiatives/policies/order.php.) These rules and regulations provide that “[e]ach member of the academic community or an invited guest has the right to advocate his [or her] position without having to fear abuse, physical, verbal, or otherwise, from others supporting conflicting points of view. Members of the academic community and other persons on the college grounds shall not use language or take actions reasonably likely to provoke or encourage physical violence by demonstrators, those demonstrated against, or spectators” (emphasis added).
Any student who violates the rules and regulations is subject to a range of sanctions, including suspension and expulsion. In addition, “[a]ny organization which authorizes the conduct prohibited . . . shall have its permission to operate on campus rescinded.”
According to the Bylaws of the City University of New York (CUNY), every student and student organization are required to obey these rules. (See http://policy.cuny.edu/bylaws/article_xv/text/#Navigation_Location.) Moreover, while the CUNY Bylaws recognize students’ right to free expression and association, they also emphasize that “respect for all members of the university’s diverse community is an essential attribute of a great university” (emphasis added).
The SJP’s response to these crystal-clear and fundamental obligations to be civil, considerate and respectful of others? To post the following message on Facebook: “Fuck your politics of civility.” The SJP could not have made it clearer that the group could care less about showing civility, tolerance and respect to those who disagree with their bigoted, racist and hateful views about Israel. The SJP could not have made it clearer that it thumbs its nose at the administration and the rules of campus citizenship that are supposed to apply to everyone. Shamefully, the administration has not given the SJP any reason to believe this group will be held to the rules, because it is failing to hold the group accountable. The administration is staying silent and passive in response to the SJP’s threatening, harassing, unlawful and violence-inciting actions.
The hate, hostility, and divisiveness that the SJP encourages on campus are not new; this group has a long history of violating the rules at Brooklyn College. You will recall that an SJP supporter threw four Jewish students out of an anti-Israel BDS event in 2013, and lied about the eviction, falsely claiming that the four Jewish students were interrupting the event, when they were doing nothing of the sort. A CUNY investigation confirmed that the eviction was without any justification and you publicly acknowledged that the Jewish students were likely removed simply because they disagreed with the SJP’s views – a violation of the Jewish students’ right to expression and association.
In 2014, the SJP repeatedly violated the rules set out in the Student Event Planning and Implementation Handbook in the manner in which the group advertised its events. To our knowledge, the SJP suffered no consequences for the violations. Last year, the misconduct continued: Signs advertising the SJP’s anti-Israel events were illegally posted in the bathroom. Again, no consequences that we know of. In April 2015, hateful anti-Semitic graffiti was found on a men’s restroom wall in the library, and a second graffiti message was seen on the third floor of Ingersoll Hall. Even if the SJP did not actually commit the anti-Semitic vandalism, it surely played a key role in creating a campus environment where Jew-hatred would be expressed.
The SJP’s right to express its views cannot be at the expense of Jewish students’ sense of physical and psychological safety and well-being on campus. We know from Jewish students that they are feeling frightened and unsafe. There are students who think twice about wearing kippahs and being openly Jewish, fearful of adverse consequences. Many students are afraid even to report their fears and concerns to administrators.
The hostile environment cannot continue. It is time to remedy the problem and ensure that it does not recur. At a minimum, we urge you to take the following steps:
- Exercise your own First Amendment rights and publicly condemn the SJP for its hateful, anti-Semitic, wrongful and possibly unlawful actions.
- Open a full investigation into the SJP’s conduct – including its alleged violation of New York City legal provisions prohibiting chalking on the sidewalk, its harassment and intimidation of Jewish and pro-Israel students, its incitement of violence against Jews, and its public and vulgar flouting of the rules that apply to all students and student groups. If the evidence supports these allegations, then the group’s registered status should finally be revoked, in accordance with Brooklyn College’s Rules and Regulations for the Maintenance of Public Order. This group does not deserve a place on the Brooklyn College campus, until it can conform its conduct to the rules and standards that apply to everyone else.
- The CUNY Bylaws require that “[e]ach student leader and officer of student organizations recognized by or registered with the institution, as well as those seeking recognition by the institution, must complete training on domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, and sexual assault prevention and on CUNY’s Policy on Sexual Misconduct prior to the organization receiving recognition or registration.” Conspicuously missing is mandatory training on anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry, and it should be added as a requirement. If the SJP’s permission to operate on campus is rescinded, or if the group is admonished or sanctioned in any other way, then it should be required to complete an educational program on anti-Semitism, including its history and contemporary manifestations, as well as diversity training on tolerance and respect, as a condition of being allowed to operate on campus.
- Publicly state that there will be zero tolerance for anti-Semitism at Brooklyn College, and educate the campus community about the many forms that anti-Semitism takes today, referring specifically to the definition of anti-Semitism that the U.S. government has been using for years. (See http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/fs/2010/122352.htm.) That definition is important because it makes it clear that while not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, some anti-Israelism crosses the line into anti-Semitism and is just as hurtful and harmful to Jews as the “old-fashioned” anti-Semitism.
As you know from our previous dealings, the ZOA is fully committed to ensuring that Jewish students at Brooklyn College are afforded the kind of campus environment that every student deserves – one that is physically and psychologically safe and conducive to learning. That is their legal right under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. We urge you to protect that right by responding immediately and forcefully to the SJP’s hateful, anti-Semitic and violence-inciting conduct before the situation escalates any further and actually becomes violent. If violence does occur and someone gets hurt, then the college administration will bear responsibility.
We look forward to hearing from you next week and would be pleased to assist in any way.
Very truly yours,
Morton A. Klein Susan B. Tuchman, Esq.
National President Director, Center for Law and Justice