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Alumni and faculty members of New York University’s School of Medicine called on President Andrew Hamilton to combat a “climate of anti-Semitism at NYU that creates a hostile environment for Jewish students, prevents honest discourse and limits academic freedom on our campus.”
The letter, which attracted more than 140 signatories as of Wednesday afternoon, warned that “anti-Semitism has been normalized on our campus” in recent months.
“Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), an organization that has become a symbol for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatred, was awarded the highest honor of any organization at NYU, the President’s Service Award,” the letter read.
SJP has faced criticism for spearheading the passage of a student government resolution in December endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign, which has been denounced by top Jewish groups in the US and globally, and leading an earlier boycott of Zionist student clubs, all Israeli goods and universities, and the Anti-Defamation League. Last year, while participating in a protest that saw two of its members arrested and accused of physical assault, SJP’s president said the group sought “to make being Zionist uncomfortable on the NYU campus.”
Hamilton, who has repeatedly criticized efforts to implement the BDS campaign at NYU, did not select the group to receive the honor, did not attend the awards ceremony, and later wrote that he would not have picked SJP as an honoree.
Nonetheless, “SJP has been given a megaphone to spread bigotry at our institution and has been rewarded for doing so,” the letter’s signatories argued.
“Jewish students filed a formal complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights over NYU’s failure to curb ‘extreme anti-Semitism’ on its campus,” the signatories added. They also pointed to a recent vote by NYU’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis (SCA) to not cooperate with the university’s own Tel Aviv campus, “alienating students and faculty who are part of the program.”
The vote was condemned by NYU’s administration, the school’s Jewish chaplain, hundreds of faculty members, and former NYU-Tel Aviv students after it was announced by the SCA on May 2nd — the same day as Yom HaShoah, Israel’s national Holocaust remembrance day.
While applauding Hamilton’s “strong condemnation” of the SCA boycott, the letter called on the president to “pair your words with actions.”
“Rescind SJP’s award,” the signatories urged. “Reprimand the SCA Department. Reaffirm your commitment to protecting and uplifting all students, including Jewish and Zionist students.”
The group Alums for Campus Fairness — which aims to fight antisemitism and counts 500 members at NYU — said it helped launch the letter and bring together the signatories.
Earlier this month, a separate note signed by leaders of the academic and clinical departments of NYU’s School of Medicine and the NYU Langone Health medical center also protested the SCA vote.
“We want to make clear that NYU Langone Health welcomes and provides healthcare to all persons without discrimination in the communities we serve, and collaborates globally in the countries with which we have affiliations, including Israel, and will continue to do so consistent with our academic values,” the message read.
In a statement to The Algemeiner on Wednesday, NYU Spokesman John Beckman confirmed that the administration replied to the earlier letter from leaders of NYU Langone Health and “will be replying directly to the second letter.”
“In the meantime, we are a little puzzled by them, partly because NYU president’s record on these issues is quite clear,” he added, pointing to an institutional statement rejecting the SCA pledge and a private letter sent by Hamilton and board chair William Berkley to SCA faculty, urging them “to reconsider this regrettable vote.”
Hamilton had made clear that he thought awarding SJP was “an error,” had “personally, publicly, and face-to-face criticized” SJP efforts to ostracize pro-Israel student groups, “publicly denounced anti-Semitism” and BDS, and “unequivocally rejected” calls to close NYU-Tel Aviv, Beckman said.
The incidents that have drawn criticism “do not reflect the center of gravity of opinion on our campus, and it is puzzling that the letter’s authors believe these incidents to be more of an indicator of campus sentiment than their unequivocal rejection by campus leadership and so many other members of the NYU community,” Beckman added.
“It is also puzzling why the letter’s authors chose to ignore the vibrancy of Jewish life on this campus,” he continued, pointing to a recent major Shabbat event, “or the University’s commitment and support for academic efforts such as our renowned Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies and our campus in Tel Aviv.”
SJP and representatives for SCA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.