The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
NYU Law's chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine circulated a statement that, besides casually endorsing the murder of Israeli civilians, argued that "framing is everything and the Zionist grip on the media is omnipresent" and also referenced the "Islamophobic, Zionist-funded US and Western media."
Let's be clear–criticism of Israel, no matter how harsh, isn't necessarily antisemitic. And there are marginal cases where harsh criticism of Israel is skirting the borderlines of antisemitism, sufficient at least to give the critic plausible deniability.
This is not one of those cases. First, the objectionable language noted above is not criticism of Israel, it's criticism of the "Zionist" media in the US and the West.
Second, the clearest, most obvious form of antisemitism that tries to obscure itself behind antizionism is when one can substitute the word "Zionist" for the word "Jew," and one is left with an obvious, longstanding antisemitic trope.
The SJP statement falls exactly into that category. Anyone who knows anything about the modern history of antisemitism knows that Jewish control of the media is about as clear as antisemitic trope as there is. "Controlling the media" is even listed as one of the most prominent "antisemitic canards" in Wikipedia's entry on that topic.
If you are unfamiliar with this trope and doubt my account of it, maybe David Duke's statements can help educate you. For example: "There is a problem in America with a very strong, powerful tribal group that dominates our media…" And "Wow, I think this whole Trump University case, really, if we exploit it, can really expose the entire Jewish manipulation of the American media." Sometimes Duke, like NYU Law's SJP, somewhat more subtly refers to "Zionist control" of the media.
Finding an SJP chapter mimicking classic Nazi-style antisemitism is, unfortunately, not a surprise, as this is the sort of thing SJP has become known for. What's remarkable instead is the reaction of other student organizations.
You might think that students at NYU Law, once a haven for Jews excluded from the likes of Harvard by anti-Jewish quotas, and whose students are oh-so-sensitive to any real or perceived slight to any minority group, might have risen as one to denounce SJP's antisemitic rhetoric. You would be wrong; very wrong.
Aaron Sibarium reports in the Washington Free Beacon:
Over the next 24 hours, 11 student groups wrote to the law school's all-student listserv to express their support for the statement: the Black Allied Law Students Association, the Middle Eastern Law Students Association, the Muslim Law Students Association, the South Asian Law Students Association, the Disability Allied Law Students Association, the National Lawyers Guild, the Women of Color Collective, the Coalition on Law & Representation, the NYU Review of Law and Social Change, and Ending the Prison Industrial Complex.
When Jewish students protested the pile-on, they encountered a torrent of vitriol. "Quiet, you baby," replied Michael Stamos, a first-year student at the law school. Helen Campbell, a third-year student, ridiculed the suggestion that Students for Justice in Palestine should condemn attacks on Israeli civilians. After all, she wrote, "you don't condemn an earthquake or a lethal outbreak of flu."
Every student who signed on to SJP's statement is responsible for at least negligently endorsing antisemitism, under the "known or should have known" standard. Those who should have known, but either did not read the SJP statement carefully or somehow missed the antisemitic implications of the Jews/Zionists-own-and-control the media shtick, should publicly withdraw their endorsement.
And if I were an employer interviewing NYU students, I might very well ask any student who belongs to any of the organizations that signed on to SJP's antisemitism why they stayed in that organization.
UPDATE: Michael Orey, spokesperson for NYU Law, sent this to me on behalf of the law school:
NYU and NYU Law vehemently reject and condemn anti-Semitism; it has no place in our community. Several complaints have been filed in connection with recent dialogue among law students on a listserv. They are being investigated in accordance with the Law School's policies and procedures for such matters. Any complaint of anti-Semitism submitted by a student will be investigated and, where appropriate, subject to discipline in accordance with the University's Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy and Complaint Procedures for Students, as is the case for student complaints of discrimination or harassment on any other ground prohibited by that policy.
Also, Dean Trevor Morrison sent the following email to NYU Law students on Tuesday.
The Law School is aware of the debate that has been taking place on our student listserv over issues relating to Israel and Palestine. Statements made by individual students and student groups in that forum (and other settings) are their own; they do not speak for the Law School. NYU Law is committed to free discourse, debate, and dissent, even though the vigorous exchange of ideas may include statements that some find challenging, offensive, or painful.
Of course, NYU Law condemns as immoral the intentional killing of civilians. That includes but is not limited to the recent attacks in Israel. Tragically, there is too much such violence around the world for the Law School ever to respond to all of it. At the same time, NYU Law does not take institutional positions on broader issues of public concern like the Israel-Palestine conflict in general. As students and others voice their own views on such issues, it is important to bear in mind that everyone in the NYU community is required to abide by NYU's Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy. Students who believe they have been subject to violations of this policy are encouraged to report it to NYU's Bias Response Line or the Law School's Office of Student Affairs. The Law School has received such reports in recent days and will be investigating them as required by our policies. Therefore, we do not expect to offer any further public commentary on the matter.
For what it's worth, I think it's a mistake to make the controversy a matter of discrimination or harassment policy. Rather, the essence of the problem is that some NYU law students (1) dehumanize Israelis to the point where they think murdering them for no reason other than that they exist is ok; and (2) either don't understand why stating that "Zionists" control the media is antisemitic, or do understand and think that spreading racism is okay so long as it's for the greater good of Palestinian nationalism. This is a problem regardless of whether the students in question violated NYU policy, and it may also be a problem to find that political opinion, no matter how noxious, violates NYU policy.
My suspicion is that if there had been a similar outbreak of any other sort of racism at NYU, the law school administration would have thought that it had a duty not (simply?) to investigate or punish, but to educate. Some education is clearly warranted.