In November of 2015, a group of students at Fordham University tried to start a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at their school. Much to the students’ dismay, university administrators fiercely resisted this attempt from the very beginning. Despite meeting all of the necessary requirements to be an official student organization, Fordham refused to recognize the SJP group.
Unfortunately, the unfair treatment did not stop with denying the students’ request. According to a 2018 report out of Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept, SJP members were repeatedly singled out and called into meetings with administrators in which they were antagonized and interrogated on their political views and motivations for wanting to start the club. The students took the hits, but continued to make the appeal to both the University’s faculty and student government association. Tragically, things remained stagnant, as Fordham stood unflinchingly by its decision to invalidate the students’ right to organize.
Fordham University claims to be an institution that values open inquiry and intellectual diversity. Their decision to vigorously shun students advocating for Palestinian human rights revealed a deep-seated hypocrisy. Fortunately though, in the words of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., “the arc of the moral universe… bends towards justice. ” The SJP group took their fight to the courts where, earlier this month, with the invaluable help of Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights, they won a huge victory.
On August 7th, 2019, the Supreme Court of New York ruled the university’s inequitable decision null-and-void, upholding the rights of the student activists to organize on campus. This landmark case is a huge win for citizens’ First Amendment rights, as it issues a crushing blow to the institutionalized censorship of college students who stand against Israeli apartheid.
As a university student myself, this judicial ruling meant a lot to me. Growing up, I was always told that higher education was the place to find oneself. Indeed, college is supposed to be a time of great personal growth and enlightenment. However, said growth and enlightenment simply cannot take place if certain, valuable points of view are being suppressed. School higher-ups actively working against the best interests of the students they are supposed to serve simply cannot be tolerated. Thankfully, the legal cover under which this subversion of core principles was taking place has now been substantially punctured.
What is more is that this decision came just a matter of days after members of the US House of Representatives reintroduced a bill that would broaden the definition of “antisemitism” to include policy critiques of the state of Israel. This ruling offers hope during a trend of discriminatory anti-boycott — specifically against BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) — and anti-Palestine laws in the US.
The BDS movement has been fairly active on campuses across the country in recent years, including my own (The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor). They have also been on the receiving end of a lot of unjust and dishonest backlash as a result of their activism. I sincerely hope that, in addition to their important legal triumph, the Fordham SJP students have set a precedent that works to change the narrative surrounding Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions. Just like the freedoms of speech and assembly, the right to boycott should be upheld and respected regardless of who chooses to exercise it.
This development was especially important to us here at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). This issue has been one in which our board has been rather heavily involved. We even had the pleasure of having Ahmad Awad, one of the Fordham SJP students, speak on a panel we hosted during which he shed some much needed light on the situation taking place on his campus. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank him for his participation.
I, along with the ADC, commend these Fordham students, and everyone who stuck by them in their fight for their constitutional rights, on their dedication to the Palestinian cause. While the University challenged them every step of the way, the SJP students continued to march on, securing victory over 1,000 days after their initial application for official club status. Their tremendous struggle and sacrifice sets an example for other students wishing to organize around Palestinian rights.