Students demand urgent relief to be able to advocate for Palestinian rights on campus
November 3, 2017, New York, NY – Last night, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Fordham students filed an order to show cause why a preliminary injunction should not be issued against the university directing it to recognize Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) as an official club. Represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Palestine Legal, and cooperating counsel Alan Levine, the students argue that they will suffer irreparable injury if the court does not reinstate the student government’s approval of their club status, which was vetoed by the dean of students. Without injunctive relief, the students will graduate before their right to advocate for Palestinian human rights on campus can be vindicated. Petitioners also seek expedited discovery against Fordham.
"The Fordham administration has prolonged this matter by leading us to believe that they were willing to work with us while actually running out the clock until student organizers graduated or became disillusioned,” said Sofia Dadap, one of the petitioners and a senior. “If the court does not intervene now, our opportunity will pass to ask Fordham to reconsider their selective protection of political speech and to stop having completely one-sided conversations about Palestine.”
Last night’s filing calls on the court to order Fordham to reinstate the student government’s approval of SJP before a final decision on the merits of the case is reached. Otherwise, petitioner Sofia Dadap and likely petitioner Julie Norris will graduate before the court makes a determination, depriving them of the opportunity to advocate for Palestine as SJP at Fordham. Without club status, students cannot invite guest speakers, reserve meeting space, distribute or post materials, or solicit members through club fairs.
The filing reasserts that the Fordham administration’s veto of the student government’s approval of SJP was arbitrary and capricious, violating its own policies guaranteeing free expression and relying on unfounded justifications. Fordham attempted to justify its decision by asserting that the purpose of SJP, which is to promote justice and human rights for Palestinians, leads to polarization, and because of reports that some separate SJP groups on other campuses have engaged in disruptive activities, without regard for whether those reports were accurate, or the fact that SJP groups operate independently. Fordham disregarded evidence that countered university officials’ stated concerns about SJP, instead basing its decision on materials from individuals hostile to SJP’s views.
“In a time when discerning the truth and defending human rights could not be more crucial, Fordham lacked the courage to do either by banning Students for Justice in Palestine based on false information and in violation of its own commitment to free expression,” said CCR Deputy Legal Director Maria LaHood. “The mounting call for Palestinian rights cannot be silenced: we are asking the court to affirm that Fordham must recognize Students for Justice in Palestine and extend it the same rights as other clubs at Fordham.”
Palestine Legal and CCR have documented “the Palestine Exception” to free speech, the broad and growing pattern of suppression against Palestinian human rights activism, particularly on campuses. Tactics used to suppress Palestine advocacy include administrative disciplinary actions, harassment, firings, baseless legal complaints, legislative attacks, and false accusations of terrorism and antisemitism. Palestine Legal responded to 650 such incidents of suppression targeting speech supportive of Palestinian rights from 2014 to 2016.
“We will not accept a ‘Palestine Exception’ at Fordham, which professes to welcome open debate on difficult issues,” said Palestine Legal Staff Attorney Radhika Sainath. “Fordham’s SJP ban falls into the hands of those who want to shield Israel from scrutiny at all costs – even if it means weakening all of our free speech rights.”
Ms. Dadap, the student, stressed that her concerns were not just about speech: “What my peers and I care about is not simply the state of free speech protection on university campuses, though it is unconscionable that Fordham has created these conditions in which many students no longer feel safe to voice support for Palestine. What we believe in is standing against racism and imperialism and actively promoting collective self-determination for Palestinians and all colonized peoples.”
Palestine Legal is an independent organization dedicated to protecting the civil and constitutional rights of people in the US who speak out for Palestinian freedom. Our mission is to bolster the Palestine solidarity movement by challenging efforts to threaten, harass and legally bully activists into silence and inaction. Visit www.palestinelegal.org and follow @pal_legal.