President Hamilton Denounces GSAS Commencement Speaker’s Praise of BDS

A speaker at the Graduate School of Arts and Science commencement applauded efforts by student groups NYU Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice For Peace to boycott Israel. NYU President Andrew Hamilton released a statement condemning the speaker’s choice to do so.

Journalist Steven William Thrasher speaks at the GSAS doctoral convocation on Monday. (via NYU)

A speaker at NYU’s Graduate School of Arts and Science doctoral commencement advocated for the boycott of Israel during his speech on Monday.

“I am so proud of NYU’s chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace and of [the Graduate Students Organizing Committee] and of the NYU student government and of my colleagues in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis for supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against the apartheid state government in Israel,” journalist Steven William Thrasher said in his speech to GSAS graduates.

Thrasher is a contributing editor at Buzzfeed and was the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association’s Journalist of the Year in 2012. The Tisch School of the Arts alum made reference to efforts by students to support the BDS movement, which protests Israel due to human rights violations against Palestinians.

NYU President Andrew Hamilton denounced Thrasher’s words in a statement on Thursday.

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“I found it quite objectionable that the student speaker chose to make use of the [GSAS] doctoral graduation to express his personal viewpoints on BDS and related matters,” Hamilton said. “[L]anguage he excluded from the version of the speech he had submitted before the ceremony.”

Earlier this month, NYU’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis pledged non-cooperation with NYU Tel Aviv due to Israel’s entry ban on those who promote a boycott of the country. NYU SJP and JVP members pushed for the boycott by the SCA department and have advocated for the BDS movement in the past. The two groups have led 30 clubs to sign a similar pledge in fall 2018 and supported student government resolutions that ask NYU to oppose Israel through speaking out against or financially divesting from the country.

Thrasher has recently been hired as a faculty member at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Northwestern also released a statement on Friday denouncing his comments at the GSAS ceremony.

“Many were understandably offended by some of the comments made by Dr. Thrasher during his commencement speech at New York University earlier this week,” the statement said. “While Dr. Thrasher will not be the first Northwestern faculty member who supports the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, Northwestern as an institution unequivocally rejects BDS.”

Hamilton said that Thrasher’s speech made some members of the audience feel “unwelcome and excluded.” In his statement, Hamilton apologized to the audience and repeated prior statements made by himself and the university against the BDS movement.

“Let me use this occasion to reaffirm the University’s position — NYU rejects academic boycotts of Israel, rejects calls to close its Tel Aviv campus and denounces efforts to ostracize or exclude those in the University community based on their location in Israel, their Israeli origin or their political feelings for Israel,” Hamilton said.

Email Victor Porcelli at [email protected].

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