New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

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Israeli alumni suspend ‘any cooperation’ with NYU over handling of antisemitism on campus

In a letter sent to President Linda Mills and Board of Trustees chair Evan Chesler on Tuesday, the NYU Alumni Club of Israel announced it will suspend “any cooperation or affiliation” with the university until it takes specific action against antisemitism on campus.
A+purple+banner+with+white+letters+that+read+N.Y.U.+and+a+symbol+of+a+torch+hangs+from+the+facade+of+The+Silver+Center+of+Arts+and+Science.
(Lauren Sanchez for WSN)

The NYU Alumni Club of Israel, a group of around 2,000 Israeli alumni, said it is suspending “any cooperation or affiliation” with the university until it takes action against instances of antisemitism on campus and criticized NYU for its response to the Israel-Hamas war in a letter to university president Linda Mills and Board of Trustees chair Evan Chesler on Tuesday.

The letter called on the university to “sanction” students who engage in “antisemitic hate speech or actions,” as well as the on-campus groups Students for Justice in Palestine and Faculty for Justice in Palestine. The letter also demanded that NYU ensure that its Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment policies prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, and that the university take disciplinary action against faculty who harass Jewish students or engage in “antisemitic activities.” 

Steven Aiello, a member of the alumni group, said the letter comes after a Nov. 1 Zoom meeting between club members and Mills, during which they discussed how NYU has been addressing the recent uptick in antisemitic incidents on campus. The Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life said it had received hundreds of reports of antisemitism since the beginning of the war in a letter last month.

“We did this collaborative summary where we each jotted down our meeting reactions and shared it with one another — so we got around seven or eight different perspectives, and they were not positive,” Aiello said in an interview with WSN. “There was a general feeling that [Mills] was just trying to get us off her back; that she neither thought it was very serious nor was it a problem that needed fixing. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t think there is a problem to begin with.”

In a written statement to WSN, university spokesperson John Beckman said NYU was among the first U.S. colleges to publicly condemn Hamas’ attack on Israeli towns, in which the Palestinian militant group killed about 1,200 Israeli civilians and took over 200 hostage in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military responded with airstrikes in Gaza, and has since initiated a ground invasion of the region, having killed more than 13,000 Palestinians so far, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Just yesterday, Israel, the United States and Hamas agreed to a four-day pause to the fighting in exchange for the release of dozens of Israeli hostages and 150 Palestinians held prisoner by Israel.

“It always saddens NYU to learn that we’ve disappointed members of our community,” Beckman wrote. “However, with full respect, we think our alums in Israel, who no doubt have experienced excruciating pain, that they are undervaluing NYU’s efforts to keep our campus community safe for all its members, to combat antisemitism, and to ensure our academic mission is fulfilled.”

Beckman noted the university’s increase in Campus Safety and police presence around its Washington Square and Brooklyn campuses following reports of antisemitism and Islamophobia. He also said NYU has maintained “arguably the largest academic presence in Israel” of any U.S. university, reiterating the university’s commitment to its study abroad program in Tel Aviv. Some students have called for NYU to shut down the program due to an Israeli law barring foreigners who have supported a boycott of the country from entering its borders, arguing it violates the university’s Code of Ethical Conduct and non-discrimination policies.  

In the letter, the club also called on NYU to issue a public statement condemning the chant “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” and adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism — which includes “the targeting of the state of Israel” — as policy when dealing with reports of antisemitism on campus. The group claimed that Mills justified the chant in the meeting, saying she said there are “multiple interpretations of these words.”

Andrew Ross, a CAS professor and member of FJP, said he does not believe it makes sense to classify the phrase as a form of hate speech.

“Scholars of the region, and of social movements in general, acknowledge that the rallying cry, ‘from the river to the sea,’ is a statement of Palestinian aspirations, arising from 75 years of anti-colonial resistance,” Ross wrote to WSN. “It speaks to their long history of displacement from their homes and lands, and their desire to liberate themselves from the occupation.” 

Aiello told WSN the university should follow institutions like Columbia University, which has suspended its SJP chapter for violating university policies, including organizing an unauthorized walkout. He said he does not think “SJP is doing anything for people in Palestine” and is demanding that NYU stop funding groups like SJP, alleging they support Hamas at the national level. A member of SJP did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

In the letter, the club cited a recent lawsuit filed by three Jewish students against NYU, which claimed that the university has been indifferent toward instances of antisemitism on campus and violated federal civil rights laws. NYU has denied the allegations, and said it has taken steps to fight antisemitism on campus. A day after the suit was filed, the university announced plans to establish a Center for the Study of Antisemitism next fall with an anonymous donation.  

Most recently, the former director of NYU Langone Health’s Perlmutter Cancer Center sued the hospital and university for terminating him after reposting content related to the Israel-Hamas war, alleging he was discriminated against on the basis of religion. The medical center has said it “stands by” its decision to terminate him. In several other incidents on campus surrounding the war, NYU students and faculty have reportedly faced employment discrimination and been identified online for promoting pro-Palestinian speech. 

“We are not trying to punish the university or anything. We really believe it’s not in NYU’s best interest to have a campus that’s not safe for Jews or any other group,” Aiello said. “I know they are planning to open a center for studying antisemitism but we don’t want to be lab rats — we have antisemitic professors and we study their reaction. We want proactive steps to ensure the campus is safe for everyone, including Jews.”

Contact Adrianna Nehme and Yezen Saadah at [email protected].

About the Contributors
Adrianna Nehme, News Editor
Adrianna Nehme is a sophomore still trying to decide what to major in. Originally from a small town in Indiana, she moved to Chicago, Illinois for high school — where she was also the news editor for the school paper! She loves experiencing music live at concerts, seeking restaurants to try in the city and reading fiction novels — her all-time favorite is "The Cider House Rules" by John Irving. Check out her latest adventures on Instagram @adrianna.nehme.
Yezen Saadah, Deputy Managing Editor
Yezen Saadah is a sophomore studying cinema studies, journalism and Middle Eastern studies. He's a lover of cinema, history, art and literature, and he enjoys writing about pretty much anything. If he isn't in the newsroom or at the movies, he's probably just trying to enjoy his day off. Contact him on Instagram @yezen.saadah, Twitter @yezen_saadah and — most importantly — Letterboxd @Yezen, or just send tips to [email protected].
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