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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

3 professors seek defendant status in antisemitism lawsuit against NYU

The professors are arguing they should be included as defendants in a November lawsuit against the university, which they say poses a direct threat to their First Amendment rights and academic freedom.

Three NYU professors are asking to be included as additional defendants in a November lawsuit accusing the university of mishandling antisemitic incidents on campus. The faculty say they are concerned that the definition of antisemitism adopted by NYU and outlined in the lawsuit — if taken as law by the court — could stifle academic freedom and violate the First Amendment, a memo filed on April 6 states. They believe these “critical issues” will not be addressed in court if they are not allowed as defendants.

The lawsuit, which was first filed by three Jewish students, was not brought against the professors but named two of them. One of the named professors, Andrew Ross, had previously asked to intervene in the lawsuit as an additional defendant, but had not yet completed all of the required steps to make an official request by the time it was dismissed by a district court judge, Ross’ attorney, Jonathan Wallace, told WSN. The judge later allowed Ross to go through the process to file an official motion, this time alongside Gallatin professor Amin Husain and CAS professor Rebecca Karl.

“The reason for intervening in the case is to try to ensure that the university fully protects the academic freedom of its community members,” Ross said in a statement to WSN. “Given how many students and faculty the administration has already ‘investigated’ for their speech, on largely spurious grounds, we felt that other voices were needed, inside the case, to speak for the affected community.”

The definition of antisemitism used by NYU and described in the lawsuit, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition, is included in the university’s Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment policies. The definition includes “the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity,” accusing “Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations,” and “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor,” among other conditions.

The lawsuit was updated in January to include four students and the organization Students Against Antisemitism as plaintiffs. It was also changed to include additional violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination “on the basis of race, color, and national origin” in programs receiving federal funding.

In the lawsuit, Ross was accused of “​​egregious acts of antisemitism” for speaking at a Walkout for Solidarity with Palestine event, forming the group Faculty for Justice in Palestine and supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement since the 1990s. The professor, alongside Husain and Karl, is arguing that plaintiffs are trying to apply an overly-broad definition of antisemitism, and that this could cause his personal and academic freedoms to be “gravely harmed.” 

“In order to be permitted to intervene, we have to show that our interests are affected by the case and that if we are not allowed to participate that none of the other parties are going to do an effective job of defending our interests,” Wallace said in an interview with WSN. “There’s a huge freedom of speech and academic freedom component that will never be raised in the case if we are not permitted to intervene.”

NYU has asked the court to deny the professors’ request, as it did when the letter including only Ross was filed, university spokesperson John Beckman told WSN. Beckman also said NYU believes “the entire case should be dismissed,” and that Ross, Husain and Karl are not eligible to become defendants in the case.

Mark Ressler, an attorney representing the plaintiffs and a partner at Kasowitz Benson Torres, had previously told WSN that he believed the original request including only Ross was “meritless.” At the time, Ressler referred to a Jan. 31 letter to the court calling for the professor’s request for a conference to be denied.

Husain, one of the newly added professors, argued in an April 5 declaration that he has been “directly and negatively impacted” by the lawsuit. He also said the university’s “over-zealous reaction” has “led to the suspension and/or investigation of many adjunct professors and students for speech-related activity about the war on Gaza.”

In the November lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that Husain contributed to antisemitism at NYU by “boasting of his attacks against Israel during the first Palestinian Intifada” at a pro-Palestinian rally in 2016 and due to his involvement of the group Decolonize This Place — an advocacy group in support of Free Palestine, Black liberation, Indigenous resurgence and de-gentrification which Husain is reportedly a co-founder of. 

Husain was suspended in January, following meetings with NYU’s Office of Human Resources where the university allegedly asked him about his “speech-related activities” and affiliation with Decolonize This Place. Husain’s suspension also came after a video of him criticizing press coverage of Hamas during a teach-in at The New School circulated online, and a petition requesting his removal for “promotion of hate speech against Jews” that now has more than 7,000 signatures. 

“The harm done is not only to me as an individual in terms of my reputation and ability to pursue my academic and scholarly career but more broadly to NYU’s academic community and the value of the educational and scholarly environment that NYU provides to its students and faculty,” Husain wrote in the declaration. “One of the most valuable educations an institution like NYU can provide to any student is one that makes for more informed and caring members of society who believe their opinions and actions matter in the world.”

Husain’s declaration also noted NYU’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, which he said has led it to equate “any criticism of the nation state of Israel with antisemitism.” He criticized the university’s use of the definition and “attendant crackdown on Pro-Palestinian speech,” saying that “no quality education oriented to creating better worlds can come from this.” 

In Karl’s April 5 declaration, she said that while she is not directly named in the complaint, the “acceptance of the claim that criticism of Israeli policies in inherently antisemitic” will impact her “professionally and personally.” Karl is also the president of NYU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, which advocates for student and faculty rights. 

In the lawsuit, Karl said the national AAUP opposes the IHRA definition of antisemitism, arguing it “conflates antisemitism with any and all criticisms of the state of Israel and its policies,” and that she has co-authored statements “calling attention to the consistent singling out of pro-Palestinian campus speech” directed toward NYU leadership. Karl also signed a Feb. 6 letter with support from over 300 faculty members that criticized the university’s response to Israel’s ongoing siege in Gaza.

“I believe that conflation of anti-Zionism (where Zionism is the premise of the Israeli state) with antisemitism (which is a global scourge of racism) is a clear violation of academic freedom, which is the undisputed bedrock of the academic profession and our scholarly work,” Karl wrote in the declaration.

Contact Adrianna Nehme at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Adrianna Nehme
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.

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