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Jonathan Karten (GS ’20) will be pursuing legal action against Columbia for alleged anti-Semitic action on campus, the first complaint filed after the executive order Trump signed last week.
Karten will be pursuing legal action under the executive order that President Trump signed last week. The executive order, signed December 11th, increases the scope of the definition of antisemitism on college campuses. Trump cites the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, which would include manifestations of antisemitism including “targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.” These are now considered violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in any program or institution that receives federal funds. Critics of the order—including the lead author of the working definition —say the expansion of this order into a campus context is a violation of constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and expression.
The Lawfare Project, an American nonprofit that represents Jewish and pro-Israeli clients, has filed the complaint on Karten’s behalf. In a press release regarding the filing, Lawfare alleges that Karten experienced a year of “systematic discrimination” over the past year from both tenured professors and pro-Palestinian activist groups Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD). They also cite Apartheid Week as an event that “promotes the hateful, unlawful boycott of Jewish individuals and Israeli businesses” and invites antisemitic speakers to campus, creating a “hostile environment” which the University has not intervened to stop. Other outlets have reported that the complaint alleges SJP and CUAD have vandalized posters advertising events by Students Supporting Israel (SSI) and that SJP members interrupted an SSI Holocaust remembrance event. It also accuses professors of telling students not to listen to Karten because “he’s Mossad” (Israel’s intelligence agency) and saying the killing of Israelis is justified due to the country’s settler-colonialism, according to reporting by The Hill.
This filing comes just weeks after CCSC voted 25-12 in favor of including a referendum on the spring 2020 ballot as to whether Columbia students support divesting from Israeli companies as outlined in the larger Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) movement. GS also recently announced a new dual degree program with Tel Aviv University.
Read SJP’s statement to SSI from April here and their statement regarding the Karten case more specifically here:
“We believe it’s important to frame Jonathan Karten’s complaint within the larger context of this recent trend of spurious lawsuits against Palestinian advocacy groups. Since the founding of its Columbia chapter, Students Supporting Israel (which Jonathan is an active and public member of) has engaged in belligerent, targeted harassment of student groups such as SJP and JVP, as well as faculty members who are outspoken advocates for Palestinian self-determination.
This complaint, like other ‘lawfare’ complaints, is based on a conflation between anti-Zionist organizing (which critiques the Israeli State and its practices) and anti-Semitism. The complaint essentially defines standing up for Palestinian rights as anti-Semitic. Accordingly, this utterly ludicrous conflation has resulted in the failure of most of Lawfare’s legal suits. That these groups have been emboldened by the anti-Semitic Trump administration speaks volumes about their right-wing provenance.
In response to the flyer vandalism allegation put forth by SSI: our members are instructed to abide by all campus rules and regulations regarding flyering policies. As a group, we have witnessed vandalism of our own flyers, yet we have never made formal accusations against another student group without substantiated evidence.
Regarding the assertion that our Israeli Apartheid Week promotes ‘hateful, unlawful boycott of Jewish individuals and Israeli businesses’: the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, established by Palestinian civil society groups, is neither hateful nor unlawful. In fact, it is based almost entirely on normative international human rights laws, and simply calls on the Israeli State to abide by those laws. It does not in any way target Jewish individuals. It targets the Israeli State and its representatives, as well as institutions and companies that are complicit in the denial of Palestinian rights.
In regards to the allegation that SJP purposely demonstrated in opposition to a Holocaust Remembrance Day demonstration: that is the result of an incredibly bad faith reading of our organizing. On April 11, SJP and JVP held a rally in solidarity with the people of Gaza and the thousands of Palestinians participating in the Great March of Return. Israel’s brutal crackdown resulting in several deaths by sniper fire, and we commemorated this loss of life at the rally. It’s important to note that the 2018 date for Israeli Holocaust Memorial Day did not begin until sundown on the 11th, and the proper day of commemoration was on Thursday, the 12th. Therefore it is unclear to us why SSI chose to table on College Walk the same day as our rally, which we had advertised in the week leading up to the event. But perhaps most crucially, regardless of the date, we see absolutely no contradiction between mourning the Jewish lives lost to fascistic Nazi violence in Europe and mourning the Palestinians lives lost to brutal Israeli occupation and siege. To imply that mourning Palestinian lives in Gaza is inherently an act of anti-Semitic aggression is a disgrace to any form of anti-racist organizing.
We believe that students should be able to voice their rejection of racist political ideologies like Zionism and white supremacy without facing the threat of legal repression of their speech rights. This complaint could set a dangerous precedent for other types of political censorship against students and faculty. We therefore hope that the university will be principled and vigorous in their response to these complaints, and protect the rights of Palestinian students and their allies to organize on campus. Next semester, we are looking forward to engaging with the student body for the referendum on our divestment campaign, and trust that our peers will be able to see through these spurious legal complaints and voice their conscious in support of Palestinian rights.”
Columbia University declined to comment.
Update 12/28, 1:32 pm: SSI also declined to comment on the case.
Bwog has reached out to Karten, Lawfare, CUAD, and Columbia/Barnard Hillel about the complaint and will update this post with any additional information or comment we receive.
Image via Bwog Archives