13 March 2024

Here is the report in Haaretz.com

Columbia University Sued for Suspension of pro-Palestinian Student Groups

Haaretz.com  Judy Maltz Mar 12, 2024 10:17 pm IST

The New York Civil Liberties Union and Palestine Legal, an organization that represents pro-Palestinian activists, announced on Tuesday that they are suing Columbia University for what they describe as the “unlawful suspension” of two pro-Palestinian student groups on campus – Students for Justice in Palestinian and Jewish Voice for Peace.

The two groups were suspended in November for holding protests on campus without obtaining the required permits. The suspension was meant to be in force until the end of the semester, on condition that the groups agreed to comply with certain demands of the administration regarding protests. Because its demands have not yet been accepted, the administration has thus far refused to reinstate the groups.

Columbia is among a list of universities in the United States cracking down on pro-Palestinian student groups for disruptive activities since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and the ensuing Gaza War.

In a statement, the NYCLU said while private universities like Columbia are not bound by the First Amendment, “New York’s highest court has established that the disciplinary actions of any university in New York against its students or student organizations must proceed in accordance with the university’s own rules and guidelines.”

It charges that in several instances, the university violated its own policies in order to punish SJP and JVP, “raising grave concerns that its actions were improperly motivated by the student groups’ political stance in support of Palestinian rights.”

The case was filed in the New York County Supreme Court.

Late last month, the NYCLU sent a letter to Columbia administrators urging them to reinstate the two student groups and warning of their intention to pursue legal action if they did not.

“Universities should be havens for robust debate, discussion, and learning – not sites of censorship where administrators, donors, and politicians squash political discourse they don’t approve of,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the organization.

“These student groups were peacefully speaking out on a critical global conflict, only to have Columbia University ignore their own longstanding, existing rules and abruptly suspend the organizations. That’s retaliatory, it’s targeted, and it flies in the face of the free speech principles that institutes of higher learning should be defending,” Lieberman continued, “Students protesting at private colleges still have the right to fair, equal treatment – and we are ready to fight that battle in court.”