Citing McCarthyite Atmosphere, DRAD Files Brief on Behalf of Fordham Students for Justice In Palestine

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Defending Rights & Dissent has filed an amicus brief on behalf of Fordham Students for Justice in Palestine. In 2015, student supporters of Palestinian human rights sought to form a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) student club at Fordham University. The school, however, denied the students’ request after one year of deliberation. Represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal, the students brought suit against Fordham University. In 2019, a court ruled in favor of the students and found Fordham acted in a manner that was arbitrary and capricious in denying them club status. The university has now appealed the decision.

Supporters of Palestinian human rights face an atompshere of repression and intimiditation that is reminiscent of the abuses of the McCarthy-era. The denial of club status to Fordham Students for Justice in Palestine is part of this wider atmosphere of intimidation and censorship. As an organization that protects the right to engage in political expression and was founded by victims of McCarthyism, Defending Rights & Dissent opposes the systemic silencing of one side of an important public debate,” said Chip Gibbons, Defending Rights & Dissent policy director.  

The brief explains: 

As a domestic civil liberties organization, we do not take positions on international issues like the Middle East conflict. We do, however, support the right of all people to speak out freely, especially in academic contexts. When it comes to a topic like US foreign policy, we believe rigorous debate is essential for our democracy. We also recognize the devastating impact on our democracy of the tactics used by individuals and organizations seeking to impose a political orthodoxy – such as McCarthyism in the 1950s and 1960s, and more recent political movements seeking to silence political speech they oppose – and actively strive to prevent a repeat of that history.

The amicus brief outlines a number of attacks on supporters of Palestinian human rights in an academic context. This includes attempts to cancell events at Brooklyn College and Univerisity of Massachusetts Amherst, the rescinding of an offer of employment to a professor, and the filing of meritless civil rights complaints that treat student activism in support of Palestinian rights as anti-Semitic discrimination.  Defending Rights & Dissent was represented by Katherine Franke. Franke is the James L. Dohr Professor of Law at Columbia University.

The appeal will be heard today at 3:30 PM Eastern. It can be viewed here. Following the appeal, Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights will be holding a virtual debrief that can be accessed at