April 8, 2024
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Attempt Made to Oust Jewish Member Of NYU’s Graduate Student Council

The move to oust a New York University (NYU) Jewish graduate student from the university’s Graduate Student Council (GSC) by its president and allies has been placed on hold by the university while it investigates charges that rules may have unlawfully been changed to remove him because of his pro-Israel advocacy.

Justin Feldman was cited for exceeding his powers by proposing to the university’s student government umbrella organization (the Student Government Assembly) that it condemn “the endorsement, promotion, or excusing of civilian murder (terrorism) in academia.”

Feldman, a second-year master’s degree student in international relations, has a strong Israeli-American identity although he was born and raised in Los Angeles. He is the former activism program manager for the Israel-American Council. He is also the founder and co-president of Abrahama, a campus-based peace initiative to bring the spirit of the Abraham Accords and Muslim-Jewish friendship to the university. Upon graduation this summer he plans on working in think tank policy analysis, furthering cooperation in the Middle East.

Feldman said he was prompted to propose the resolution following “the endorsing or excusing of terror” by certain university faculty, student organizations and leaders since the October 7 terrorist attack on Israelis by Hamas.

“The charges cited against me from the constitutional bylaws were not explained to me in any way,” said Feldman in a phone interview. “They just cited them as a kind of justification to remove me.”

He contended that fabricated technicalities were used to falsely accuse him of using GSC’s name in the resolution, even though he used his position with the organization only as a means of identification. “I believe they have tried to remove me because of my Jewish and Israeli identity,” said Feldman.

In response to the controversy, university spokesperson John Beckman said in a statement that every SGA member has the right to submit a resolution for consideration and Feldman’s removal “has been held in abeyance” while an investigation is being conducted.

“The University takes very seriously Mr. Feldman’s allegation that he was dismissed from the Graduate Student Council for simply exercising that right,” he said. “Mr. Feldman’s allegations about the Graduate Student Council’s conduct are very concerning and if determined to be true, the Council will have acted inappropriately. In accordance with its long-standing policies and procedure, the University has initiated a thorough investigation of Mr. Feldman’s complaint.”

A letter dated Dec. 11, 2023 from GSC President Betty Lincoln provided to The Jewish Link said she would call for “a vote of dismissal and termination of title and powers” at a meeting to be held Dec. 15, 2023. The letter said a vote would be taken and if a majority voted to oust Feldman he would be terminated. Her name had been blacked out but it is available on the university website. Lincoln did not return a request for response.

However, Article IV of the GSC’s constitution states, “To initiate removal any GSC member of the Executive board must get three additional members of the Executive Board to sign a ‘vote of no confidence’ to bring it before the entire GSC Executive board for a vote.” It also states that representatives will be removed from duty after a two-thirds vote of no confidence.

Despite the fact that antisemitic measures, such as the Resolution to Reaffirm Protection of Pro-Palestine Speech and Civic Activity on Campus, have passed student government, Feldman said his resolution (proposed at the same meeting) was met with resistance in its early stages.

“A few weeks after the proposed resolution was voted down, the president tried to retaliate against me for putting forward the resolution and, I suspect, with a couple of other representatives who didn’t like what I was doing, and they worked out a scheme to vote me out,” said Feldman. “They didn’t have a legal or moral basis.”

Feldman charged that part of the scheme involved Lincoln and cohorts secretly modifying the GSC’s bylaws and constitution about vote count and procedures on the day before he was notified of the vote without ratification or public notice, and that he was removed by less than half of the council members present.

Feldman’s seven-page resolution cited specific acts committed by Hamas on Oct. 7 that meet the definition of war crimes, including the rape, murder and kidnapping of civilians captured on video by the attackers, and documented use of civilians as human shields. He cited the position of many Western democratic governments, including the United States, that Israel has a right to defend itself.

The resolution also cited the need “to stand in solidarity with Jewish and Israeli students on campus” and documented numerous instances of antisemitism and anti-Zionism on NYU’s and other campuses across the country, including by faculty, as well as the rise of antisemitism in general. Feldman has been escorted around campus by security.

It also mentioned the “abrogation or appropriation of ethnic Jewish ties to Israel-Palestine, the deletion or omission of Jewish history or peoplehood and a distortion and inversion of Israeli conduct” that could lead to such antisemitic behavior.

Feldman also cited other instances predating the current war where events and rallies supporting Palestinians were held on campus while terrorist attacks against Israelis were ignored.

The resolution asked that the SGA “strongly and unequivocally condemn all acts of intentional civilian-murder by any means, and in any case worldwide, for the sake of instilling overwhelming human fear and coercing political gains (terrorism), violence, and hatred, including the terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad on October 7, 2023 against Israel, which resulted in the loss of hundreds of innocent lives and poses an ongoing threat to peace and stability in the region.”

Among other positions proposed in the resolution were having the student government call out hate speech, call for the immediate release of Israeli hostages and stand with innocent Israeli and Palestinian victims. It also proposed safety measures on hate crime reporting and transparency on free speech.

The university has instituted a no-contact order between Lincoln and Feldman, although Feldman said he had no intention of contacting the Graduate Student Council president and for now he remains on the council but has no real communication with the group.

Debra Rubin has had a long career in journalism writing for secular weekly and daily newspapers and Jewish publications. She most recently served as Middlesex/Monmouth bureau chief for the New Jersey Jewish News. She also worked with the media at several nonprofits, including serving as assistant public relations director of HIAS and assistant director of media relations at Yeshiva University.

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