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Pro-Palestine students accuse NYU of 'enabling' violence

After students found an anonymous flyer calling for the 'annihilation' of Palestinians, the university offered only a 'vague' response, calling it a 'despicable message'
A pro-Palestinian protester holds a stethoscope as they face NYPD officers during a protest on the campus of New York University in New York on 22 April 2024.
A pro-Palestinian protester faces NYPD officers during a protest on the campus of New York University in New York on 22 April 2024 (Alex Kent/AFP)

On Wednesday afternoon, a printed flyer was found in the bathroom of the New York University Law School's Vanderbilt Hall. The leaflet contained an open call for violence against Palestinian and pro-Palestinian students on campus.

"Stop trying to educate Hamas apologists. It has not worked. It's time to hurt them," said the flyer, which was shared with Middle East Eye.

"Time's up for arrogant Palestinian dogs. Time's up for terrorists. Time's up for disgusting antisemites."

The printed message further said: "We will retaliate and make 7 October look like child's play."

Given its anonymity, students have been unable to determine whether the flyer was a real threat or a hoax. Because the flyer was found on Wednesday, a day when the university allows any individual to enter campus without a badge if they say they are a prospective student, law students are worried it could be a threat coming from outside the university.

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But as student organisers begin to prepare for a worst-case scenario, they have lamented that the university's response has been "incredibly slow, disappointing, and underwhelming", and have accused the university of cultivating an environment of discrimination that has left Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, and pro-Palestinian students vulnerable on campus.

Vague reference

Two days after being notified of the threat, the office of the dean of the law school sent out an email that made a vague reference to "despicable messages" on campus, without making any mention that the threatening letter was targeting Palestinians and pro-Palestinian students.

"I'm not sure why NYU was scared to let the entire school body know the content of the flyer, but it was very typical of the administration - both the law admin and university-wide admin - to throw Palestinians, and anyone who supports them and their right to self-determination, under the bus," one student, who asked to remain anonymous, told MEE.

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A university spokesperson told MEE that the flyer was discovered on Wednesday at 10am and immediately removed by law school officials, who also "conducted a sweep of all other public spaces" and then reported the incident to NYU campus safety, "who are currently conducting a thorough investigation into the matter".

"Hateful messages that target, in any form, members of our community have no place in our institution. We encourage all members of our community who may encounter such material to alert NYU campus safety," the spokesperson said.

However, several students told MEE that the flyer was seen on Wednesday afternoon, which would have been hours after it had been taken down.

'If you support Palestinian human rights and the Palestinian right to self-determination, your free speech and safety are not subject to the same protection'

- NYU student

The student who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the university's response to the flyer was a part of a larger pattern of handling incidents regarding students involved in activism related to Palestine, noting that the school ordered the New York Police Department (NYPD) to deal with protesting students, leading to the arrest of more than 100 of them.

The delayed response regarding the bathroom flyer has only solidified students' feelings that the school isn't interested in their protection.

"There has been one thing made clear by NYU’s actions, and inactions: if you support Palestinian human rights and the Palestinian right to self-determination, your free speech and safety are not subject to the same protection as the rest of the student body," the student said.

In response to how the university dealt with the situation, three student groups - the Middle Eastern and North African Law Student Association, the Muslim Law Student Association, and the Law Students for Justice in Palestine - sent a statement to the student body on Friday accusing NYU of encouraging an unsafe environment for pro-Palestinian students.

"In being so vague, the school once again refuses to acknowledge that its actions over the past year have allowed and actively encouraged an environment that is unsafe to its Palestinian, Arab, and pro-Palestinian students," said the statement, which was also shared with MEE.

"Rather than protecting its students from doxxing and proactively addressing rampant Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism in the school and legal industry, NYU Law has repressed pro-Palestine student activism, anti-war movements, and non-violent protests."

'Enabling violent rhetoric'

The student protesters, who this past week faced the violent use of force by police to disperse pro-Palestinian demonstrators on campus, say that they have ultimately found themselves between a rock and a hard place.

On one hand, students have felt unsafe from threats outside the university after finding the flyer, which gave a clear-cut threat to them, saying: "And we will annihilate you."

On the other hand, the student organisers say that the university itself has encouraged and contributed to an "environment of racism" that has allowed threats like that letter to happen.

Earlier this week, the university itself ordered the NYPD to disperse an encampment at the school that was protesting against Israel's war on Gaza. The NYPD ultimately arrested more than 100 protesters.

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Then there was the case of Ryna Workman, whose position as president of NYU's student bar association was rescinded after they made a statement in solidarity with Palestinians after 7 October and blamed Israel's human rights abuses against Palestinians as ultimately being the reason for the Hamas attack.

Workman told MEE that the school's actions towards them since October had helped "enable this kind of violent rhetoric and hostile learning environment", referring to the flyer.

"Instead of condemning the harassment and doxxing of his student, Dean McKenzie isolated me from my community of three years," Workman said.

In their statement to the student body, the student groups listed several demands. They want the school to thoroughly investigate the incident of the letter found at Vanderbilt Hall, and they want the law school to "publicly and transparently communicate" its next steps to address anti-Palestinian racism on campus.

They are also demanding that the school drop any disciplinary action against law students over their involvement in activism around the issue of Palestine.

And in addition to guaranteeing their own protection, the students echoed a demand from the larger pro-Palestine movement on campus, which is for the university at large to divest its finances from weapons manufacturers and other companies involved in Israel's occupation of Palestine.

But students say that given the "lack of regard" shown by the administration, they will likely have to take their safety into their own hands, noting that with final exams around the corner, many students would have to be physically on campus during the remainder of the semester.

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