NY Appellate Court Rules Against Students for Justice in Palestine

The club will seek legal review again: “Whatever happens, SJP is not going anywhere”

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MATT WADE VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The judges found the club’s claims to be moot on the basis that the original students involved have graduated.

By JOE KOTTKE

The legal case between Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Fordham University is now approaching its sixth year after the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division overturned a previous decision that granted the club official recognition by Fordham University on Dec. 22, 2020. 

The court based its decision on the belief that Veer Shetty, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’21, had no standing to pursue legal action since he was not one of the original students who applied for club status in 2015. 

Shetty joined the lawsuit two years after the initial filing when only one student of the original four remained. The judges found the club’s claims to be moot — when there is no live dispute for the court to resolve — on the basis that the original students involved have graduated.

“I am glad we get another opportunity to fight this shameful decision.” Veer Shetty,FCLC ’21

“The court’s decision is so ridiculous and shallow,” Shetty said. “I am glad we get another opportunity to fight this shameful decision.”

Judge Nancy Bannon ruled that Fordham should recognize SJP as an official club on Aug. 5, 2019. Fordham appealed the decision, which led to the SJP facing Fordham in court again on Nov. 24, 2020.  

The judges also noted in the ruling that SJP would have been “affiliated with a national organization reported to have engaged in disruptive and coercive actions on other campuses,” which “would work against, rather than enhance” Fordham’s commitment to open dialogue and mutual learning.

There are over 200 chapters of SJP at various North American universities and colleges.

In a statement posted to Instagram on Dec. 31, 2020, the E-Board of SJP wrote, “Since SJP has officially been recognized as a club in August 2019, students of all different backgrounds have united to advocate for Palestinian liberation … Still, the New York Appellate Court’s ruling is not going to stop us or this movement for Palestinian liberation at Fordham.”

“All we want to do is advocate for Palestinian liberation, but we are being suppressed,” Anita Kwok, FCLC ’22 and secretary of SJP, said. “It’s even more infuriating that Fordham continues to suppress us during a pandemic where the university is facing more dire issues than a group of students in a book club.”

“So many Lincoln Center students are in unanimous agreement that the university’s suppression of SJP is disgraceful.” Anita Kwok, FCLC ’22

Bob Howe, assistant vice president for communications, said that the university is “gratified that the court found Fordham followed its procedures in administering the student club approval process, and that Fordham had the right to not approve groups that were inconsistent with its mission.”

Kwok said that many students have backed the club over social media in light of the court decision. 

“So many Lincoln Center students are in unanimous agreement that the university’s suppression of SJP is disgraceful,” Kwok said.

SJP is planning to seek review by New York state’s highest court — the Court of Appeals — again this month with the aid of Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights. The group also plans to work with the United Student Government on how it can move forward with organizing on campus. 

Radhika Sainath, a senior staff attorney at Palestine Legal, said that they will be asking the Court of Appeals to review the “hasty, shameful decision,” and the deadline to file the brief is Jan. 21.

The SJP E-Board closed its Instagram statement by saying, “Whatever happens, SJP is not going anywhere.”