In reversal of initial decision, college gives Zionist student group recognition on campus
The Skidmore College student government denied a progressive Zionist student group from forming on campus until it gained "more diverse perspectives."
The student government eventually allowed the group to enter a trial period as a student group after a "follow-up" discussion occured.
Skidmore College in New York will allow a student group called the "Progressive Zionists for Peace" to undergo a trial period as a student group on campus, reversing its previous decision not to recognize the pro-Israel group as an official club until it gained "more diverse perspectives."
As first reported by The Algemeiner on March 15, the Club Affairs Committee of the Student Government Association (SGA) at Skidmore College denied the group’s application for trial status in March because of concerns “that a dialogue focused club with one perspective being conveyed could be troublesome."
The students could reapply to become a club, according to student government senator Sarah Baker, after they made efforts to gain “more diverse perspectives” or "reframe the mission to be more advocate focused with a specific stance."
Progressive Zionists for Peace founder Nessa Goldhirsch Brown told The Algemeiner that she hoped to recruit “pro-Israel, pro-peace students to organize to act together on behalf of a two-state solution and a more peaceful, secure, and democratic future for both Israelis and Palestinians."
They were motivated, she said, by the Student Government Association's previously granting trial status to the Students for Justice in Palestine in New York.
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) in New York City is a student group that describes itself as “a diverse group of students and community members in New York City organized on democratic principles to fulfill our role as solidarity organizers against U.S. imperialism and Zionist settler-colonialism."
The subject has also been brought up in the state legislature, with Senate Bill S3712 in New York being aimed at stopping universities from funding students groups that promote “hate speech." This included groups like Boycotting, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS).
The college's reasoning for denying Progressive Zionists for Peace trial status “was very hypocritical, confusing, and clear of a political bias against Israel. Zionism is an issue close to our hearts and we are enraged and disappointed that our school is clearly lenient towards some social/political issues but not others”, Brown said.
Jewish groups and free speech advocates also decried the decision. Stopantisemitism.org, a watchdog for anti-semitism, tweeted “Skidmore College: Social Justice for Palestine has our full support. Also Skidmore College: Progressive Zionists for Peace. DENIED. Why is this discrimination being allowed at your school @skidmorecollege”
Skidmore College: 'Social Justice for Palestine' has our full support.
Also Skidmore College: Progressive Zionists for Peace' DENIED.
Why is this discrimination being allowed at your school @SkidmoreCollege?! pic.twitter.com/lczL6Swmlx
— StopAntisemitism.org (@StopAntisemites) March 16, 2021
The college was also denounced in a scathing letter by Sabrina Conza, a program analyst for the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
“This viewpoint-based rejection is a form of censorship that violates Skidmore’s commitment to its students freedom of association and expression,” she wrote, noting that the university’s student handbook guarantees “freedom of speech, peaceful assembly, the press, and religion, and the right to petition, limited only by protection of property, safety, and mutual respect."
Sara Miga, the director of external relations and strategic communications for Skidmore College told Campus Reform that the decision was "never an issue of religion or ideology," but said that the Progressive Zionists were granted a trial period after a "follow-up discussion" occurred.
“On Friday, March 19, the Club Affairs Committee and the students seeking to establish Progressive Zionists for Peace engaged in a follow-up discussion to clarify technical matters of definition and scope, and the Club Affairs Committee voted to move the club into a trial period. This was never an issue of religion or ideology. Skidmore does not and will not tolerate anti-Semitism or religious discrimination of any kind. Skidmore seeks to create a welcoming, safe and inclusive environment for all, and there is no place for discrimination at Skidmore. Skidmore College is committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive community in which members develop their abilities to live in a complex and interconnected world. In line with this mission, thoughtful, spirited and sometimes challenging discussions are encouraged. We support our students in their efforts to work out student governance and organization.”
In a statement to Campus Reform, Rena Nasar First, executive director of campus affairs for StandWithUs, an international non-partisan Israel education organization, said while its they're happy the decision was reversed, it's "unacceptable" that the club was denied recognition in the first place.
"It is good that this decision was reversed, but unacceptable that it happened in the first place. The Skidmore administration should take action to ensure that something like this never happens again," First said.
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