Fordham hopes free-speech lawsuit will fade as last plaintiff graduates

Hannah Adely:

The last of four students who sued Fordham University over the denial of a Palestinian rights club will graduate this month, but the court battle is not over.

Sophomore Veer Shetty has asked to join the two-year old lawsuit, and the university is going to court on Wednesday to try to stop him.

“It would be a travesty if we weren’t able to have the club on campus just because all the people suing have graduated,” Shetty said in a recent interview. “I was happy to step in.”

Led by New Jersey plaintiff Ahmad Awad, the students sued in April 2017, arguing that Fordham ignored its guidelines and practiced viewpoint discrimination when it denied them permission to start a Students for Justice in Palestine club. Fordham argued that it doesn’t have to abide by free-speech law as a private university.

The case underscores the difficulties students face when trying to organize around the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Palestinian rights movement has grown on campuses across the country but faces intense opposition from pro-Israel groups. Activists have been smeared online as terrorist supporters, received threatening letters and faced pressure to shut down events.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office expanded its definition of anti-Semitism to include certain criticisms of Israel as anti-Jewish speech. Pro-Israel groups say the protections are needed because activists vilify Israel and have created a hostile environment.

Activists, though, say their free speech is being restricted.