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Columbia ‘Law Students Against Antisemitism’ wins approval

‘I’m pleased we were able to approve this group and have a spirited discussion about our community’s values,’ student senate president says

Columbia University law students can continue their fight against antisemitism with a newly approved club.

Law Students Against Antisemitism is officially recognized after an initial rejection and intervention by a national free speech group.

“I’m pleased we were able to approve this group and have a spirited discussion about our community’s values,” law school student body president Justin Onwenu told The College Fix via email. “Columbia Law students remain firmly committed to combating antisemitism and all forms of hate while protecting the free exchange of ideas on our campus.”

“The group resubmitted an amended application,” Onwenu said, which helped its approval.

“Amendments addressed some of the questions related to free speech that were raised by their original constitutional design. The group did not change their definition,” he said.

The decision to not approve the group stemmed from its endorsement of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism. Some students said this definition equates anti-Zionism with antisemitism, the Columbia Daily Spectator reported.

University representatives did not respond to requests for comment on the group’s rejection sent in the past weeks.

The Fix contacted Gillian Lester, the dean of Columbia Law School, and two campus spokespersons prior to LSAA’s approval to ask if administrators planned to intervene in the situation and for comments on free speech for Jewish students.

Law Students Against Antisemitism is one of nine student organizations that sought official recognition at Columbia Law this school year and the only group whose request was denied, one senator told the campus newspaper.

‘Even Columbia, once the nation’s worst school for free speech, can turn it all around’

Columbia is an example of how a university can repair its reputation for being against free speech, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

FIRE wrote to the student senate, urging the body to honor its commitment to Columbia’s rules regarding free speech. Shortly after the letter was sent, the senate reversed course and recognized LSAA as a student group.

A director at FIRE told The Fix that Columbia is one of the worst schools for free speech protection and that this is one of several instances of recent threats to free expression on campus.

“Columbia has been an incredibly tough climate for free expression for several years running,” Alex Morey, FIRE Director of Campus Rights Advocacy told The Fix via email. “In 2022, they were named our Worst College for Free Speech.”

“That said, the events of October 7 and its aftermath have tested the free speech climate at a great many schools,” Morey said. “Columbia is no different.”

“We’ve seen Columbia crackdown on protest, as well as ‘calls for genocide,’” Morey said. “The latter probably sounds unobjectionable to a great many people, but the regulation is overbroad and, in practice, would threaten a wide swath of protected campus speech.”

“These kinds of policies can be, and are frequently, abused,” she said.

Morey also said that she is seeing some potential improvements in free speech protections at Columbia.

“There have been very positive signs at Columbia, however, including the law school Student Senate’s quick about-face reversing the LSAA denial,” Morey said. “There’s also the faculty senate’s passage of a resolution on institutional neutrality, urging the university not to take any political stances.”

“These suggest big improvements could follow,” she said.

“At FIRE, we know any college or university can improve their free speech climate,” Morey said.

“Even Columbia, once the nation’s worst school for free speech, can turn it all around.”

MORE: Columbia anti-Israel groups ditch class, ‘redesign’ school paraphernalia

IMAGE: Syndi Pilar/Shutterstock

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Jack Applewhite -- University of Georgia