The US Department of Education is investigating allegations of antisemitism made by two Jewish students at the State University of New York at New Paltz, who say they were booted from an on-campus sexual abuse survivors group over their support of Israel and Zionism.
The DOE’s Office for Civil Rights has opened a probe into a complaint filed by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights on behalf of the students, Cassandra Blotner and Ofek Preis, claiming that the college failed to address the alleged discrimination and harassment the coeds were subjected to.
The department will determine if the antisemitism and anti-Zionism the students say they faced violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin at institutions that receive federal funding.
The students’ complaint alleges that SUNY New Paltz permitted “a hostile atmosphere” toward Jewish and Israeli sexual assault victims to proliferate on its campus to the extent that the students fear for their safety.
The complaint stems from a December 2022 incident in which Blotner — co-founder of the sexual assault survivor student group New Paltz Accountability (NPA) — posted an infographic to her personal Instagram page in support of Zionism and Israeli nationalism.
“Jews are an ethnic group who come from Israel,” the post read. “This is proven by genealogical, historical and archeological evidence. Israel is not a ‘colonial’ state and Israelis aren’t ‘settlers.’ You cannot colonize the land your ancestors are from.”
The post angered members of the NPA, who subsequently “kicked Blotner out of the group and later cancelled, stalked and harassed her,” the Brandeis Center alleged in a press release.
Preis, who was also a member of NPA, shared the same post on her own Instagram and was effectively shut out of the group’s activities and communications as organizers blocked her access to shared documents, according to the students’ account.
NPA then published numerous public statements against Zionism, which reportedly fueled other students to harass Blotner on social media, the students alleged.
People reportedly left comments like “Cassie needs to go” and called her a “dumb bitch” who supports “mass genocide.”
The two students told SUNY New Paltz that they worried for their safety, but the university declined Blotner’s request for a security escort to accompany her to class.
NPA’s posts and the subsequent harassment made Blotner “feel so anxious about her safety she was unable to attend class,” the Brandeis Center stated.
And the anxiety wasn’t limited to the two students, according to the complaint.
The incident “resulted in a hostile environment for the larger community of Jewish and Israeli survivors of sexual assault at SUNY New Paltz,” the center alleged.
In response to the complaint being filed last year, SUNY New Paltz said it condemns any attacks on Jewish students, but also will not infringe on students’ First Amendment rights.
“We unequivocally condemn any attacks on SUNY students who are Jewish, and we will not tolerate anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation on campus,” the statement said.
“SUNY New Paltz has provided access to resources and support for those impacted by the events of this past year and we continue our active engagement to support our Jewish students and employees around the rise of antisemitism, to address antisemitism and bias concerns when they arise, and to continue dialogue and educational efforts.”
“As a public institution, we value the First Amendment and uphold the free exchange of ideas,” SUNY New Paltz added.
The alleged discrimination at New Paltz is part of a larger trend in which the Israel-Palestine conflict is playing out in college classrooms as students on opposing sides butt heads.
At CUNY Law School, a student graduate and Palestinian activist was accused of “hate speech” for claiming that Israel “indiscriminately” murders worshipers young and old in her May 12 commencement address.