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Jewish SUNY New Paltz Students Excluded Over Support for Israel

Photo: the New Paltz Accountability (NPA) group documents sexual assaults on campus

The State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz is addressing a report that Jewish students were kicked out of a sexual assault awareness group for expressing support for Israel by fellow classmates Amélie Fauquenot, Karl Velikonja, Mia Altamuro, and Ryan Montalto.

On Thursday, The New Paltz Oracle campus newspaper reported allegations by a third-year student that she had been told to leave New Paltz Accountability (NPA), an awareness group she co-founded, over a pro-Israel social media post.

In December, the Oracle reported, she was confronted by a fellow NPA co-founder for sharing an Instagram post that said in part, “Jews are an ethnic group who come from Israel, this is proven by genealogical, historical & archeological evidence. Israel is not ‘a colonial state’ and Israelis aren’t ‘settlers.’ You cannot colonize the land your ancestors are from.”

The fellow NPA member asked her to discuss her views on Israel in a meeting — saying that the group “can’t condone the violence [Israel takes] against the Palestinians” — and later rejected her request to invite the New Paltz Jewish Student Union to the discussion, according to the Oracle.

She was ultimately excluded from the group, the outlet said, prompting the exit of another Jewish student who objected to the episode.

“A lot of Jewish people I know get so sucked into the conflict that they repress their Jewish identity and become embarrassed and no longer identify as Jewish, or they’ll turn their backs on Israel, because (if they don’t) then they’re told, like I was told, that you’re condoning violence,” the third-year student told the Oracle on Thursday. “I wanted to be on the frontlines and go to protests and speak at forums like they had allowed me to do up until a couple of weeks ago. They’re kind of leaving us to like fight against sexual assault on our own, and we don’t know where to go.”

Founded in 2021, NPA describes itself as a group “fighting against SUNY New Paltz for better sexual violence policies and accountability towards abusers.” Coverage of a Dec. 2021 event held by they group described its call for the the college to publish more information about sexual violence complaints it receives and whether they resulted in expulsions.

In a point-by-point response to Thursday’s Oracle story, NPA challenged many of the facts and details reported, but defended its position on Israel.

“We only organize with people who share similar political views, which are simple: You must denounce all forms of oppression and exploitation,” the statement said. “Any lack of adherence to that one fundamental rule would deter the group from its effectiveness in pushing for change.”

“Calling Israel a non-colonial state and justifying its occupation of the area, is being indifferent, condoning the oppression of Palestinians,” it continued. “Allowing these beliefs to permeate into our organization would exclude Palestinian students and survivors, how would they feel knowing some of our members supported the movement that has caused Palestinian families to be displaced, separated, and killed? It is necessary to stand against such beliefs.”

The NPA did not respond to an Algemeiner request for comment.

On Friday, SUNY New Paltz spokesperson Chrissie Williams told The Algemeiner that the college “takes these matters seriously.”

While NPA is not an officially recognized organization at SUNY New Paltz, Williams said, all student organizations are expected to “value inclusivity.” Diversity and inclusion staff at the school are in contact with the two Jewish students and they have been encouraged to report a bias incident, she said.

“We recognize how traumatic this experience has been for our students and have been offering our support,” Williams continued. “Whether acts of bias are intentional or accidental, they run against our values of inclusion, our sense of community, and our goal of creating a learning and working environment where every individual is welcomed and given the full opportunity to succeed and thrive. While we would like to prevent such acts, we respond to acts of bias by supporting the individual who has been impacted, and where possible educating members of our community to reduce the likelihood of similar experiences in the future.”

The Oracle report drew condemnation from the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, a pro-Israel legal group which has advocated for students and student organizations who allege bias over their support for Israel.

Speaking to The Algemeiner on Friday, Alyza Lewin, president of the Center, said the reported situation at New Paltz was one of the “most egregious we’ve heard of so far.”

“Sadly, we are increasingly seeing student groups explicitly say Zionists are not welcome,” Lewin said. “Zionism — the support for your ancestral homeland and for Jewish self-determination — has become a litmus test.”

“Jewish students who refused to shed a critical part of their Jewish identity were cast out as pariahs from the group they themselves founded for support. So where does that leave the Jewish victim of sexual assault?” she continued. “It is blatant discrimination and it must stop.”