SUNY students expelled from sexual assault support group because of their Jewish identity

University ‘fully aware of situation’ did nothing to protect students from harassment

A Jewish solidarity march in March 2020 / Getty Images

Adam Kredo • August 18, 2022 4:00 PM

Two Jewish students at the State University of New York (SUNY) in New Paltz have said they were kicked out of a sexual assault support group and harassed by members of the group because of their Jewish identity, according to a complaint filed with the Ministry of Education. .

One of the victims, student Cassandra Blotner, said members of the support group threatened to spit on her in public because she was proud to be Jewish, while others threatened her called a “dumb bitch” who supports “mass genocide” because of her support for Israel. The complaint alleges that the university was “fully aware of the situation” but did nothing to protect the students from the anti-Semitic hate campaign.

“These students were victimized three times: first, by sexual predators; second, by the anti-Zionist leaders of a support group who expelled the students, including one of its founders, from the organization; and third, by the University which has failed to hold accountable those who have discriminated against students and has failed to satisfactorily address the hostile climate on campus for Jewish survivors of sexual assault,” said the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under the Law, an advocacy group that helped file the lawsuit, in a statement released Thursday.

The complaint is another sign that anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist forces on US college campuses are fueling an unsafe environment for Jewish and pro-Israel students. The Education Department is already investigating the University of Southern California for fomenting “a hostile environment of anti-Semitism” and many other schools have seen a significant increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes. Jewish and pro-Israel students say they are regularly targeted solely because of their support for the Jewish state.

At SUNY, the problems started in December of last year. Blotner posted a message on his personal Instagram account: “Jews are an ethnic group that originated from Israel. This is proven by genealogical, historical and archaeological evidence. Israel is not a ‘colonial’ state and Israelis are not ‘settlers’. You cannot colonize the land where your ancestors came from.”

The post reportedly angered fellow members of the New Paltz Accountability (NPA) group, which Blotner and another student founded to fight sexual assault. Members of the group allegedly “spoke out against the post and asked Blotner to defend his views, arguing that his personal message ‘is about the organization as a whole,'” according to the complaint and other information provided by the Brandeis Center.

While Blotner offered to meet with the group and explain his views, “NPA leaders declined the offer to meet and told him that Zionists were not welcome in the NPA,” according to the complaint. .

As ‘the only Jew in the group…it seems like I’m being held responsible for the actions of a foreign government (which I’m not and which is anti-Semitic),’ Blotner said in comments to the Brandeis Center . “I am concerned for the future of the group and other survivors who come seeking support. Will they too be made to feel this way due to misperception of shared messages, lack of cultural/religious understanding or of a general difference of opinion?

Blotner’s original post was also shared by fellow support group member Ofek Preis, who is a Jewish-Israeli student. Shortly after, Preis was reportedly banned from the group’s rosters and denied access to its online portal. The support group also clarified to Preis that it “was only open to those who reject Zionism,” according to the Brandeis Center complaint.

Preis and Blotner were subsequently subjected to anti-Semitic harassment and online bullying by members of the group.

The support group “continued to issue numerous statements doubling down on its position that Zionists are not welcome,” according to the complaint. The group extended “its position of exclusion and discrimination to all Jewish Zionists and Israeli survivors of sexual assault at SUNY New Paltz”, and promoted “the anti-Semitic narrative that Zionism is a form of racism and supremacy white”.

Some members posted threatening messages online, saying they would spit on Blotner. Another reportedly called Blotner a “dumb bitch” who supports “mass genocide.”

Both Blotner and Preis contacted SUNY with concerns for their safety, but the schools took no action, according to the complaint.

“The university denied Blotner’s request for a security escort to accompany him to class and advised him not to attend,” according to the Brandeis Center. “Unable to attend classes safely, Blotner left campus to be with his family. [the support group’s] the messages caused Preis…to feel so anxious for her safety that she was also unable to attend classes.”

Denise Katz-Prober, director of legal initiatives at the Brandeis Center, said in a statement that the situation parallels that on other college campuses, where Jewish and pro-Israel students are increasingly concerned about their safety.

“Students are marginalized and excluded from campus activities on the basis of their Jewish identity, which in some cases is deeply tied to Israel,” she said. “At the same time, Israeli students are the target of anti-Zionist hatred that invokes classic anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish power and control.”

“When Jewish students, like Ms. Blotner and Ms. Preis, are kicked out of social justice spaces and campus activities because they express pride in their ethnic or national identity, that is a form of unlawful discrimination, not a political discourse,” Katz-Probeur said. “This case is not about the horrible things that were said to these women. Rather, it is about the horrible things that were done to them.”

Virginia S. Braud