Bard students cleared of false anti-Semitism charges

People standing, holding signs

Despite repression by university administrators, student Palestine activists will not be deterred. (Joe Catron)

Bard College has cleared two students who protested racist speakers last October of false accusations of anti-Semitism.

Ben Mulick and Akiva Hirsch were part of a protest against the anti-Palestinian views of Harvard professor Ruth Wisse, The Forward opinion editor Batya Ungar-Sargon and Shany Mor, a former senior official of Israel’s national security council.

Mulick read short statements during the panel discussion and Hirsch joined other students in a chant during the question and answer period, both actions fully within the college’s free speech policy.

Ungar-Sargon, who is known for smearing US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar as an anti-Semite based on Omar’s criticisms of Israel lobby groups, claimed she was protested by members of Students for Justice in Palestine just “for being a Jew.”

Mulick and Hirsch were then placed under a months-long investigation by the administration. The college assembled a panel of professors to determine if they had violated the free speech policy.

No formal complaint was ever filed against the students, nor any other members of Students for Justice in Palestine or others who protested.

Bard decided to investigate Mulick and Hirsch on its own, based on the false accusations of anti-Semitism.

Palestine Legal, which represented Mulick and Hirsch, warned the college against any retaliation, arguing that the students cannot be punished under the college’s free speech policy, which explicitly protects “dissent and protest.”

The civil rights group says that college president Leon Botstein announced last week that he was accepting the panel’s finding of no policy violations.

Outpouring of solidarity

“Due to the outpouring of solidarity and the work of Palestine Legal, I wasn’t surprised that either the panel or the president had found any policy violations,” Mulick told The Electronic Intifada.

“The investigation occurred because Bard SJP’s protest didn’t comply with the liberal Zionism of the institution,” Mulick asserted.

“We will continue to struggle until Bard divests and takes a clear stance on normalization,” he added.

Radhika Sainath of Palestine Legal welcomed the panel’s finding that Mulick and Hirsch did nothing wrong.

However, she added, “students shouldn’t have to be put through the wringer just because some off-campus individual disagrees with the view that Palestinians deserve to live in freedom and with dignity.”

“I sincerely hope that the Bard administration has learned that nothing can stop a fearless and determined SJP,” Mulick told The Electronic Intifada.

“I hope they keep in mind all the time and energy they wasted with this investigation if they attempt to try this again,” he said.

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