The Department of Education opened an investigation Thursday after a complaint was filed by Jewish students who were allegedly kicked out of a sexual assault support group for their pro-Israel views.
In August 2022, the Louis D. Brandeis Center filed a complaint on behalf of two State University of New York at New Paltz students, Cassandra Blotner and Ofek Preis, after they were removed from New Paltz Accountability, a student group for sexual assault survivors, due to Blotner putting a pro-Israel post on her Instagram story, according to the complaint. Just under a year later, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) informed the Brandeis Center that it would be opening an investigation into the situation, according to a press release. (RELATED: Universities Are Seeing An Enormous Spike In Antisemitism. Here’s Why)
“The opening of this investigation by the Education Department is an important development in the ongoing effort to combat rising anti-Semitism on campus,” Denise Katz-Prober, director of legal initiatives for the Brandeis Center, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “This complaint, involving the exclusion of two Jewish women from a student sexual assault survivor group because they are Zionists, is the first complaint about anti-Semitism to be opened for investigation following the launch of the Biden administration’s national strategy to combat anti-Semitism.”
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In December 2021, Blotner received messages from other members of the group condemning a post she made on her Instagram story in support of Israel, which denounced claims that the country is a colonized state, saying that “[y]ou cannot colonize the land your ancestors are from,” according to the complaint. Blotner, the founder of NPA and a sexual assault survivor, suggested that the NPA and the Jewish Student Union meet to discuss the Israel-Palestine conflict and come to a solution, but the other students declined, accusing Blotner of supporting Israel’s alleged “oppression” of Palestinians.
After Blotner was removed from NPA, Preis, another Jewish student and sexual assault survivor, left the group when she learned “about NPA’s hostility towards Israel,” according to the complaint. Both students attempted to reach out to SUNY-New Paltz’s Title IX Office, but an office representative told the girls that “she could not understand the anti-Semitic nature of the incident they had reported and was therefore unable to assist them.”
“No student should ever be excluded from campus because of facets of their Jewish identity, let alone survivors of sexual assault,” Julia Jassey, co-founder and chief executive officer of Jewish on Campus, said in the press release. “By launching an investigation into SUNY New Paltz’s actions, or lack thereof, in the face of this blatant anti-Semitism, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is taking a necessary step toward accountability.”
Antisemitism has been growing on college campuses over the past several years, according to reports from AMCHA Initiative, a pro-Israel college campus organization, which found in 2021-2022 threats to Jewish identity doubled from 114 incidents to 228 incidents.
A spokesperson for SUNY told the DCNF that the university “unequivocally condemn[s] any attacks on SUNY students who are Jewish and said the university cannot comment on pending litigation.
New Paltz Accountability and OCR did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include comment from SUNY.
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