An open letter to President John Sexton from the NYU student community

The following is the full text of the letter presented this morning to the NYU administration by Meredith Shevitz, Rachel Millhauser, and myself regarding the anti-Israel conference taking place at NYU this weekend. Though I am very much opposed to blind reactivity, standing up for what is right is not reactive, but the only conscionable response. Given the nature of this event and the press it has received, we felt that we could not in good conscience remain silent. Many thanks all of those who spent countless hours on the letter’s composition; you make me proud to be a part of this community.    

Dear President Sexton,

On Sunday, February 23, the media reported that the annual conference of the New York University American Studies Program, this year entitled “Circuits of Influence: U.S., Israel, and Palestine,” will be held at New York University this weekend. As members of the NYU student community, we are immensely disappointed with both the nature of this event and how it has been met with complete silence from the NYU administration.

From the beginning, this event has been shrouded in secrecy; Professor Lisa Duggan, the event’s sponsor (in a post that has now been removed) cautioned, “PLEASE DO NOT post or circulate the flyer. We are trying to avoid press, protestors and public attention.”

Invitations to the event were quietly distributed, leaving out any pro-Israel voices. Troublingly, the event is scheduled to begin and end (almost to the minute) with the Jewish Sabbath, ensuring that many Jewish students and community members will face obstacles in attending for religious reasons, a seemingly deliberate move by the organizers of the event to prevent the presentation of other views in this complex issue. Additionally, event registration was closed on Sunday following the release of news reports on the seemingly exclusive conference.

Despite political objections to the conference’s anti-Israel message, those objections are not the chief reason behind the penning of this letter. Our concern is that New York University, a global leader in education, is permitting the occurrence of an event which is antithetical to the principles which the global academic community stands for. If anything, the university condones the event with the administration’s disconcerting silence.

As a diverse and multicultural school that takes pride in the name “Global Network University,” allowing this event to occur will undermine much of the progress that our university community has worked so hard to achieve. While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is indeed complex and deserves intense debate, hosting events that unequivocally reject and refuse to acknowledge dissenting opinions is an appalling gesture of intolerance. As NYU students, we have witnessed firsthand the power of debate and dialogue. We have learned, through our efforts to understand each other, the importance of cross-cultural negotiation. This is exemplified in an incredible program in place at NYU called Bridges. Bridges is a Muslim-Jewish Interfaith Dialogue club that brings together students from contrasting backgrounds to engage in productive and enriching conversations as well as community events and service. Students may not achieve world peace or even agree on tough political questions, but the bonds established and their efforts to understand each other are effective ways to seek a long term solution to breaking down barriers. Clubs and programs such as Bridges are what make us proud to call NYU our home.

NYU also takes pride in its thriving satellite campus in Tel Aviv, an academic institution in Israel. NYU Tel Aviv has a strong relationship with Tel Aviv University, an institute boycotted by the ASA. The act of boycotting an academic institution is discriminatory and inhibits academic freedom. It seems strange and hypocritical that Duggan and the ASA are using NYU to host their event when NYU actively supports the very institutions it is boycotting.

The official event flyer closes with the following question: “What can we learn from the record of using boycotts as a tactic and substantive challenge to systems of injustice?”

Universities developed as platforms for people from a wide berth of perspectives and backgrounds to come together for the purpose of understanding the world on a deeper level. We do not stand to restrict others’ freedoms of speech; we stand to urge for in-depth analysis and for open and constructive dialogue. If Duggan’s group intends to learn as opposed to lecture, the design of this event does not facilitate such aims. This event will feature speakers, panels and conversations that attack a country and its people. Both the event and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that the event is promoting are anti-peace and anti-progress. Not only is this not constructive towards finding a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but is in fact an obstacle to the process. Even Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, has explicitly rejected the Boycott Divest and Sanction movement, much to the dismay of those from Duggan’s camp.

Many members of Congress have condemned the ASA boycott as completely defamatory and unproductive towards any sort of peace prospect. The New York State Senate passed legislation against the ASA which prohibit taxpayer funds on any academic group that participates in the boycott. Our elected officials on both sides of the aisle understand the motives of this boycott to be baseless and slanderous, and it would be shameful for NYU to allow for this conference to take place on a campus meant for productive dialogue.

Holding this event will undoubtedly diminish NYU’s stature as a global leader. The event will only lead to more conflict, not resolution.

As concerned students of NYU who are passionate about this university and the global academic community, we respectfully ask that the administration begin to take a serious look at the upcoming event this weekend and the policies and practices of the ASA. While the ASA is simply one organization, their actions are undermining not only the prospects for NYU to be a hub of constructive dialogue on campus, but also undermining our faith in NYU’s claims to be a global leader and a force for academic integrity.


Laura Adkins, CAS Sophomore, Vice-President of TorchPAC at NYU and Member of TAMID Israel Investment Group at NYU

Rachel Millhauser, Stern Sophomore, Co-Chair of Engagement for TorchPAC at NYU

Meredith Shevitz, CAS Senior, President of TorchPAC at NYU and Member of NYU College Democrats


Mia Appelbaum, CAS Junior, Co-President of Bridges: Muslim-Jewish Interfaith Dialogue at NYU

Liz Beras, Stern Junior, President of the Stern Political Economy Exchange (SPEX) at NYU

Diana Zarowin, Stern Senior, President of Undergraduate Stern Women in Business Club

Jonathan Patarkatsi, Stern Junior, President of Alpha Epsilon Pi

Ari Cohen, Stern Junior, President of the New York Chapter of the Kairos Society

Zachary Schwarzbaum, Gallatin Sophomore, President of Hillel at NYU

Sol Adler, CAS Junior, President Emeritus of Hillel at NYU and Member of Bridges: Muslim-Jewish Interfaith Dialogue at NYU

Adam Kugelman, CAS Freshman, Treasurer of Bridges: Muslim-Jewish Interfaith Dialogue at NYU

Jordan Star, Gallatin Sophomore, President of Keshet: LGBTQ Jewish Life at NYU

Arielle Solomon, Steinhardt Sophomore, Organizer of LGBTQ Jewish Life at NYU

Phillip Hayes, Stern Sophomore, Executive Board Member of Alpha Epsilon Pi

Talia Bender, Steinhardt Senior, President of TAMID Israel Investment Group at NYU

Josh Eisman, Stern Senior, President of TAMID Israel Investment Group at NYU

Avital Kaplan, CAS Senior, Co-President of Gesher: Israel at NYU

Kendra Meisler, CAS Junior, Co-President of Gesher: Israel at NYU and Former Board Member of Shalhevet: Orthodox Judaism at NYU

Julia Levine, Steinhart Senior, President of Shalhevet: Orthodox Judaism at NYU

Joshua Z. Lavine, CAS Junior, President Emeritus of Shalhevet: Orthodox Judaism at NYU and Treasurer of Gesher: Israel at NYU

Eitan Fleischman, CAS Senior, President Emeritus of Shalhevet: Orthodox Judaism at NYU

Joseph Katz, CAS Senior, Founding Member of TorchPAC at NYU

Atara Vogelstein, Gallatin Sophomore, Co-Chair of Engagement for TorchPAC at NYU

Jackie Retig, CAS Senior, Co-Director of Campus Relations for TorchPAC at NYU

David Braccia, Gallatin Junior, President of Gallatin Business Club

Jeremy Rosh, Stern Senior, NYU Stern Dean’s Student Task Force

Noah Hyams, Steinhardt Junior, Meor at NYU

About the Author
Laura E. Adkins is JTA’s Opinion Editor. She was previously Deputy Opinion Editor at the Forward, where she wrote about data, Orthodoxy, kosher wine, and built interactive maps. Laura has also served as the editor of Jewish Insider and an assistant blogs editor at The Times of Israel. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, SELF, the New York Observer and elsewhere.