New York, NY – Former Israeli Knesset Member and legal advisor Michal Cotler-Wunsh’s speech at the New York University (NYU) School of Law was disrupted on April 20 with chants of “from the river to the sea Palestine will be free.”
Prior to the disruption, the words “Zionists Not Welcome” were written in chalk outside and there were flyers stating, “ZIONISM out of NYU!”; the flyers also referred to Israel as an “apartheid state” and “racist settler colonial project.” Cotler-Wunsh told the Journal that the disruption lasted “several minutes” before the protesters escorted themselves out and the university administration assisted in getting them out.
NYU spokesperson John Beckman said in a statement to the Journal, “NYU is troubled and disappointed by those who sought to disrupt the talk Michal Cotler-Wunsch was invited to give yesterday at the Law School. Members of the community who disagree with invited speakers’ views have a right to dissent in accordance with University rules, but we reject efforts to interfere with a speaker’s right to communicate and an audience’s right to hear a speaker. The regrettable disruption––which started shortly after Ms. Cotler-Wunsch began her remarks––was over in a matter of a few minutes: immediately after the disruption started, a Law School administrator promptly rose, publicly affirmed Ms. Cotler-Wunsch’s right to speak, and reminded the audience that it was a violation NYU principles and rules to try to exercise a ‘heckler’s veto.’ Within a few minutes, the protesters were gone from the room, Ms. Cotler-Wunsh had resumed her remarks, and the talk carried on for another hour, as scheduled.”
Beckman added that NYU “flatly rejects the sentiment chalked outside the event’s venue that asserted that ‘Zionists are not welcome.’ It is untrue, wrong as a matter of principle, and at odds with NYU’s academic and community commitments, which notably maintains through its NYU Tel Aviv location one of the most prominent academic centers of any US university in Israel, a vibrant center for Jewish student life in New York City, and a highly distinguished Hebrew and Judaic Studies Department.”
Cotler-Wunsh told the Journal that the disruption against her was a “very telling state of affairs.” “It has nothing just to do with me … but actually clearly what they were demonstrating [against] is me as a Zionist,” she said, adding that the “Zionist Not Welcome” message was reflective of “today’s antisemitism” masquerading as anti-Zionism.
“It was deeply disheartening to see a talk about contemporary antisemitism met with such vitriol from a group of NYU students,” Academic Engagement Network Executive Director Miriam F. Elman said in a statement to the Journal. “Instead of engaging with the speaker—a moderate liberal on the Israeli political spectrum—and her arguments, they attacked her very identity along with the identity of most of their Jewish peers. A leaflet and sidewalk chalking, that called for NYU to be rid of Zionists only days after Holocaust Remembrance Day, should disturb every university leader and administrator on the NYU campus.
“Full credit goes to NYU School of Law’s administrators, who not only issued the invitation to Adv. Cotler-Wunsh, but came to the event well-prepared to enforce the student code of conduct,” Elman continued. “When the students disrupted it at the start, a university official quickly restored order so that the talk could proceed as planned. That’s how it should be. The answer to the question, ‘how much time are protesters allowed to disrupt a speaker on campus?’ should be: none.’”
Both Cotler-Wunsh and Elman tweeted praise for Beckman’s statement. “Troubling this needs to be stated esp in context of talk on #Antisemitism but good to hear ‘Zionists are welcome’ at @nyulaw,” Cotler-Wunsh wrote. “Critical to ensure Zionist identity is protected & rising hate is identified & addressed comprehensively.”
“Kudos @nyuniversity @nyulaw for your powerful statement in support of campus free expression, open inquiry, and the #Jewish community on campus,” Elman wrote.
Cotler-Wunsh’s appearance at the NYU School of Law was part of a speaking tour at various law schools in the northeast United States this past week sponsored by AEN, Improving the Campus Climate Initiative and Antisemitism Education Initiative. Cotler-Wunsh told the Journal that she experienced similar protests at Columbia Law, but her speech was not disrupted there. Cotler-Wunsh’s speech at Yale Law on April 21 was jeopardized after the school’s Jewish Law Students Association abruptly revoked their sponsorship of the event without explanation, but was ultimately saved by the law school’s deputy dean Yair Listokin, per The Washington Free Beacon.