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The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law has filed a federal civil rights complaint with the US Department of Education on behalf of Cassie Blotner and Ofek Preis, two SUNY New Paltz students who were expelled from a sexual assault awareness group allegedly over their support for Israel and Zionism, legal counsel for the organization told The Algemeiner on Thursday.

The complaint marks the latest chapter in a story that began in February, when student journalists at The New Paltz Oracle reported that Blotner was bullied into leaving New Paltz Accountability (NPA) — a group she founded to support sexual assault survivors — for posting social media content aimed at dispelling antisemitic myths about Israel. Ofek Preis later left NPA after its members allegedly subjected her to bullying due to her support for Israel and refused to mediate the dispute in a meeting with the New Paltz Jewish Student Union, according to the complaint.

“As a public institution, we value the First Amendment and uphold the free exchange of ideas,” SUNY New Paltz spokesperson Chrissie Williams told The Algemeiner. “SUNY New Paltz has provided access to resources and support for those impacted by the events of this past year and we continue our active engagement to support our Jewish students and employees around the rise of antisemitism, to address antisemitism and bias concerns when they arise, and to continue dialogue and educational efforts.”

“These incidents have created a hostile environment on campus not only for the complainants, but also for the larger Jewish community of sexual assault survivors at SUNY NP,” the Brandeis Center said. “To this day, the university continues to tacitly accept the exclusion of Jewish students (and especially ‘Zionists’) — Jewish students for whom connection to the State of Israel is inseparable from their Jewish identity — from NPA.”

After their expulsion from NPA became public, the university issued a statement expressing concern about the incident but did not launch any disciplinary investigations, according to the complaint. Neither, the Brandeis Center noted in its complaint, has it taken steps to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.

Denise Katz-Prober, Brandeis Center’s director of legal initiatives, told the The Algemeiner on Wednesday that SUNY New Paltz must protect the civil rights of all Jewish survivors of sexual assault.

“Something that’s important to understand about NPA is that it is the only group on campus for survivors of sexual violence, and by casting out these young women, it effectively made it so that Jewish survivors have no place where they can support other survivors while feeling free to express pride in their ethnic and Israeli national identities,” she said.

Katz-Prober, who wrote the Brandeis Center’s complaint, recommended that SUNY New Paltz educate its students about why the kind of antisemitism that motivated NPA to push Blotner and Preis out of NPA is “destructive and divisive.”

Blotner said that falling out with NPA ruined the final semester of her third college year.

“I’m very behind now because of everything that went on,” Blotner told The Algemeiner. “It’s been rough, and it stinks to look back on how the semester ended and how I started it out with so much optimism, thinking that it would be good and that I would get a lot done and finish out strong. I wasn’t even able to finish at all.”

On Sunday, she’ll discuss her experience on Dana Bash’s CNN Special Report, “Rising Hate: Antisemitism in America.”

The Algemeiner also spoke to Julia Jassey, a University of Chicago undergraduate and CEO of Jewish on Campus (JOC), a social-media based organization that tracks antisemitism in higher education and is a litigant in the case. After being contacted by Blotner and Preis in February, she promptly connected them to the Brandeis Center. She said that theirs is one of the most grievous cases of campus antisemitism to come to JOC’s attention.

Ofek Preis, who is an international student from Israel, agreed, acknowledging that the role of xenophobia and discrimination was “seminal” in her experience.

“I am held responsible for the government of the government of the nation from which I come from,” she said. “That in itself is exclusionary, discriminatory, and unjust. Scrutiny of my feelings about Israel, something to which no other international student is subjected, is just wrong. I shouldn’t be singled out.”

Preis, like Blotner, also struggled to end the semester on a high note and believes that the university’s inaction has materially harmed both students.

“The pain still remains, for me and for Cassie,” she continued. “We’re still asking for spaces for Jewish survivors. We feel neglected, that our voices are being silenced. Their handling of this matter has negated the fight for survivors.”

Blotner and Preis will return to campus this fall. In light of threats of physical harm that they have received on the popular mobile application YikYak, the Brandeis Center has requested that they be provided security to escort them to and from class.

Source of original article: World – Algemeiner.com (www.algemeiner.com).
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