NYU announces antisemitism center as Jewish students file discrimination suit

New research facility, to open in the fall of 2024, will give students and faculty a dedicated place to study discrimination against Jews

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

New York University flag (Sushi Olin/Flickr via JTA)
New York University flag (Sushi Olin/Flickr via JTA)

New York Jewish Week via JTA — New York University says it will launch a center dedicated to studying and combating antisemitism, as US universities grapple with strident anti-Israel activities that Jewish students say often veers into discrimination.

The Center for the Study of Antisemitism will research both “classical” anti-Jewish discrimination and “the ‘new antisemitism’ and its links to anti-Zionism,” NYU President Linda G. Mills said in a statement on Wednesday.

The announcement came the same day that NYU was hit with a lawsuit filed by three Jewish students alleging that the university allowed a hostile, discriminatory environment that violated their civil rights protections. The students — Bella Ingber, Sabrina Maslavi and Saul Tawil — say the school did not apply its anti-discrimination policies as they faced antisemitic incidents, which they said accelerated after the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7.

The new research center is expected to open in the fall of 2024 and will study how antisemitism manifests and ways to counter discrimination against Jews. The institute will convene scholars from a range of disciplines, including the social sciences, Judaic studies, history, social work, public policy, psychology and law.

The university’s statement said a recent “seven-figure donation” will fund the academic center, with officials declining to respond to additional questions about who was funding the new initiative.

Mills cited the Hamas attack on Israel in her statement announcing the center, saying antisemitism was on the rise before the terrorists’ incursion, but that “since October 7, the increase has been truly terrifying.”

The Hamas assault killed 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians, and took some 240 others hostage. The attack, and Israel’s response against the terror group, have fueled an outpouring of antisemitism in the United States, according to law enforcement and Jewish security groups.

Posters of some of those kidnapped by Hamas in Israel on October 7, 2023, are displayed on a pole outside New York University (NYU), on October 30, 2023, in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

The NYU center will provide funding to faculty, students and fellows for research; hold undergraduate and graduate courses; host conferences, webinars and speaker series; conduct training seminars; and coordinate measures to “create an atmosphere free of anti-Jewish prejudices,” the statement said.

US Congressman Daniel Goldman, who is Jewish and represents the district covering NYU’s main campus, said he had held “constructive conversations” with university leaders and applauded NYU for launching the center.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York also celebrated the announcement. Last year, the Jewish group partnered with New York City’s public college system, the City University of New York, to address antisemitism on its campuses. NYU is a private institution.

Two representatives of the Jewish advocacy group the Academic Engagement Network, which organizes academics to counter antisemitism on US campuses, also welcomed the NYU announcement and said it would cooperate with the initiative.

“NYU’s commitment to this scholarship and research will ensure that Jewish inclusion is supported and addressed alongside all forms of bias and discrimination,” the Academic Engagement Network’s Miriam F. Elman and Naomi Greenspan said in a joint statement.

NYU said the antisemitism center would investigate the ways antisemitism and other forms of discrimination feed into each other. In addition to research, the center will conduct training at the university and elsewhere to guard against antisemitism and other forms of hatred and will engage with non-academics including members of the media, law enforcement and government.

The center will work closely with NYU’s Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, and the inaugural faculty advisory panel includes several professors from the department.

Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, the executive director of the university’s Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life, will also be an adviser.

NYU, like several other universities, has long grappled with anti-Israel activities on campus that some Jewish students said amounted to antisemitism. Eitan Gutenmacher, an NYU student activist with the New Zionist Congress, told the New York Jewish Week late last month that as an Orthodox Jew, he was afraid to be on campus due to classmates’ support for “the so-called resistance” against Israel, but added that the administration was working with Jewish students to make them feel safe and was taking steps to address antisemitism.

A sign for a campaign against antisemitism, New York City, August 12, 2021. (Luke Tress/Flash90)

The bigger problem was the “enthusiasm on campus from a huge portion, thousands in the student body, that are openly anti-Jewish, that are openly against the existence of a Jewish state,” he said.

Mills issued a statement that unequivocally condemned the Hamas attack days after the assault.

Other New York campuses, including Columbia University, Cooper Union, and some colleges from the City University of New York have also faced harsh criticism for anti-Israel activities in the past month, including condemnation of their administrations.

New York City has seen a surge in antisemitic incidents since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, according to Jewish security groups and the New York Police Department.

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