NYU drops bogus charges against graduate student worker

Banners with the NYU logo hang from brick buildings. A US mail truck is parked on the side of the street.

Persistent student organizing and strong union representation can be a significant force against Israel lobby smear campaigns. (Jonathan71)

After months of steady union organizing and public pressure, New York University (NYU) dropped its charges against a graduate student worker over alleged vandalism of a piece of trash.

Last summer, Naye Idriss, who worked in the Bobst Library mailroom, saw a discarded Israel postal service bag that had been sitting in the bin for days. She wrote “fuck” over the word “Israel,” and “Free Palestine.”

The university charged Idriss with vandalism and writing “potentially anti-Semitic words” on the discarded bag – even though nothing she wrote expressed any anti-Jewish bigotry whatsoever.

But her union stepped in, along with attorneys at Palestine Legal.

Idriss’ representatives with the Union for Graduate Workers at NYU accompanied her in a hearing with the human resources department at the university in late December, in which administrators admitted that the vandalism charge “would not have been an issue if it were not an anti-Israel message,” according to Dylan Saba at Palestine Legal.

Saba spoke to The Electronic Intifada in January, after Idriss was not rehired for her library position.

Notably, NYU had adopted parts of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) “working definition” of anti-Semitism, in a voluntary settlement with the US Department of Education.

Israel lobby groups had filed a federal complaint in an attempt to censor students’ political expression at NYU.

Promoted by Israel and its lobby, the IHRA definition conflates criticism of Israel, on the one hand, with anti-Jewish bigotry, on the other.

It has become the Israel lobby’s key weapon in North America and Europe to enforce censorship about Israel’s crimes against Palestinians.

However, NYU explicitly removed the IHRA definition’s examples which smear Palestinian rights activism and criticism of Israel as anti-Jewish bigotry.

But lawfare organizations such as the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, led by career Israel lobbyist Kenneth Marcus, have been pressuring the NYU administration to add the Israel-related clauses back into their regulation.

Despite this pressure, NYU dropped the anti-Semitism charge against Idriss on 3 February, Palestine Legal says.

Leveraging collective power

The civil rights group stated on 30 March that NYU “agreed in a settlement with the union to drop the vandalism charge and rehire [Idriss] to the library, effective immediately.”

The settlement “also included an award for back pay for the time she went without a job,” Palestine Legal added.

Saba stated that the university “should apologize to [Idriss] for the harm they caused her and the harassment that she received as a result.”

He explained that “It’s great that collectively, we were able to pressure NYU into dropping these ridiculous charges. But that doesn’t give [Idriss] back the time and energy she spent on this ordeal.”

In the same statement, Idriss noted that persistent student organizing and strong union representation can be a significant force against Israel lobby smear campaigns.

“The fact that I was targeted and almost lost my job for writing a pro-Palestine statement on a piece of trash shows the impact right-wing Israel advocacy groups have on our university administration,” Idriss said.

“But by leveraging our collective power as students, workers, and organizers we were able to prove we cannot be intimidated into silence, and that Zionism has no place in our universities,” she added.




Congratulations to Naye Idriss, her union reps, and Palestine Legal for standing up to this racist thuggery- and for prevailing. But is it really enough to be restored to your former position with back pay after such an ordeal? Ms. Idriss deserves more from NYU. She should be reimbursed for the hardship and humiliation she's endured, and the university should be made to issue a pledge never to repeat such a disgraceful action. On a related note, isn't it past time that Israel lobby groups bringing demonstrably false and malicious charges against Palestinians in the U.S. be subjected to prosecution? The prospect of countersuits with possible fines resulting and even custodial sentences might cause some of these outfits to consider their own skins before going after someone else's.

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).