NYU student bar association president axed for saying Israel ‘responsible’ for7 October

Student’s comments led top law firm to rescind job offer

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Tuesday 28 November 2023 23:34 GMT
3 Jewish NYU students suing school for fostering antisemitism

New York University law students voted to remove Ryna Workman as head of the Student Bar Association after the student attracted nationwide controversy for their comments about the Israel-Hamas war.

After the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel, which killed hundreds of civilians, Mx Workman, who uses they/them pronouns, issued a statement as president on 10 October that declared, “Israel bears full responsibility for this tremendous loss of life.”

“This regime of state-sanctioned violence created the conditions that made resistance necessary,” the statement added. “I will not condemn Palestinian resistance.”

The comments prompted an immediate backlash from fellow students, campus officials, and Winston & Strawn, a top law firm which rescinded a pending job offer to the student, describing the original statement as “profoundly” against the firm’s values.

Out of 1,176 students who voted on Monday, 707 supported Mx Workman stepping down from the SBA, National Review reports.

“While I am disappointed in the outcome, I am not upset with my fellow students regarding this vote,” Mx Workman told Law.com on Tuesday. “I blame the administration for taking extraordinary steps to remove me as president, when they did not elect me.”

People walk by New York University (NYU) as tensions between supporters of Palestine and Israel increase on college campuses across the nation on October 30, 2023 in New York City.
People walk by New York University (NYU) as tensions between supporters of Palestine and Israel increase on college campuses across the nation on October 30, 2023 in New York City. (Getty Images)

After Mx Workman’s original statement, the NYU law school dean emailed the student on 12 October, alleging the student leader had “created an intimidating and unwelcome environment for the members of our community,” while effectively suspending the then-SBA president and forbidding them from using the law school mass email system, according to the Middle East Studies Association, an academic group which protested the student’s treatment.

“This country’s institutions of higher education, including law schools, should be places in which even the most controversial and unpopular views can be expressed – and debated and criticized – without fear of sanction from university authorities,” the group wrote in a letter to NYU.

The Independent has contacted the law school for comment.

The case quickly came to stand in for numerous conflicts playing out on campuses and at companies around the country, where various people and groups felt they were being punished for exercising their free speech to share opinions about the Israel-Palestine crisis.

Mx Workman has said their original message was intended to speak up for Palestinian human rights and to stop what they described as an Israeli “genocide.”

“It’s important to note that the genocide happening right now did not start on October 7,” they said in an interview last month on ABC News. “It started over 75 years ago. That was what my message intended to get across. We are seeing violence happening that is part of a much larger structural violence system that is happening in Palestine right now.”

Mx Workman said they received death threats after sharing their views.

“The harassment campaign against me has targeted all facets of my identity - the fact that I am Black, the fact that I am queer, the fact that I am nonbinary,” they wrote on a GoFundMe page. “It is not only because of what I said but because of who I am that all this is happening to me.”

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