Leading US law journals block article criticising Israel

Months after Harvard Law Review rejected analysis of Gaza genocide allegation, Columbia’s version does the same

June 6, 2024
A padlock sits on a keyboard, symbolising censorship
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A second Ivy League law journal has blocked the publication of a scholarly essay making an assessment that Israel’s military campaign in Gaza constitutes an act of genocide, in what has been seen as a further erosion of US academic freedom of speech.

The governing board of the Columbia Law Review – one of the nation’s oldest and most respected academic legal journals – said it prevented the article’s publication on the grounds that it wanted time for a wider debate among all of the organisation’s editors.

The Columbia Law Review board is nominally independent, though its members include the university’s law dean and other faculty. In rejecting the Israel-focused article by Rabea Eghbariah, a law student at Harvard University, the board at Columbia complained that a draft version had not been made available in advance to “all student editors during the editing process”.

“The secrecy that surrounded this article’s editing and substantiation review is unacceptable,” especially given that it explores matters that “will clearly be controversial and potentially have an impact on all associated with the Review”, the board said in a letter to the journal’s editors.

The Harvard Law Review blocked a briefer version of Mr Eghbariah’s article back in November. That incident involved a secret vote among the publication’s 100-plus student editors to reject the analysis, after what some of the editors called an unprecedented level of interference in their operations.

Mr Eghbariah is a Palestinian human rights lawyer who has argued cases before the Israeli Supreme Court. Two Harvard Law Review editors asked for his analysis shortly after Israel invaded Gaza in response to the October surprise attack against Israel by Palestinian militants. About 1,200 people died in the Palestinian attack and about 36,000 have died in Israel’s response.

Israelis and Palestinians both have long-standing claims to the land that makes up modern Israel, and Mr Eghbariah describes the difficulty of legally categorising Israel’s decades of handling of the situation. “The law,” he says in one published version of his paper, “does not possess the language we desperately need to accurately capture the totality of Palestinian subjugation.”

The paper’s rejection by top academic legal journals fits a months-long pattern of US colleges and universities – prominent and otherwise – complying with demands from politically conservative US lawmakers and wealthy donors that they silence criticisms of Israel and its military attacks in Gaza.

Harvard and Columbia have been central players in that drama. Both had their presidents called by congressional Republicans to testify before the education committee of the US House of Representatives, where they were condemned for tolerating students publicly demanding protections for Palestinian civilians.

After their appearances before the committee, Harvard’s president resigned and Columbia’s president called in police to arrest her student demonstrators, touching off a nationwide series of student-led encampments at more than 50 campuses that led to some 2,500 arrests.

Campus resource collection: What can universities do to protect academic freedom?

One undergraduate group at Harvard, the campus’ chapter of the Palestine Solidarity Committee, said in a social media posting that the Columbia journal’s action “is a shameful attempt to silence ground-breaking legal scholarship shining light on the catastrophe of Zionism and the ways in which it fragments, displaces and disempowers Palestinian society”.

That pro-Palestinian student group was itself suspended by Harvard leaders this past semester after it joined the coast-to-coast protests on behalf of the students arrested at Columbia. Harvard officials said they imposed the suspension, in a “content-neutral manner”, because the student group failed to properly register for its demonstration and violated protest guidelines.

The board of the Columbia Law Review imposed its ban on Mr Eghbariah’s analysis by shutting down the publication’s entire website while awaiting a commitment from the editors not to post his writing. In its letter to the journal’s editorial staff explaining its position, the board said it hoped the editors would quickly accept that promise and thereby allow the site to be restored, especially given that non-academic outlets have now published Mr Eghbariah’s work on their own.


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