EXCLUSIVE: Emory Investigating Anti-Palestinian Chalkings

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With additional reporting by Matthew Cardinale.

(APN) DECATUR — Students at Emory University are troubled by anti-Palestinian remarks which were written with chalk on the main campus on November 02, 2008, saying they feel intimidated by the messages and that the Administration has failed to take action against the alleged perpetrators.

The University has denied twice to Atlanta Progressive News that what occurred should be considered hate speech; however, interviews and records show that the University is investigating the matter and may be filing student conduct charges against the alleged perpetrators.

According to an Incident Report obtained exclusively by Atlanta Progressive News, Emory University police responded early morning on November 03, 2008, after being flagged down by a student. The student was Shahmeer Halepota, a pro-Palestinian activist, students said.

“The student stated he observed his chalk advertisement had been defaced with racially orientated and derogatory remarks,” the report states.

The police report implicitly confirms that there were slogans on the ground when it notes “Night One responded to erase the remarks.”

Emory Advocates for Justice in Palestine (EAJP) reported they had put up advertisements in chalk for an upcoming event, Week Against the Wall, on the University’s “free speech area” on the evening of November 02, 2008, in accordance with Administration rules about how to advertise student events.

In the evening hours, a group of students apparently erased and marked over these with anti-Arab slogans.

The writings included such phrases as Arabs Go Home, Arabs Get Out of Emory, and You’ve Got Nothing, all of which were signed all Irgun, Nick Juliano, 22, a senior and pro-Palestinian activist, told Atlanta Progressive News. Juliano saw the messages and completed a written narrative for Emory Police.

Irgun is a Hebrew acronym for the National Military Organization in the Land of Israel which existed prior to establishment of the State of Israel. In 1948 it was declared a terrorist group and was condemned by the World Zionist Congress for massacres and bombings.

Halepota said Emory officials had recently told him not to speak about what happened until the investigation was complete.

Emory Police took photographs of the incident but refused to release them to APN, arguing that they were private property of Emory and part of an internal investigation.

“The photos are being used as evidentiary. They have been submitted as part of an evidentiary process. There was not a crime, so they are property of Emory University,” Lt. Cheryl Elliot, Public Information Officer, told APN.

“It may fall under disorderly conduct. It’s not hate speech. There has to be damages or threats [to be considered hate speech]. Defacement, like graffiti, is a crime. On our campus, we allow people to do chalking,” Elliott said.

“There’s no victim. There’s no damage to property. There’s no intent [of these things]. So, there’s none of the elements to be considered under the Georgia criminal code,” Elliott said.

Emory Police did not take an official police report because there did not appear to be a crime and, according to Elliott, “It was his [Nick Juliano’s] preference not to be filed as a criminal report. His statement to us was he didn’t want anything to be made public. There was no [police] investigation.”

“He came to us and said he didn’t want us to do anything… that places us in a position… [the incident report] was done for our purposes of documentation… They [the students] wanted that [investigation] process done through the University system, and we have to respect that as police officers,” Elliott said.

Juliano does recall telling Emory Police that he wanted the matter to be handled internally by Emory.

“What I meant by that was that we did not want to sue people, but that we wanted the Emory Conduct office to handle this, that we didn’t want to drag this into the courts. But I did not mean that the incident should be closed off to non-Emory students,” Juliano said.

“These incidents and allegations have been investigated by Emory Police and Campus Life officials,” Emory University responded in an official statement prepared for Atlanta Progressive News.

“As a matter of policy, Emory does not comment on student conduct procedures or outcomes,” Emory’s statement said.

“Emory takes allegations of intolerance very seriously. The University is dedicated to fostering a culture of mutual respect and civil dialogue within its diverse community,” the statement said.

However, one University spokesperson insisted to APN “there is no hate crime involved.”

Saba Khalid, 20, a junior at Emory and an activist, told Atlanta Progressive News she believes she knows who three out of four of the perpetrators are, and that they include student leaders of pro-Israeli groups at Emory.

Atlanta Progressive News obtained copies of Facebook messages between Khalid and another Emory student, Eddy Goldfarb, which appear to show Goldfarb implying that he was involved in the incident and saying he knows the identity of all the participants.

After receiving the copies of the messages, APN confirmed their authenticity by obtaining the password to Khalid’s Facebook account from Khalid, logging in to Khalid’s account, and verifying the conversation in Khalid’s inbox. With Khalid’s permission, APN also reviewed what appeared to be, by all indications, Mr. Goldfarb’s public Facebook page.

“I can tell you that there were 4 people in the group that chalked that night… I certainly was not in charge of anything… I have talked to all of them personally, and no one of them admits to writing anything as outrageous as ‘go home arabs,'” Goldfarb wrote.

“I’m reluctant to drop names. All the chalkers have suffered a severe backlash internally from Michael Rabkin [director of Emory’s Hillel] and several concerned and prominent members of Hillel,” Goldfarb continued.

“I truly don’t think anyone will crack or admit anything, but in terms of all this back and forth… I firmly believe it has to stop. Emory is a model campus and it doesn’t deserve a war between our two groups that smacks of hatred and alienates other students.”

Khalid told APN that she spoke in person with Goldfarb in further detail about the incident and that in that conversation, Goldfarb told her the identity of two additional perpetrators.

“We gave proof to our Administration and they sent it around to the various Deans. We then showed all of them we had proof and the Conduct Office talked to me. But no one was brought in and no one was punished,” Khalid said.

“Was there a hate crime on campus? This is something I can’t comment on. There is absolutely no anti-Arab sentiment. I can’t comment on all of Emory, but as far as coming from Israel supporters on campus there is no anti-Arab sentiment. These are alarmist tactics other groups are using to scare people,” Goldfarb told APN in an interview.

In an interview with APN, Mr. Rabkin denied that he had informally disciplined any of the students involved in the chalking incident and said he did not know about any University investigation.

Juliano said Erik Hoffman, the Assistant Dean for the Office of Conduct, told him the Facebook messages demonstrate certain people are guilty of misconduct, but that it would be difficult to punish them because chalking is not considered a crime on campus.

“If they had spray-painted hate messages would it have been more legitimate [as a hate crime]?” Juliano asked.

According to a copy of the Student Code of Conduct sent to APN by an Emory spokesperson, the University does prohibit “Threatening harm to any person, or behaving in a manner that a reasonable person would consider alarming or intimidating,” as part of its section on Respect and Consideration.

Khalid also says that she was contacted by Hoffman’s assistant, who “asked for details. He asked for people who were there that night. I asked if they were going to take action. He said there’s no policy on chalking so they don’t really know. That they really can’t take action because there’s no policy.”

Khalid also said she spoke with Azzi Harris, an Emory Provost, who told her the same thing.

However, an email from a few days ago from Jonathan Zerulik to Juliano obtained by APN states, “I am the conduct officer investigating the chalking incident that happened in November. I am in the process of interviewing witnesses. I’m nearing the end of that process. You are in fact one of the individuals on my list to speak with as a witness as well as being the complaining party, but I am waiting until I have completed some other interviews before talking with you,” Zerulik wrote.

“We approached this situation differently than usual, gathering more information prior to opening cases of alleged misconduct against any students,” Zerulik wrote.

“In most cases the information we receive initially is conclusive in pointing to one or more students being in violation of our Code. Since that wasn’t the case here I felt it was more appropriate to investigate further before making any specific allegations,” Zerulik wrote.

“While there isn’t a conduct case at this point, there is an investigation and it seems likely that there will be some charges of misconduct once the investigation is complete,” Zerulik wrote.

Both Hoffman and Zerulik declined to comment to APN on the investigation, referring APN to Emory’s public affairs office.

ONGOING ANTI-PALESTINIAN CLIMATE AT EMORY ALLEGED

The anti-Palestinian harassment had been continuous for the entire month of November, Juliano alleged.

“While we were doing this [advertising for the event], we were verbally harassed by [pro-Israeli activist students],” Juliano claimed.

According to Juliano, a student spat at him two weeks later during the event, and Emory officials again refused to take action against the student.

A mock wall erected on campus to symbolize the wall which Israelis are constructing to separate Palestinians from them, was kicked down, Juliano said. The student who kicked down the wall did face University sanctions, however, and was ordered to pay for the damages, Juliano said.

Later that evening a rabbi from the Emory community road his car into Asbury Circle, turned on his bright lights, and began honking at the members of EAJP who were rebuilding the wall, Juliano alleged.

Prior to this, some brothers from a campus fraternity surrounded the students and made threatening comments and then left, Juliano said.

EAJP believes the issue is being swept under the table by the Administration.

About the author:

Alice Gordon is a Staff Writer for The Atlanta Progressive News, and is reachable is alice@atlantaprogressivenews.com. Matthew Cardinale for The Atlanta Progressive News, and is reachable is matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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Our syndication policy was updated June 2007. For more information on how to syndicate Atlanta Progressive News content, please visit: http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/extras/syndicate.html

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