‘What Are They Afraid Of?’: Columbia Law Review Board Shuts Down Website Over Nakba Article

The author of the 106-page piece said the suppression attempt is "reflective of a pervasive and alarming Palestine exception to academic freedom."

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The Columbia Law Review‘s board of directors temporarily shut down the prestigious legal journal’s website on Monday following its publication of an article arguing for the establishment of the Nakba – the ethnic cleansing of Arabs from Palestine to establish and expand the state of Israel – as a novel legal concept.

The Intercept reported that Rabea Eghbariah, a Palestinian human rights lawyer and Harvard Law School student, initially tried to publish an article in the Harvard Law Review on the Nakba as a legal concept amid the backdrop of Israel’s Gaza genocide and apartheid in the illegally occupied West Bank of Palestine. The piece was fully edited and ready for publication when it was canceled. The Nation published the essay in November.

Students from the Columbia Law Review (CLR) subsequently reached out to Eghbariah to solicit a new article on the topic. He said he worked with editors for five months on the 106-page piece, entitled “Toward Nakba as a Legal Concept,” which was published early Monday morning. The article – which is dedicated to the “victims and survivors of the ongoing Nakba” – “proposes to distinguish apartheid, genocide, and Nakba as different, yet overlapping, modalities of crimes against humanity.”

CLR‘s board of directors – which consists of Columbia Law School faculty and prominent alumni – quickly shut down the entire website over the article. By later Monday morning, the CLR homepage was but a simple, specious message: “Website is under maintenance.” The site was still offline on Wednesday afternoon.

“The attempts to silence legal scholarship on the Nakba by subjecting it to an unusual and discriminatory process are not only reflective of a pervasive and alarming Palestine exception to academic freedom, but are also a testament to a deplorable culture of Nakba denialism,” Eghbariah told The Intercept on Monday.

Seven editors who worked on the article told The Intercept that board members pressured them to delay or cancel its publication. Some CLR staff toldThe Associated Press that a small group of students said they feared for their careers and even their safety if the article was published.

CLR’s board of directors told The Intercept Monday that “we spoke to certain members of the student leadership to ask that they delay publication for a few days so that, at a minimum, the manuscript could be shared with all student editors, to provide them with a chance to read it and respond.”

“Nevertheless, we learned this morning that the manuscript had been made public,” the board continued. “In order to provide time for the Law Review to determine how to proceed, we have temporarily suspended its website.”

The directors said there has been no final decision on whether to publish the article.

Critics contend that Eghbariah’s piece is being suppressed as part of a wider silencing of Palestinian voices and denial of not only Israel’s genocide in Gaza but also of the indisputable Nakba and occupation.

“I don’t suspect that they would have asserted this kind of control had the piece been about Tibet, Kashmir, Puerto Rico, or other contested political sites,” Columbia Law School professor Katherine Frank told The Intercept.

The Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) called the CLR board’s action “a shameful attempt to silence groundbreaking legal scholarship shining light on the catastrophe of Zionism and the ways in which is fragments, displaces, and disempowers Palestinian society.”

Others linked the incident to Columbia University’s recent violent crackdown on nonviolent pro-Palestine protesters.

“At Columbia, if you publish a law review article about Palestine, they will take down the entire law review website,” Jonathan Ben-Menachem, a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia, said Monday on social media. “If you protest for Palestine, they will shut down the entire campus and direct police to hospitalize you.”

In a Wednesday interview on Democracy Now!, Eghbariah lamented “the extent to which the board of directors is willing to go to shut down and silence Palestinian scholarship.”

“What are they afraid of? What are they afraid of, of Palestinians narrating their own reality, speaking their own truth?” he asked. “Whose interests is the board of directors serving, going against their students, editors, going against its own staff, throwing them under the bus, manufacturing a controversy about some internal processes?”

“By attempting to silence and censor my scholarship, these two law reviews have actually amplified it,” Eghbariah continued. “And by attempting to erase the Nakba, they have, in fact, made it clearer. And still, despite this irony, it feels quite offensive and unprofessional and discriminatory to be faced with such repression.”

“I think this repression is really a testament to the Palestine exception to free speech and to academic freedom,” he added. “And it’s a microcosm of, you know, the broader authoritarian repression we’ve been witnessing on American campuses in this country.”

Brett Wilkins is is staff writer for Common Dreams. Based in San Francisco, his work covers issues of social justice, human rights and war and peace. This originally appeared at CommonDreams and is reprinted with the author’s permission.