Columbia Law Journal Website Closed Following Publication of an Article Accusing Israel of Genocide

Israeli counter-protesters demonstrate during a pro-Palestinian rally near Columbia University on May 23, 2024 in New York City.

NEW YORK — Columbia Law Review student editors say they were pressured to stop publishing an academic article written by a Palestinian human rights lawyer that accuses Israel of committing genocide in Gaza and upholding an apartheid regime by the journal’s board of directors.

The board—made up of faculty and alumni from Columbia University’s law school—shut down the law review’s website entirely after the editors refused the request and published the piece Monday morning. As of Tuesday evening, it remained offline, with a static homepage informing visitors that the domain “is under maintenance.”

The episode at one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious legal journals marks the latest flashpoint in an ongoing debate about academic speech. This debate has deeply divided students, staff and college administrators since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

Editors at the Columbia Law Review described the board’s intervention as an unprecedented breach of editorial independence at the periodical, which is run by students at Columbia Law School. The board of directors oversees the nonprofit’s finances but has typically played no role in selecting pieces.

In a letter sent to student editors Tuesday and shared with The Associated Press, the board of directors communicated that they were concerned that the article, titled “Nakba as a Legal Concept,” had not gone through the “usual processes of review or selection for articles at the Law Review”. The letter further stated that “in particular, a number of student editors had been unaware of its existence”

“In order to preserve the status quo and provide student editors some window of opportunity to review the piece, as well as provide time for the Law Review to determine how to proceed, we temporarily suspended the website,” the letter continued.

Those involved in soliciting and editing the piece claim that they followed a strict review process, while acknowledging steps they took to limit the number of students aware of the article in order to forestall expected blowback.

In the piece, Rabea Eghbariah, a Harvard doctoral candidate, accuses Israel of a litany of “crimes against humanity”. Eghbariah argues for a new legal framework to “encapsulate the ongoing structure of subjugation in Palestine and derive a legal formulation of the Palestinian condition.”

Eghbariah said in a text message that the suspension of the law journal’s website should be seen as “a microcosm of a broader authoritarian repression taking place across U.S. campuses.”

Editors said they voted overwhelmingly in December to commission a piece on Palestinian legal issues and formed a smaller committee—open to all of the publication’s editorial leadership—that ultimately accepted Eghbariah’s article. According to a , Eghbariah had submitted an earlier version of the article to the Harvard Law Review, which the publication later elected not to publish amid internal backlash.

Anticipating similar controversy and concerned about a leak of the draft, the committee of editors working on the article did not upload it to a server that is visible to the broader membership of the law journal and to some administrators. The piece was not shared until Sunday with the full staff of the Columbia Law Review—something that editorial staffers said was not uncommon.

“We’ve never circulated a particular article in advance,” said Sohum Pal, an articles editor at the publication. “So the idea that this is all over a process concern is a total lie. It’s very transparently content based.”

In their letter to students, the board of directors stated that student editors who didn’t work on the piece should have been given the opportunity to read it and express concerns.

“Whatever your views of this piece, it will clearly be controversial and potentially have an impact on all associated with the Review,” they wrote.

Those involved in the publishing of the article reported that they heard from a small group of students over the weekend who expressed concerns about potential threats to their careers and safety if the article were published.

Some alluded to following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which labeled students as antisemites for their past or current affiliation with groups seen as hostile to Israel.

The letter from the board also suggested that a statement be appended to the piece stating that the article had not been subject to a standard review process, nor been made available for all student editors to read ahead of time.

Erika Lopez, an editor who worked on the piece, said many students were firmly opposed to the idea, calling it “completely false to imply that we didn’t follow the standard process.”

She said student editors had spoken regularly since receiving pushback from the board on Sunday and remained steadfastly in support of the piece.

When they discovered that the website had been shut down on Monday morning, they promptly uploaded Eghbariah’s article to a . It has since spread widely across social media.

“It’s really ironic that this piece probably received more attention than anything we’ve published,” Lopez added, “even after they shut down the website.”