Columbia Law Review’s website crashes following publication of critique on Israel

8 days ago
Columbia Law Review’s website crashes following publication of critique on Israel

According to student editors at the Columbia Law Review, they faced pressure from the journal’s board of directors to stop the publication of an academic article penned by a Palestinian human rights lawyer. The article accuses Israel of genocide in Gaza and maintaining an apartheid regime.

Following the editors’ decision to decline the request and release the piece on Monday morning, the board, comprised of Columbia University Law School faculty and alumni, took the drastic step of shutting down the law review’s website. As of Tuesday evening, visitors to the site were greeted with a static homepage indicating that the domain was “under maintenance.”

The recent incident at one of the nation’s most esteemed legal journals has become a focal point in the continuing discussion surrounding academic freedom, causing significant division among students, faculty, and college leaders ever since the beginning of Israel’s conflict in Gaza.

Several 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 historically played no role in selecting pieces.

In a letter sent to student editors Tuesday and shared with The Associated Press, the board of directors said it was 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, and in particular that 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 said they had followed a rigorous review process, even as they acknowledged taking steps to forestall expected blowback by limiting the number of students aware of the article.

In the piece, Rabea Eghbariah, a Harvard doctoral candidate, accuses Israel of a litany of “crimes against humanity,” arguing 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, then formed a smaller committee — open to all of the publication’s editorial leadership — that ultimately accepted Eghbariah’s article. He had submitted an earlier version of the article to the Harvard Law Review, which the publication later elected not to publish amid internal backlash, according to a report in The Intercept.

Anticipating similar controversy and worried 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 said student editors who didn’t work on the piece should have been given an opportunity to read it and raise 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 the article said they heard from a small group of students over the weekend who expressed concerns about threats to their careers and safety if it were to be published.

Some alluded to trucks that circled Columbia and other campuses following the beginning of Israel’s war on Gaza in October, labeling 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 the article had not been subject to a standard review process or made available for all student editors to read ahead of time.

Erika Lopez, an editor who worked on the piece, said many students were adamantly 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 they began receiving pushback from the board on Sunday and remained firmly in support of the piece.

When they learned the website had been shuttered Monday morning, they quickly uploaded Eghbariah’s article to a publicly accessible website . It has since spread widely across social media.

“It’s really ironic that this piece probably got more attention than anything we normally published,” Lopez added, “even after they nuked the website.”


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