“My act of civil disobedience was meant to draw attention to the antisemitism propagated and tolerated at the CSU campus.”
Cleveland Rabbi Alexander Popivker has been arrested and banned for two years from Cleveland State University (CSU) due to his active response to anti-Israel activity and antisemitism on campus, the Cleveland Jewish News (CJN) reported earlier this month.
Popivker was arrested on campus on January 25 for violating a student’s temporary protection order against him, the CJN reported. At a February 1st hearing, the university declared him persona non grata.
The rabbi said he would appeal the ruling.
The day of his arrest was his third visit to the campus that month, the CJN noted. In an earlier visit, he reportedly stole a banner belonging to a Palestinian human rights organization.
On Jan. 18, he affixed an Israeli flag to a university light pole, the report said.
Matthew Kibbon, associate vice president of facilities services at CSU, said in his written decision to bar Popivker from any CSU location that Popivker’s “behavior [was] detrimental to the university community under policy 3344-90-03,” the CJN continued.
In a statement to the CJN, Popivker said he will “continue raising awareness about antisemitism on CSU campus..
“It was a private hearing that didn’t allow witnesses or statements that weren’t related to my ‘crimes’ of hanging an Israeli flag on a light pole and my taking down a banner that erases Israel.”
During the hearing, the report said, Popivker said he took down the Israeli flag after being made aware of the policy, however, the Palestinian banner “should never have been allowed, and my act of civil disobedience was meant to draw attention to the antisemitism propagated and tolerated at the CSU campus.”
Emily Forsee, a law student and chair of the National Lawyers Guild student chapter at CSU College of Law, in an interview with the CJN, said that Popivker has a pattern of harassing Arab students on social media and refusing to stop.
Regarding the ruling, she told CJN that “on one hand, it does make students feel safer because he can legally be removed. On the other hand, there’s nothing in his pattern of behavior that suggests that he will abide by this.”
Furthermore, Forsee said, “Had he not taken these extreme actions, we would have actually been one of the parties that would have been on his side,” the CJN reported.
“However, it is so egregious what he has done that he absolutely cannot be on this public property … because he’s threatening students and making them feel so unsafe and disrupting public education,” she added.
Meanwhile, the rabbi told CJN that he has never met or interacted with the student who filed a temporary protection order against him.
In conversation with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), he said, “I never attacked anyone. I never raised my hand up to anyone…
“I’m going to a public university. I’m staying in the free speech zone. And I raise awareness about what’s going on. There’s a bunch of students that have become my friends that come to study with me regularly.”
Senior Tyler Jarosz told the JTA that he was not very informed about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that he learned a great deal from Popivker’s demonstrations.
“He didn’t just lecture me like a teacher would,” Jarosz said. “He was actually very engaging. He asked questions,” he told the JTA, adding that he had never seen the rabbi harassing anyone on campus.
Jarosz “recalled one Popivker visit to campus for Israel’s Independence Day, when the rabbi was offering falafel to students, and said he witnessed one student throw the falafel back at him and threaten to ‘rape’ him,” the JTA reported.
The JTA reached out to Jewish civil rights organizations and campus groups, but they declined to comment.