As members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law, we condemn Northeastern University’s suspension of Northeastern’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter and denounce the baseless and reactionary disciplinary measures that the university administration is pursuing against two members of Northeastern Students for Justice in Palestine.
Northeastern Students for Justice in Palestine, like other SJP chapters throughout the country, was founded to enable students to express solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, and raise awareness regarding Israel’s oppressive policies that violate Palestinian rights.
As part of Israeli Apartheid Week, Northeastern’s SJP slid 600 mock eviction notices into students’ dormitory rooms to call attention to the Israeli government’s common practice of forcibly evicting and demolishing Palestinian homes. These mock eviction notices were widely and indiscriminately distributed in an effort to call attention to a racist, colonial process that violates international law. Contrary to a statement issued by Northeastern’s Hillel executive director Arinne Braverman, the explicitly fake evictions were not part of a “campaign of intimidation and fear.” Rather, they were clearly-labeled educational leaflets meant to inspire informed discussion on the daily reality for Palestinians and to encourage students to question the complicity of the United States’ government, corporations, and universities in allowing violence against Palestinians to persist through military aid to Israel and investments in war profiteers.
Instead of open debate, Northeastern’s SJP was met with unmistakable repression. On March 11, Northeastern’s SJP was suspended from campus for “noncompliance with longstanding policies,” including, “vandalism of university property, distribution of flyers in residence halls without prior approval and disrupting the events of other student groups.” Most troubling was the administration’s decision to pursue disciplinary action and a police investigation against two SJP members, both of whom are women of color with Arab and/or Muslim backgrounds.
While the administration claims that the issue at hand is one of accountability (“holding every member of [Northeastern’s] community to the same standards”) and not civil liberties, what is occurring is nothing less than chilling students’ First Amendment-protected speech that calls attention to Israel’s repressive policies. If unauthorized distribution of flyers was the key issue, then many groups on campus would be facing the same repercussions as SJP. It appears that this particular act, one of showing solidarity with the Palestinian cause during Israeli Apartheid Week, caused enough “back room brinksmanship” to remove SJP from Northeastern’s campus.
Domestically, explicit censorship of Palestine solidarity work is becoming the new normal on American campuses. “Re-education” in retaliation for walkouts (Florida Atlantic University), removal of banners that were in total compliance with administrative standards (Barnard), and criminal prosecution for interrupting a speech (UC Irvine) are but a few examples of repression SJP chapters have recently faced. This increase in campus repression has come to the attention of the international community. On March 14, 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva expressed concerns about the pervasive censorship of pro-Palestinian student activism at American universities. As law students and Palestine solidarity activists, we are equally troubled that academic institutions are violating our Constitution by quelling legitimate political speech on the policies of a nation-state.
The role of academic institutions is to foster free speech, open debate, and engagement with global politics. The repression of Northeastern’s SJP, and broader silencing of any criticism of Israel, are antithetical to the values of the First Amendment. Therefore, we at CUNY Law SJP vehemently condemn the actions taken by the Northeastern administration, commend the strength our comrades at SJP Northeastern have demonstrated, and urge any who are committed to free speech, human rights, and justice to voice their outrage at the attempts to silence Northeastern SJP.