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Explicit censorship of Palestine solidarity work is becoming the new normal on American campuses

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(Image: Carlos Latuff)

(Image: Carlos Latuff)

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.

262030_431294283621177_653085348_nAs 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.

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13 Responses

  1. Woody Tanaka
    Woody Tanaka
    March 19, 2014, 11:30 am

    zionists hate free speech. Everyone can see that by the way they act.

  2. JeffB
    JeffB
    March 19, 2014, 12:39 pm

    Maybe consider the issue is a first amendment one. There is no first amendment right to engage in intimidation.

    There is no first amendment right to interrupt a speaker. SJP’s argument that they have the right to shout down speakers they don’t agree with because they supposedly committed war crimes was tried by the California courts and found wanting. Had their been a peaceful civilized counter speech in a booked and paid for location or a registered with the police demonstration there wouldn’t have been a problem at Irvine.
    This video of a similar protest abroad:

    shows this isn’t speech

    The issue at Northeastern is multiple filed intimidation complaints. Those are sworn criminal complaints. This wasn’t about flyers exclusively storming a Holocaust commemoration event, vandalizing the statue of a Jewish donor to the university…. The administration tried to treat the SJP like any other campus group that was getting into police trouble by offering civility support and they refused. They aren’t being treated differently they are being treated exactly the same as campus clubs that cause trouble with law enforcement.

    FAU there were serious questions whether SJP was engaging in a criminal conspiracy regarding things like vandalism.

    ____

    There are two things going on here:

    a) The BDS movement is being really rude and nasty towards Jewish students hoping to offend them.

    b) The Jewish student’s objections to this rudeness are being ignored and so their parents being offended are then using legal leverage which is likely excessive.

    The BDS movement likes to take its inspiration from the anti-apartheid movement. I don’t remember any anti-apartheid protest that tried to single out, mock, embarrass or humiliate Dutch or Presbyterian students on American campuses. There was never any discussion of historical wrongs but rather a movement towards whites and blacks moving together towards a better future. The message was pro-democratic and inclusive talking how about post apartheid South Africa would be good for everyone and improve the lives of both white and blacks. The talk was only one of reconciliation not revenge. There was an understanding that people could be legitimately concerned about what would happen to the Boers if South Africa well without being racist. People who supported “constructive engagement” (the opposition to the sanctions / divestment movement) weren’t demonized.

    That’s not the model that BDS is following. I don’t know how you expect the University is going to respond to a group that going out of its way to hurt the feeling of other students that occasionally crosses over into intimidation, vandalism and disruption of public events. You might want to try being polite, respectful, charitable and nice. Act like any other campus group looking for policy changes that’s looking to win over support to a political cause rather than a group looking to offend, alienate and intimidate Jewish students.

    Clearly you get more attention through crime but that attention is negative. The public square is needed for public debate. But for debate to take place everyone needs to feel safe and welcome.

    • puppies
      puppies
      March 21, 2014, 11:20 am

      “You might want to try being polite, respectful, charitable and nice”
      Where in the Constitution does it require that?
      “The BDS movement is being really rude and nasty towards Jewish students”
      Wrong. Zionists, not Jews (you antisemite!) Which is a deliberately acquired malformation.
      “I don’t know how you expect the University is going to respond to a group that going out of its way to hurt the feeling…”
      By respecting free speech, which consists entirely in the right to hurt the feelings of some.

      • JeffB
        JeffB
        March 22, 2014, 3:13 pm

        @puppies

        JeffB: “You might want to try being polite, respectful, charitable and nice”

        Puppies: Where in the Constitution does it require that?

        It doesn’t. The constitution addresses prior restraint of speech by the government. It is completely irrelevant to a private non-profit property owner deciding what sorts of speech to permit or not permit on their property. In general Universities tend to lean more towards civility than police departments so for example they would exclude a Fred Phelps type character even though his speech is clearly constitutionally protected. On the other hand they also lean more towards openness, so they don’t just allow the production of unpopular they often support it directly financially and extend these protections to other areas which have somewhat weaker protections like art and literature. There is a culture of openness. Part of that culture of openness however is a culture of respect and decorum.

        If you want to move away from respect and decorum, i.e the culture and talk pure law then this situation isn’t legally complex. NU owns the property they can allow or disallow any speech at any time for any reason dependent on either policy or whim.

      • puppies
        puppies
        March 23, 2014, 3:14 pm

        Basically, yes. A good idea is to reopen the discussion about federal funds and grants to private entities.

  3. seafoid
    seafoid
    March 19, 2014, 12:55 pm

    This is what happens when hasbara is dead.
    They can’t win any arguments so they shut down all debate.
    And this is Israeli Judaism.
    I wonder how they’ll sell it in the States.

  4. mondonut
    mondonut
    March 19, 2014, 1:41 pm

    Really? You people are law students? And you believe there is a First Amendment issue here? Was NU “chilling” their rights when they permitted your cohorts to chant “Long Live the Intifada” and to bullhorn that the President of Northeastern is a “Zionist Goon”?

  5. March 19, 2014, 2:13 pm

    what have i been all along claiming these zionisis are?
    the masters of deception and truth perversion, thats what, and no better example of their masterful work of expertise than calling the very harmless, but communicative,
    mock eviction notices a “campaign of fear and intimidation”.
    the zios will twist, bend, and truth-pervert anything and evertthing they want to get their way
    it’s like a malignant tumor which cannot be stopped spreading.

  6. chuckcarlos
    chuckcarlos
    March 19, 2014, 9:38 pm

    the main question is

    how does one square “Memorial and Remonstrance” and “Notes to his Native Virginia” with the racist fascist policies of the State of Israel…

    and then one may add in 40,000 black Union Soldier DEAD and 250,000 more BLACK UNION Soldiers…

    and my ancestors buried with the 141st Pennsylvania at Gettysburg…

    and one asks…why in the hell are involved with a RACIST FASCIST county like Israel when all of our history is leading us in another direction?

    and let’s leave out Strom Thurmond’s kid and grandkids and Thomas Jefferson’s kids and many kin…

    WE are not a theocratic country but a country of many…

    E PLURIBUS UNUM

  7. pabelmont
    pabelmont
    March 20, 2014, 9:11 am

    We “are equally troubled that academic institutions are violating our Constitution by quelling legitimate political speech on the policies of a nation-state.”

    I love the broad sweep of this statement, but am uncertain — to say the least — at the claim that universities violate the Constitution when they “quell” political speech on campus. If they are government universities, then, of course, they are bound by the First amendment. Private universities, I should imagine, are not so bound — even if, as in most cases, they accept government funds for research, etc.

    On the other hand, the concept of “academic freedom” seems widely accepted — if not widely enforced — and is in some ways akin to the idea of “free speech” (First Amendment freedom). And universities may well have charters, mission statements, etc., which asse3rt a dedication to support free discussion of important issues which (one would wish) would operate, in practice, as “little” First Amendments for institutions — such as Brandeis, Barnard, which are private universities.

  8. MHughes976
    MHughes976
    March 20, 2014, 10:49 am

    I can’t believe that these institutions would wish to hide behind their private status and I’d be surprised if they didn’t have statutes that protect free speech in the most noble-sounding terms. I am sure that they would swear black and blue that anyone is free to state that Palestinians are being evicted unjustly and that it’s a question of vandalism, insult, intimidation and of doing things on the right occasion. But to my mind these arguments are spurious.
    I suppose that the spoofs were intended to produce some kind of frisson at first appearance as a way of catching attention but that is not the same thing as leaving someone, at very least someone who is as intelligent and rational as students are supposed to be, with a sustained sense of fear or insult. The abiding impression would not be one of fear for oneself but of discomfort over the bad situation of others, a very different state of mind. That’s to say that attention would have been caught and consciences disturbed, neither of which are bad.
    At that rate the objection must be not to the manner or occasion of the ‘speech’ but entirely to its content, so this is a denial of free speech in classic form.

    • JeffB
      JeffB
      March 20, 2014, 11:42 am

      @MHughes976

      I suppose that the spoofs were intended to produce some kind of frisson at first appearance as a way of catching attention but that is not the same thing as leaving someone, at very least someone who is as intelligent and rational as students are supposed to be, with a sustained sense of fear or insult.

      There were multiple sworn statements for intimidation, which is a misdemeanor form of extortion. So for example if I’m at a bar tell someone who is annoying me to leave that’s fine. If I draw a firearm point it at their chest and tell them to leave or their heart is going to be on the back wall that’s extortion. If I just flash the gun in my waistband, or just start shoving while telling them to leave that’s intimidation. The administration can’t just ignore multiple criminal complaints like that. They have a positive obligation to look into threats of violence and protect against them. What happens if there is a stabbing or a shooting at the next demonstration after they ignored a clearly documented patten of escalation?

      You are allowed to act to prick people’s conscience. You are not allowed to cause a degree of discomfort which makes a person believe they are in immediate physical danger from your acts. This is not about speech it is about crime. SJP repeatedly allegedly crossed the line and when the administration tried to provide assistance to help them demonstrate in a way that would not involve violence they refused.

      Let me point out petty violence laws are different in the USA than in Europe. Because of the USA’s gun culture what can be a fist fight in a European city can easily turn into a gun battle in an American city. The result is that the line regarding what’s non-violent ends up getting drawn more narrowly.

  9. MHughes976
    MHughes976
    March 21, 2014, 10:47 am

    I don’t quite know how to pursue this question rationally. I would think that intimidation, to be a morally significant thing, would have to affect life by affecting action, deterring (or distracting by fear) someone from doing what (s)he would otherwise have done. There would be little protection for free speech if censorship were justified whenever listeners simply had feelings that they would rather have avoided. There would be rather too much protection for people whose consciences had been pricked and were trying to dispel a sense of guilt by turning the blame back on others.
    Intimidation by means of a spoof or fiction would require taking the fiction for fact or close to fact, so that you take yourself in your real situation to be a likely victim of some action.
    Is there reason to think that students suffered serious, behaviour-affecting fear that they were likely to be evicted from their bedsits or whatever?
    Is there reason to think that these reactions were shared by people who do not particularly identify with Israeli policies towards Palestinians? If they occurred entirely or almost entirely among people who do identify themselves with these policies then it would seem that it was the serious message or content of the communication they received, rather than its spoof format, which caused a negative reaction. In which case it would have been the content, rather than the manner or occasion, of the communication which is in question: so it would be a free speech issue.
    I have suggested reasons for my belief that the claims of the institutions concerned that they respect free speech are spurious. I don’t think I’ve made a conclusive case but I think my reasons are serious. I take my moral bearings as to the generality of the right of free speech and as to exceptions from, of course, Mill’s On Liberty. Some might question these.

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