A War on Campus: ‘Democracy Now’ covers the Northeastern SJP suspension (Updated)

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Democracy Now interviews Max Geller and Ali Abunimah on  A War on Campus? Northeastern University Suspends Students for Justice in Palestine Chapter.

In an episode also covering the bombardment of Gaza as well as the recent killings of six Palestinians by Israeli forces, it’s a dramatic, important interview adding to a discussion that has exploded over the last two days.

Screenshot: Democracy Now Max Geller/SJP activists  March 13, 2014
Screenshot: Democracy Now Max Geller/SJP activists March 13, 2014

Geller states SJP has been suspended at Northeastern because authorities  could not control the organization.

After numerous attempts to repress SJP activities on campus, the students took direct action:

Geller: Prior to our official suspension we were suspended in everything but name, we were constantly thwarted and deprived of funding .. events moved around and roadblocks were put up. The only recourse we had, the only activity we could engage in was direct action where we didn’t need university funding or university space…we went door to door and slipped mock eviction notices..

Amy Goodman: Why?

Geller: We wanted to simulate the common Palestinian experience to find your residency and existence has been criminalized.

Ali Abuminah Democracy Now March 13, 2014
Ali Abuminah Democracy Now March 13, 2014

Abuminah states this is a “war on campus” being waged by administrations and pro Israel organizations. It’s about “shutting down the discussion,” a “free speech emergency”.

Free speech is losing out to support for Israel on our campuses when administrations are left in charge of people’s rights. That’s why we have to stand by the students at Northeastern and all over this country.

A great interview. “BDS is changing the equation”. We’ll get more of the transcript up when it comes in.


AMY GOODMAN: On the—at the student level, polls show across the country that especially young Jewish students are much more now critical of the state of Israel and identifying with the plight of Palestinians.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Exactly, because young Jewish students in this country, like all young students, identify with universal human rights and equality. And that’s why we’ve got legislatures in New York, in Illinois, in Maryland, even the United States Congress now, considering bills to penalize universities if students or faculty express support for the Palestine solidarity movement in the form of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. It really is a free speech emergency. And just this week in New York City, at Columbia University, at Barnard College, students had gotten permission—they had gone through all the authorizations to put up a banner that said, “Stand with Justice in Palestine,” and the university administration took it down after complaints from pro-Israel groups and basically said, “We’re not going to allow any more banners.” Free speech is losing out to support for Israel on our campuses, when administrations are left in charge of people’s rights. That’s why we have to stand by the students at Northeastern and all over this country.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, and meanwhile, Israel has launched its most intense bombing of the Gaza Strip since the assault of late 2012. Around 30 Israeli attacks have hit Gaza since Wednesday, following a barrage of Palestinian rocket fire. No casualties have been reported on either side. The group Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks in what it called a response to earlier Israeli strikes that killed three people. More rockets have now been fired from Gaza as the flare-up continues for a third day. Ali, could you talk about this latest—this latest escalation in the actual conflict there?

ALI ABUNIMAH: Well, you mentioned the November 2012 assault by Israel, which killed 170 Palestinians. That ended with a ceasefire agreement between Israelis and the Palestinian resistance factions in Gaza. Israel has incessantly violated that ceasefire and has been escalating its so-called targeted killings, extrajudicial executions, in recent weeks. And I think what we saw yesterday was an attempt by Palestinian groups in Gaza to say, “Look, if Israel keeps violating the ceasefire, we have the capacity to hit back.” But I don’t think there’s anyone in Gaza that wants to see a total breakdown of the ceasefire agreement.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the so-called peace talks between Israel and Palestine that John Kerry is presiding over? How much faith do you put in them, Ali?

ALI ABUNIMAH: As much as John Kerry, which is none. I mean, John Kerry was caught by a reporter the other day, in a private moment, saying that his talks with Netanyahu were going absolutely nowhere. I think the significant thing and what’s really happening now is, you know, look at the fact that when Netanyahu was speaking to the Israel lobby AIPAC, he spent a third of his speech condemning the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, because this is really what’s changing the equation. It’s grassroots activism in this country, in Palestine and all over the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, it’s an interesting quote. When the prime minister of Israel addressedAIPAC, he said, “Those who war the BDS label should be treated exactly as we treat any anti-Semite or bigot. They should be exposed and condemned. The boycotters should be boycotted.” I want to go back to Max Geller. The equating of those critical of the Israeli state or the Israeli military with being anti-Semitic or being a bigot, your thoughts on that?

MAX GELLER: I mean, especially in the university context, it’s deeply troubling. It’s deeply troubling to demonize a viewpoint before one can debate it, especially in a university context. The Israeli-Palestinian question remains difficult to answer. And if those answers are not going to come from the academy, I don’t know where they’re going to come from. And to render a certain subject taboo is to deprive the students on campus of important perspectives when they—crucial to making informed decisions. It’s very troubling.

And, Amy, I think it’s really important to understand that Northeastern students put up fliers where they’re not supposed to every day. Every day, every student at Northeastern walks by fliers that weren’t authorized to be put up. But the only time you ever hear about students being disciplined for it is when the content contains pro-Palestinian messages.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Max, what are the plans for your group? Are you going to challenge this ban at all, or how are you going to continue to function or operate in the future?

MAX GELLER: Well, I’m pleased to say that the outpouring has been overwhelming. We received in less than 24 hours over 3,500 signatures to our petition. And we are right now considering the most spectacular way of delivering this petition to the president’s door. We have had student groups who are pretty apathetic. I mean, the—politically speaking—the debate team has offered to engage in a walkout of class on SJP’s behalf, and it’s been really inspiring and moving. But we are still trying to figure out the best way to sort of catch this lightning in a bottle and force the university’s hand.

AMY GOODMAN: Ali Abunimah, we just have about 45 seconds. The title for your book is The Battle for Justice in Palestine. Do you hold out any hope?

ALI ABUNIMAH: Well, I hope people will look at this book, because while I think the battle is raging in Palestine and in this country and on campuses and everywhere where people are gathering, I have a lot of hope. And in the end, this is a book about what the future looks like, a future based on equality, anti-racism and decolonization in Palestine, where everyone can live, because people are sick and tired of this conflict and the violence that comes with it.

Full transcript at Democracy Now.

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It’s a noteworthy comment when Max Geller, the chairperson of SJP-Northeastern, says that the are unauthorized flyers on campus all the time but only when it is Palestinian solidarity work, then it is shut down. Charles Jabobs, the founder of “Americans for Peace and Tolerance” and “The David Project” has even produced several entire mini-documentary about Northeastern, where they attack the university for having a professor that includes Walt & Mearsheimer’s book on the lobby… Read more »

Thanks, Annie.
Jewish Voice for Peace has asked supporters of free speech to call NEU President Aoun’s office:

I spoke with two very kind people (my first call was dropped by cell co.): 617.373.2101. Thanks to both NEU representatives.

Just got off the phone with President Aoun’s office. I encourage everyone here to call and make some noise. It takes less than 5 minus. Call today!

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. “The freedom of assembly and petition also covers marching, picketing and pamphleteering.” From the pages of United State Senate. Sue the hell out of the f’kers….Getting damned tired of the… Read more »

I put all of these I/P issues up on my fb page. Any friends I have on fb are people who have asked. I don’t subject folks to my political agenda unless they want it. Small way to get the word out. Will be asking them to make phone calls to NEAdministration. Used to call into National media shows like Washington Journal all of the time over the last 15 years. Literally have gotten through… Read more »