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Northeastern president is urged to restore SJP’s First Amendment rights


Lately Northeastern University suspended the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. This is a letter to Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun. 

Dear President Aoun:

We are writing on behalf of the Bay Area (SF) chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace to express our solidarity with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Northeastern University, and to call on you to reconsider the sanctions you have recently imposed on this group because of their advocacy for the rights of the Palestinian people.

Jewish Voice for Peace is a community of activists inspired by Jewish tradition to work for a just peace in Israel-Palestine, equal rights for the Palestinian people, and an end to 47 years of Israel’s military occupation in the Palestinian territories.  In less than 10 years we have grown from a small local group in the Bay Area to a national organization with over 140,000 supporters and some 35 chapters throughout the country, many of these on college campuses.

We are very familiar with the tactics of intimidation and marginalization that some well-funded organizations use against those who speak out for the rights of the Palestinian people.   We are regularly condemned as “anti-Semites” despite the fact that our work is connected to our faith, and that many rabbis who are members and advisors inform our actions.  How much more vulnerable to such attacks are the SJP students at your university.  If their constitutional right to free speech is not protected by university administration, the price of speaking their conscience is to risk  damage both to their academic opportunities and to their reputations, as they stand at the threshhold of their adult lives.

It appears that the University is acting to punish SJP because of their political views, and not because of any breach of university policy.  For example, the university makes much of the fact that individual students distributed mock eviction orders at dormitories.  These mock orders were clearly marked as such, and were meant to educate students about the actual eviction orders that regularly confront Palestinians living in the West Bank, whose homes are targeted for demolition to accommodate illegal Jewish settlements built on that occupied land.  In spite of the fact that this was not an SJP-sponsored action, and that many student groups, individuals,  and commercial vendors regularly pepper dormitories with notices, the university singled out SJP for the most severe sanctions.

Targeting SJP for special scrutiny, with the objective of shutting down or muting their political message, is a violation of the students’ First Amendment right to free speech.  It is especially alarming that such repression takes place on the campus of a university.  As the American Association of University Professors has written in its report supporting free speech on campus,  “Freedom of thought and expression is essential to any institution of higher learning. Universities and colleges exist not only to transmit knowledge. Equally, they interpret, explore, and expand that knowledge by testing the old and proposing the new. This mission guides learning outside the classroom quite as much as in class, and often inspires vigorous debate on those social, economic, and political issues that arouse the strongest passions. In the process, views will be expressed that may seem to many wrong, distasteful, or offensive. Such is the nature of freedom to sift and winnow ideas. ”

Recently the Federal Department of Education considered a series of Title VI complaints that had been filed  against campuses of the University of California, alleging that pro-Palestinian activities similar to those at issue at Northeastern were  “anti-Semitic” and created an “unsafe” campus climate for Jewish students.  In dismissing all the complaints, the DOE concluded: “All these events constituted (or would have constituted) expression on matters of public concern directed to the University community.  In the university environment, exposure to such robust and discordant expression, even when personally offensive and hurtful, is a circumstance that a reasonable student in higher education may experience.”

Accordingly, we urge you to reconsider your actions, and to meet your obligation to ensure an environment where SJP students may exercise their First Amendment rights, by providing the same protections and applying the same standards as are accorded to other students.


Carol Sanders

On behalf of Coordinating Committee

Jewish Voice for Peace – Bay Area Chapter


About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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12 Responses

  1. March 16, 2014, 3:27 pm

    As well-intentioned as these letters to university presidents are, and I’ve read several here on MW, I would be amazed if they are even read, certainly not in their entirety. The offices of the presidents at a glance see what the letter is about, and when measured against pissing off wealthy pro-Israel donors … it’s no contest. The phrase “circular file” leaps to mind.

    May I suggest to these letter-writing organizations: keep the letters short! Express outrage and astonishment, cite any legal argument or ruling that supports the pro-Palestinian side (which this letter wraps with), then get out. Reminding of the purpose of higher education — critical thought — also couldn’t hurt.

    • Ellen
      March 17, 2014, 5:27 pm

      Well said. Lengthy letters are sometimes more about the letter writer and not the underlying concern. The letter above made some excellent points and is a good one, but could be shorter. That makes it more effective.

      Thanks to JV for Peace for this letter.

  2. just
    March 16, 2014, 4:49 pm

    Many thanks for this letter, Jewish Voice for Peace, Bay Area Chapter. Some supporters of the actions say that NU is private and can do as it pleases………but you are correct, the Constitution still holds some sway, especially because NU receives funds from the federal government.

    Maybe Mesdames Feinstein and Boxer would like to sign up with your group…

  3. Daniel Rich
    Daniel Rich
    March 16, 2014, 8:58 pm

    Northeastern president is urged to restore install SJP BDS’s First Amendment Boycot rights apps

  4. DaBakr
    March 16, 2014, 11:19 pm

    ironic…..jvp complaining about sjp’s supposed loss of freedom of expression and 1st amed. rghts. not as if sjp really cares about providing intellectual freedom o expression to all points of view in academic settings.

    • annie
      March 17, 2014, 11:43 am

      do you mean like providing a space to include stand with us representatives at a conference 9 months after the panel deadline for applicants was closed? don’t be a disingenuous whiner.

  5. bilal a
    bilal a
    March 17, 2014, 9:07 am

    Is Jewish Voice for Peace JVP joining hands with Getraer ‏ and Glick Jewish Voice for Greater Israel, to argue for the one state solution ?

    Andrew Getraer ‏@AndrewGetraer Mar 15
    @MaxBlumenthal Wrong. Far from apartheid, she advocates full citizenship and legal rights for all, Arabs and Jews.

    Interesting how anti-zionists and zionist sare converging on this greater israel one state solution promoted in the establishment foreign policy mag:

    Who’s Afraid of a One-State Solution?

    • annie
      March 17, 2014, 11:47 am

      she advocates full citizenship and legal rights for all, Arabs and Jews.

      “full citizenship” is a misnomer in a country where ethnic “nationals” have privileges not afforded to all citizens.

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka
        March 17, 2014, 1:23 pm

        Glick’s proposal is the completion of the Nakba in all of Palestine save Gaza, which she would keep as a Warsaw Ghetto. Glick’s thesis calls for the zionist state to complete the theft of Palestine and continue the systemic and racist oppression and apply the Judeo-supremacy of zionism to all of the land. The only difference is that by doing so, she believes that no longer would the occupation be called an occupation. Basically it’s a giant PR scam.

        Her lust for land, power and the blood of Palestinians isn’t slaked with only 78% of Palestine, generations of oppression and the murders her ilk have committed to date.

    • lysias
      March 17, 2014, 4:53 pm

      The establishment foreign policy mag is CFR’s Foreign Affairs.

  6. Amanita
    March 17, 2014, 2:58 pm

    If you are in Boston area and would liek to show support for the NE SJP chapter, a protest and support rally is being held while the students appear before the discipline committees..

  7. lysias
    March 17, 2014, 4:52 pm

    Challenge these universities in their wallets, where it hurts. Submit complaints to the organizations that give them accreditation.

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