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Removal of Barnard Palestine solidarity banner was discriminatory act of censorship

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Official Statement Regarding Barnard Administration’s SJP Banner Removal

C-SJP IAW banner: Stand for Justice Stand for Palestine removed from Barnard Hall, Barnard College, Columbia University NY, March 10, 2014 (Photo: Columbia-SJP)

Mondoweiss recently reported on how a banner posted at Barnard College showing a map of historic Palestine was taken down by the administration. Here’s a letter written by the Center for Constitutional Right’s Baher Azmy to the president of the school:

Dear President Spar:

On behalf of Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine (C-SJP), we are writing in response to your email of March 14, 2014 to me, in which you sought to explain Barnard’s decision to remove a political banner sponsored by C-SJP. While we appreciate that Barnard College shares a commitment to freedom of speech and expression, the concerns we expressed in our March 13, 2014 letter to you about Barnard’s action remain.

Your email suggested that the Barnard administration removed the C-SJP banner because its placement near the official Barnard College banner may have inadvertently implied the College’s endorsement. This claim is questionable given Barnard College’s “long-standing tradition”1 of permitting student groups to hang banners, including those hung in the same location as C-SJP’s, combined with the College’s swift and unprecedented decision to remove this banner within hours of receiving complaints about the content of the banner’s message. The enforcement of any such anti-endorsement policy against this – and only this – banner raises the obvious inference that the policy serves as a pretext for the administration’s desire to censor a message it deemed controversial.

For decades, Barnard College has installed banners promoting student events alongside the official Barnard banner. C-SJP followed the standard procedure for student groups wishing to advertise an event: they reserved the banner space; the College provided the students with the banner material; the students painted their message and the College installed the banner in the designated location around 5 p.m. on Monday, March 10. Within hours of the C-SJP banner’s installation, the former president of the Columbia/Barnard Hillel started an email campaign expressing disagreement with the banner.2 A Facebook post from the former Hillel president called the Israeli Apartheid Week events being advertised an “attempt to perpetuate the pernicious lie that Israel is an apartheid state” and an “anti-Semitic” display.3 Without notice, and within hours, Barnard removed the banner.4

Even as the College failed to inform C-SJP of its action, it chose to send to the campus Israel public affairs committee, LionPAC, by 11 a.m. on March 11, a “swift and thoughtful response” to their objections to the banner.5 This response informed LionPAC of the banner’s removal, explained Barnard’s reexamination of its banner policy, elaborated on Barnard’s banner tradition, outlined Barnard’s policy about student banners going forward, and thanked the group for its “thoughtful email bringing this matter to [their] attention.” In contrast, Barnard’s email to C-SJP, which it did not send until after 5pm on March 11, simply asked to meet with the group’s leadership without offering any comparable explanation for the administration’s actions. The College did not provide a written explanation to C-SJP until Friday, March 14 – three days after removing the banner and three days after providing a written response to LionPAC.

Barnard’s differential treatment of a student group that advocates a dissenting viewpoint is disconcerting, particularly where this student group, comprised largely of Muslims and Arabs, already experiences marginalization on campus. In the wake of your swift removal of the C-SJP banner, Columbia and Barnard students have reported being called Nazis, being asked about their “terrorist brothers,” having their mock Apartheid Wall located near Low Steps spat upon, and being told that everyone in Gaza is a terrorist and that Palestinians are an invented people. We fear that the College’s summary and apparently discriminatory treatment of C-SJP has actually signaled the endorsement of a different and more troubling message: that Palestinians, Muslims and Arabs are deserving of disparate treatment.

Accordingly, we respectfully request that Barnard College reconsider its decision to stop hanging student banners at Barnard Hall and that the College publicly apologize to C-SJP for the harm caused to the student group and its members by the College’s removal of their banner. We also request that you ensure that students groups, including C-SJP, are included in conversations regarding the future of Barnard’s banner placement policy.

We thank you in advance for giving serious attention to the concerns of C-SJP and other student groups that are committed to a an open, vibrant and fair exchange of ideas on campus.

Very truly yours,

Baher Azmy

1 Dean Avis Hinkson, Barnard to reexamine banner policy (Mar. 11, 2014) at http://barnard.edu/news/barnard-reexamine-banner-policy.

2 Seffi Kogen, Post Urging Emails to President Spar Re C-SJP Banner (Mar. 10, 2014) https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10201723162144419&set=a.1551171582835.2075581.1341480016&type=1&theater.

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4 C-SJP students noticed the banner had been removed by 7 a.m. on Tuesday, March 11.

5 LionPAC, Post thanking President Spar for Response Re: SJP Banner (Mar. 10, 2014) at https://www.facebook.com/lionpac.at.columbia/posts/626693454071086.

Center for Constitutional Rights
About Center for Constitutional Rights

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

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14 Responses

  1. Marshall
    Marshall
    March 28, 2014, 12:39 pm

    Yes! The flagrant discrimination by Barnard and Northeastern and the controversy at Vassar is serving to highlight that the “pro-Israel” agenda depends on marginalizing Palestinians and those who advocate on their behalf. So much for “the Middle East’s only democracy.” The only way they get to keep saying that is if they throw a hood over anyone who speaks up in disagreement and have them extraordinarily rendered to a neutral location. This is not a movement that will remain socially acceptable for very long.

  2. amigo
    amigo
    March 28, 2014, 12:43 pm

    Have pro Israel banners been hung without interference ???.

  3. K Renner
    K Renner
    March 28, 2014, 1:32 pm

    >> “In the wake of your swift removal of the C-SJP banner, Columbia and Barnard students have reported being called Nazis, being asked about their “terrorist brothers,” having their mock Apartheid Wall located near Low Steps spat upon, and being told that everyone in Gaza is a terrorist and that Palestinians are an invented people.”

    Disgusting, and even more disgusting that the people acting in this aggressive and unjustifiable way will otherwise try to play the perpetual victim and act as though their feelings being hurt, supposedly, set the precedent for what can or can’t go up at a school that’s, per this article, known for allowing student’s posters or banners up in public places.

  4. Phan Nguyen
    Phan Nguyen
    March 28, 2014, 2:07 pm

    This evokes the case of Abramowitz v. Boston University from the mid-1980s. Yosef Abramowitz was an anti-apartheid activist and BU student who hung a “Divest” banner from his dorm window, for which he was evicted from his dorm. He took BU to court and won, establishing a precedent for free speech on US college campuses.

    The BU president at the time was the notorious John Silber, who was staunchly opposed to BDS against South Africa. In the same period, he authorized the arrests of student activists who had set up a mock shantytown on the campus square. BU’s assistant dean was Ron Goldman, an expatriate white South African who led a campaign for BU to award an honorary degree to Gatsha Buthelezi, leader of the KwaZulu bantustan, opponent of South African BDS, rival to the ANC, and collaborator to the apartheid government.

    Anyway, in addition to fighting apartheid, Abramowitz was also a strong supporter of Israel. In response to anti-apartheid activists drawing connections between South Africa and Palestine/Israel, he wrote a factually challenged pamphlet for B’Nai Brith/Hillel called “Jews, Zionism & South Africa,” which attempted to downplay Israel’s ties to South Africa and claim that Arab states had stronger ties to South Africa than Israel had.

    Abramowitz eventually settled in Israel, became a wealthy entrepreneur, and currently opposes college divestment campaigns against Israel.

    • ritzl
      ritzl
      March 28, 2014, 2:43 pm

      Wow. Whodathunkit?

      It would be interesting to know how and when and activist like Abramowitz came to the “realization” that Israel was to be supported while the RSA was to be condemned. What gets filtered in or out along the way that enables one to ignore major chunks of reality.

  5. Shuki
    Shuki
    March 28, 2014, 6:52 pm

    That’s almost as bad as the censorship of pro-Israeli viewpoints on Mondoweiss!

    • James North
      James North
      March 28, 2014, 7:00 pm

      Shuki: You’ve made a feeble stab at humor. Count up JeffB’s comments over the past few weeks and then try and say that Mondoweiss censors pro-Israeli viewpoints. Then visit one of the Hasbara websites and contrast.

      • Sumud
        Sumud
        March 28, 2014, 7:56 pm

        James ~
        Shuki claims it is a myth that the IDF causes Palestinian suffering – one can only imagine what demented things he or she has to say that is not being passed by the moderators.

  6. BrianEsker
    BrianEsker
    March 28, 2014, 9:13 pm

    Pro-Israel comments are censored here on Mondo… all the time. Only about 50% of my comments ever get shown, and I’m not rude either.

    The reason that the banner was taken down at Barnard is because….it pretends that Israel doesn’t exist. Which was seen as an unacceptably racist as well as bogus message.

    Never mind that Palestinian activists and supporters often show that part of the world as entirely “Palestine” it simply is dishonest, racist and suggests the intention to kill or displace about 8,000,000 people.

    Other than that, there’s nothing wrong with the banner.

    • kma
      kma
      March 29, 2014, 3:04 pm

      esker: “The reason that the banner was taken down at Barnard is because….it pretends that Israel doesn’t exist.”

      Oh, so Barnard’s letter to the C-SJP students should have said:
      “Your banner was banned because it showed Gaza as the same color as the rest of Israel, and we do not endorse your viewpoint. We only endorse showing all of Palestine with the name ‘Israel’ or else you have to delineate where some folks think the West Bank is… except you may not include Jerusalem or the attached settlements in the West Bank. We also endorse the version that shows all of Palestine as ‘Israel’ except for Gaza, and the one that just simply shows everything as ‘Israel’. We can’t actually find our banner-banning policy anywhere in our school documents, but everyone KNOWS you can’t show historic Palestine to impressionable young minds that might wonder what all those Palestinians are doing inside that border. We endorse the apartheid viewpoint that you can call the whole thing “Jewish” but if you include non-Jews in the whole thing, the whole thing will cease to exist.”

      if that’s what the administration meant to say, why didn’t they say it?

  7. seafoid
    seafoid
    March 29, 2014, 4:13 am

    Very interesting article from 2010 about what is happening now in the US

    http://reut-institute.org/en/Publication.aspx?PublicationId=3772

    “What is now happening in London universities will happen, at most, in five years at all the large universities in the United States,” he says.
    The Reut report says Israel is not prepared at all to deal with the threat of delegitimization. The cabinet has not defined the issue as a threat and sees the diplomatic arena as marginal compared to the military one. “The Foreign Ministry is built for the challenges of the ’60s, not the 2000s,” the report says. “There are no budgets, not enough diplomats and no appropriate diplomatic doctrine.”

    Israel is on the back foot now because of the leadership of that insufferable arsehole who is PM.

    • kma
      kma
      March 29, 2014, 3:21 pm

      The Reut Report you point to says Israel isn’t spending money on a counter-campaign, which is far from the truth. I don’t believe the Prosor guy doesn’t know that. odd.
      it’s interesting that he places so much emphasis on Arab/Muslim support for the rise in anti-zionism, as if only those who identify with the victims are Israel’s image problem. the problem is that white westerners identify as the colonizers, and I don’t believe the guy doesn’t know that either…

      • seafoid
        seafoid
        March 29, 2014, 3:33 pm

        It’s from 4 years ago.
        The point is that they were warned this would happen in the US and they didn’t prepare for it.

  8. BrianEsker
    BrianEsker
    March 30, 2014, 12:20 pm

    “The Reut report says Israel is not prepared at all to deal with the threat of delegitimization. The cabinet has not defined the issue as a threat and sees the diplomatic arena as marginal compared to the military one.”

    No. The delegitimization warfare has been part of the Palarab modus for many years to supplement plane hijacking, blowing up city buses and university cafeterias, the cutting of sleeping children’s throats and other acts of “heroic resistance.” It’s taken a while for western university administrations to catch on, but this latest spate of student union and newspaper “takeovers” by radical activists has backfired nicely. Bogus eviction notices and pseudo “apartheid walls” are just an annoyance. And all have a dreary hysterical resemblance these days from campus to campus.

    But the university admins, like most of the rest of us, are waiting for a Palestinian national support movement that encourages actual state building rather than just protest and thuggery.

    I just don’t see that happening ever if at all. It’s sad, and boring too.

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