SJP banned at Northeastern

March 13, 2014

Despite years of being targeted by pro-Israel groups in the Boston area, the Northeastern University chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has continued its activism, most recently posting around campus mock eviction notices similar to those posted by the Israeli military on homes slated for demolition.

Though this action is clearly an exercise of free speech, Northeastern's administration has used it as a pretext for suspending the group. On March 12, the Northeastern SJP chapter posted the following call for a defense campaign on its website. Here, we reprint their call and encourage all those concerned about the struggle for Palestinian liberation to respond.

WITH PROFOUND disappointment and righteous indignation, Northeastern University Students for Justice in Palestine announces it has been suspended as an organization. SJP is disappointed because Northeastern's claims of creating a diverse learning environment that encourages the free exchange of ideas and promotes academic freedom are impossible to reconcile with the university's decision to suppress our speech and suspend our political group.

As if banning our activities from campus and denying us all use of campus resources wasn't outrageous enough, the university is pursuing expulsion-level sanctions for two students--all for participation in a mock eviction action. SJP is furious to report the only individuals to face our school's opaque disciplinary process are two young women of color; none of the white or male participants have faced any charges. This unprecedented ban and appalling prosecutions are the latest attempt by the university to suppress pro-Palestine speech and continues the university's disturbing history of enacting injustice.

A Students for Justice in Palestine conference underway at Columbia University
A Students for Justice in Palestine conference underway at Columbia University (Columbia SJP)

This chilling suspension is not just about SJP, and it is not just about Palestine. Academic freedom is essential for students to challenge our own university's complicity with many forms of discrimination, injustice and violence. We are inspired by and stand in solidarity with communities of color, LGBTQ people, workers and victims of U.S. and Israeli military aggression. We respect that not all liberation struggles are identical or even comparable. Even so, the university's decision to suspend SJP and criminalize its most vulnerable members comes in the context of a broad and concerning pattern--and threatens to chill on-campus efforts to support these struggles.

The university claims to value academic freedom while suspending SJP, but its hypocrisy is nothing new. Consider how its actions have impacted others. Was the university fair to Roxbury residents, whose families--particularly families of color--have been displaced by student gentrification? When students from around the world are invited to gather on campus, can they truly feel "welcomed" in the Raytheon amphitheater, named for a U.S. corporate war profiteer? Can the university claim to value all students' health, when the student health plan explicitly discriminates against trans students? Is the university committed to just working conditions and wages, while it seeks to thwart the 800 adjunct professors who aspire to unionize?

What you can do

Students for Justice in Palestine is asking for support from those who support the cause of Palestinian liberation. You can:

-- Sign the online petition calling on Northeastern University to reinstate the SJP.

-- Contact the Northeastern University administration to protest the criminalization of dissent. Go to the Northeastern SJP website for administrators' phone numbers and e-mail addresses.

-- Have your organization send a letter of solidarity to [email protected].

The university often promises fairness and impartiality, but its actions reflect truly disturbing values. Northeastern University consistently supports the interests of the dominant and powerful at the expense of the marginalized--and rather than extend academic freedom to students who criticize these interests, SJP has been criminalized and censored.

Just as injustice at Northeastern extends beyond SJP, many other SJP chapters have also endured viewpoint discrimination and disparate treatment by school administrations. The organization Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, whose attorneys--along with ones from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and National Lawyers Guild (NLG) of Massachusetts--are advising us through this difficult process, documented over 100 instances of campus suppression of pro-Palestine speech across the U.S. in 2013.

For example, at Florida Atlantic University, student activists were placed on probation for staging a nonviolent walkout at an Israeli military colonel's lecture and forced to undergo a "re-education" seminar concocted by an outside, pro-Israel organization. At the University of California at Irvine, students faced criminal charges for interrupting the speech of an Israeli state official.

Those throughout the country who despite threats, suspensions and arrests continue to work for justice inspire us. Northeastern SJP has a message for its supporters: WE WILL FIGHT OUR SUSPENSION. WE WILL DEFEND OUR MEMBERS! We call on all our comrades and our allies to join us. We must demonstrate that we will stand up for one another against all forms of injustice--that the university can never isolate or separate us. Our sanctions become victories the moment we band together to fight them!

Further Reading

From the archives