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Monday, March 24, 2014

In Solidarity with Northeastern University

We have recently learned that the administration of Northeastern University has suspended the Northeastern chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, alleging a series of violations of university policies – chiefly the distribution of mock eviction notices. Based on the evidence and on the testimony of the students involved, the charges seem false. In any event, non-university approved flier distribution happens constantly on every campus. For that reason, it is difficult for us to see this suspension as anything but an attempt to shut down an SJP chapter. Indeed, the punitive and racist nature of this action has become clearer yet with the revelation that the administration has appeared to target only students of color in the disciplinary charges it has filed.

We reject this attempt at political censorship, and affirm here our solidarity with Northeastern SJP, and call on the Northeastern administration to immediately lift its suspension of that chapter.

The charges have been lodged at a time when an increasing number of SJP groups around the country are running successful campaigns to educate university students about the colonial nature of Israeli policies – ones carried out with US support and US taxpayer money.

Such repression of the political speech of SJPs is not a new means to deal with such success. It comes amidst an atmosphere within which university administrations are using every means possible to censor and silence those advocating for an open hearing for the Palestinian case. At Florida Atlantic University, student activists were placed on probation for briefly protesting the presence of a war criminal from the Israeli Occupying Forces on their campus. At Barnard, the administration has censored the SJP there, taking down a banner after the student group had complied with all normal procedures for putting it up. At the University of California at Irvine, students faced criminal charges for interrupting the speech of an Israeli state official. And at Cornell University, the police physically assaulted a female graduate student at a protest and threatened an SJP member with arrest for trespassing. The response of the administration was to issue a whitewash, and to unsuccessfully attempt, in blatant disregard of a Faculty Senate report and its recommendations, to rewrite the campus code in order to limit the right of free assembly.

The pattern is clear, and it is damning. University administrators, aware of the role a racist Israeli state plays for American foreign policy in the Middle East, are desperate to protect it from criticism. Indeed, they are willing to gut the free political speech and organizing of their own students in order to do so.

We note here that such repression has not been limited to Palestine-related work. At the City University of New York, students were physically assaulted by the police as they civilly protested the presence of General David Petraeus. Other CUNY students face felony charges for their work in protecting the Guillermo Morales/Assata Shakur Community and Student Center from being closed by the administration.

These violations of free speech are equally clear and equally damning.

The spaces which previous generations of students opened up for progressive activism are being shrunk, sealed off, and shut down, unremittingly, systematically, in some cases brutally, and with the constant and enthusiastic support of university administrations.

The charges against Northeastern SJP and the suspension of that chapter are the latest volley in this ongoing assault against student activism in this country. Such attacks manifest in the clearest possible way the university administration’s contempt for basic democratic values.

Furthermore, an attack against any SJP chapter is an attack on all SJP chapters, an attack on the very idea of student advocacy for the Palestinian cause on college campus. It is a clear statement that while speech in defense of racism may be protected, anti-racist speech is not. This we do not accept.

In solidarity,

Cornell Students for Justice in Palestine

College of Staten Island Students for Justice in Palestine

Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine

Students for Justice in Palestine, CUNY School of Law

Students for Justice in Palestine, Ithaca College

Students for Justice in Palestine, Northwestern

Students for Justice in Palestine, SUNY-Binghamton

Students for Justice in Palestine, Smith College

Students for Justice in Palestine, University of Florida

Students for Justice in Palestine,University of Maryland

UC Santa Cruz Committee for Justice in Palestine

This letter was originally published on the Cornell SJP website. 

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