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Palestine student group banned at Boston-area university
Published Sunday 16/03/2014 (updated) 27/03/2014 09:44
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Students for Justice in Palestine activists at a conference at
Columbia University in 2011. (Columbia SJP)

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- A pro-Palestinian student group at a university in Boston was banned last week in what student leaders are calling a politically motivated attack on their free speech.

The suspension of the Northeastern University Students for Justice in Palestine came only days after students affiliated with the group distributed mock "eviction notices" in students' dormitories with information about Israeli practices of Palestinian home demolitions.

"We are being sanctioned for exercising our speech rights," student leader Max Geller told Ma'an by email on Friday.

"Flyers from all sorts of groups are routinely placed around the school without mention from administrators, let alone a full on police investigation including home visits and interrogations," he said, stressing what he termed "viewpoint discrimination" against the campus' only pro-Palestinian organization.

Last week, students received words that the group would be suspended for the rest of the year, and current leaders would be banned from future leadership roles.

Additionally, two students have had administrative procedures launched against them by the administration, with the possibility of suspension from the university.

University officials said in a statement emailed to Ma'an on Friday that the proceedings are about "holding every member of our community to the same standards."

"Despite repeated efforts by university officials to work with the leadership of SJP, the organization has repeatedly shown a disregard for university policies over an extended period of time," the statement said.

Student leaders, however, are not convinced.

While the suspension notice listed a number of administrative guidelines that students had failed to uphold -- like distributing unapproved flyers, placing stickers on university property, and not properly scheduling events -- students point out other groups regularly engage in similar infractions without such serious consequences.

"Guidelines on flyer distribution in dormitories are flouted, if not flatly ignored, by other student groups, as well as individuals on a regular basis," a statement released by the group on Monday read.

"This letter says our suspension is about holding all members to the same standard, then why does the university keep treating us so different?"

Police 'harassment'

SJP members complain that their suspension has also been accompanied by police "harassment," pointing out that police have called group members' private telephones and made unannounced visits to student homes.

Neither university officials nor the Northeastern University police department responded to inquiries regarding police involvement in the investigation, nor would they comment on whether police had been involved in past investigations of student group misconduct.

But a statement released by the university chapter of the national Jewish organization Hillel on its website on Feb. 26 -- which appears to have been removed -- says that the organization prompted the university administration to work with campus police to launch an investigation following the distribution of the mock "eviction notices."

Hillel's pressure on the administration to target SJP -- and its apparent support for police involvement in an investigation against students for passing out flyers -- sets a potentially troubling precedent of institutional support in a crackdown on Palestine solidarity activist groups on US university campuses, student leaders said.

"It is completely inappropriate for the administration to take its cues or even be influenced by a right wing private entity," Geller told Ma'an in an email interview on Sunday, highlighting that although Hillel claims to be a center for all Jewish students, it currently bans anti-Zionist events while actively promoting Zionist causes.

"I find it deeply troubling that an organization which presumes Jews to be monolithic in their feelings towards Israel and moreover one that regards criticism towards Israel and the BDS movement (which my group advocates for on campus) as antisemitic would be in position to influence my school's official position," he added.

The "intimidating" measures taken by university police with the support of the administration have taken members by surprise as well, as investigations into student groups' failures to abide by academic guidelines rarely lead to targeting of individual students by police.

"SJP contends all participants in mock eviction action participated equally. Why are only two members being charged?" Geller said, denouncing the selective targeting and isolation of group members by administration.

Additionally, SJP members allege that so far the only students who have received police visits and harassment have had Muslim backgrounds, despite the group's diverse membership.

Student leaders believe that these factors suggest more than just breaches of the academic code are on trial. The unprecedented step of banning them and launching police investigations, they say, smacks of a political witch hunt.

"Why are these policies only enforced when it comes to SJP? What else could explain the police being deployed to investigate a policy violation they've never investigated before?" Geller said.

In an appeal to university administration against the suspension released to Ma'an, students expressed their fears that the targeting of the group portends a wider crackdown on free speech on controversial issues on campus.

"The banning of SJP represents a draconian repression of our speech rights and implicates the University’s commitment to academic freedom," the statement said.

Despite recent victories for the boycott of Israel in United States academia, the banning of Northeastern SJP is a potent reminder of the challenges facing pro-Palestinian activists in a still overwhelmingly pro-Israel country.
1 ) Mel / USA
16/03/2014 20:01
Burn the books!Intern the dissidents!Silence all'Others'.Yes,we remember those fascist tactics from WW2.USA went to war AGAINST that!So,we don't support Israeli-Zionism,fascism,Nazism,supremicist persecution now,in Israel,OPT's,US or anywhere.Shout loud students! The uni's need YOU(PLURALISTIC ACTIVISTS)more than exclusive Zionism!The faculty are just scared of putting ETHICS above funding! Listen carefully:

2 ) Kathy P / USA
16/03/2014 21:03
Welcome to america............

3 ) Maureen / Australia
17/03/2014 05:39
"This letter says our suspension is about holding all members to the same standard, then why does the university keep treating us so different?" Because the USA is also under revisionist Zionist occupation.

4 ) Brian Cohen / Israel
17/03/2014 07:36
There are limits on free speech, and that includes not having the freedom to harass and intimidate people. It goes along with the Palestinian belief that they have the freedom to kill Israeli "occupiers" - but the truth is that international law is on the side of Israel, because you can't blow up buses and call it "resistance". It's a war crime. Once the Palestinians start obeying international law, maybe their followers will as well.

5 ) Outlier / USA
17/03/2014 19:02
Freedom of speech does not include intimidation. Period.

6 ) Maureen / Australia
17/03/2014 19:38
#4 Brian Cohen Let me guess, your mob also make the International Law rules - one rule for Zionists and one for everyone else!

7 ) Joshua / UK
17/03/2014 19:56
Maureen, you're an occupier as well. You really have some nerve speaking this way.

8 ) Johnny benson / USA
17/03/2014 23:26
Bully's and brats..they deserve worse

9 ) Chimo / USA
18/03/2014 20:09
Serves them right! They want to whine and complain about their freedom of speech being taken away when the pro Palestinian mob and universities across the U.S. routinely harass and intimidate students who make up pro Israeli groups or even just groups that are actually evenhanded when discussing the Israeli - Palestinian conflict. How many times are speakers with opposing views from those of the BDS movement allowed to address speeches attacking Israel? Never. Those that try are shouted down.

10 ) Maureen / Australia
18/03/2014 20:51
#7 It was your UK that invaded Australia and Palestine, and many other nations, old mate!

11 ) Mel / USA
22/03/2014 22:39
If it hadn't been for corrupted,violent,supremacist Ashkenazim marching in,to pluralistic Palestine,with delusions that it was their'Sudentenlund',there MIGHT'VE been a REAL Jewish state,of peace,common humanity & real dignity living peacefully alongside Palestinian Muslims/Christians,just as for centuries past,with MiddleEastern Jews(now treated as 'arsim"by many Euro-Jews).But until then.........

12 ) Ray Hanania / USA
23/03/2014 01:38
@ Brian Cohen ... you might like when Israeli soldiers shoot and then murder a Palestinian Jordanian Judge, Raed Zeiter, while he was in an Israeli military controlled checkpoint? There are no limits to free speech except in dictatorships, in the middle East and in Israel, which pretends to be a Democracy but is not. Israel's hypocrisy and its terrorism and oppression will be its own undoing. That is a certainty.

13 ) Outlier / USA
28/03/2014 18:17
11., Mel;. "Never argue with an idiot. He will only bring you down to his level and beat you with experience."

14 ) Johnny benson / USA
29/03/2014 23:53
@12 ray....while you are an honest and fair advocate for the Palestinian people,down deep you must know that the killing of the judge wouldn't have happened if he did not lose his cool and attack the Israeli guards....that is not to say that he was not treated poorly...he should have known better...these over stressed 18yr old kids , outnumbered and harassed likely over reacted....very sad ....

15 ) Rami / Palestine
01/04/2014 11:31
#14 You assume too much about an event you did not witness under a conflict that you are not part of nor have any real life experience of living through, Mr. Benson. You have no idea what happened to that Judge at the border crossing. Nor do you know what happened to "these over stressed 18 year old kids."

16 ) Outlier / USA
05/04/2014 05:16
15, Rami, you are half right. 14 does not know exactly what happened at that border crossing. He wasn't there. You also were not there, so you also don't know.

17 ) Rami / Palestine
06/04/2014 09:02
#16, well that's funny, Outlier, because I never claimed to be there, nor did I say that I knew what happened. So if I'm only half right, what is the other half that I said which was wrong? Or are you only arguing for the sake of arguing?

18 ) JayGoldenBeach / USA
07/04/2014 03:10
Shame on Northeastern Univ. The myth of Israeli victimhood in the Isr-Pal conflict has had a long run in the U.S. because Americans are arguably one of the most gullible societies on earth.

19 ) Proud to be a Black Zionist / USA
08/04/2014 00:59
I'm glad the SJP got banned. I was there when they were distributing their fliers. They screamed and yelled at anyone who objected. Obvious intimidation tactics.

20 ) Outlier / USA
12/04/2014 02:00
17., Rami you were right when you stated the other person assumed too much about the event. I apparently assumed too much as well - I assumed you knew what you were talking about. People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

21 ) Colin Wright / USA
13/04/2014 14:23
To Brian Cohen #4: '...There are limits on free speech, and that includes not having the freedom to harass and intimidate people...' Walked into that door again, didn't you Brain? Those limits are particularly stringent if it's a matter of criticizing Israel, aren't they?

22 ) Colin Wright / USA
13/04/2014 14:25
To Outlier #20: ' ...People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.' Lol. That pretty much rules out all possible comments by Zionists, doesn't it?

23 ) Bebop / Usa
15/04/2014 15:43
Pro Palestinian are always Bruts brats and bullies, they don't represent Palestinians well

24 ) Dan / USA
19/04/2014 03:56
Hillel influencing the police to act in an extraordinary and political way towards only this group, is massive intimidation.

25 ) Robert / US
23/04/2014 02:31
#4 ill remember what you said about freedom of speech, when you Jews slander Arabs & Christians , you schmuck...
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