BOSTON — A decision earlier this month by Northeastern University to suspend the undergraduate chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) was met with praise from many Jewish groups that commended the university for taking action against the group for violating university rules.
But it also sparked a harsh reaction by others, including Jewish Voice for Peace and the Massachusetts ACLU, who condemn the University’s actions as unwarranted punishment against SJP for freely expressing its views.
After members distributed hundreds of leaflets in student dormitories, the group Students for Justice in Palestine was suspended from the NU campus on March 7 for at least a year. The so-called mock eviction notices were designed to mimic those that appear on illegal Arab construction slated for demolition. Similar campaigns have occurred at other campuses.
In a March 18 statement, NU said the undergraduate chapter of SJP was temporarily suspended based on multiple violations of university rules over an extended period of time. SJP is appealing the University’s decision.
SJP was placed on probation last year after it staged a walkout during a Holocaust Remembrance Day program featuring young speakers from the Israeli Defense Forces. That program was sponsored by StandWithUS, a pro-Israel educational organization. On April 6 and 7, StandWithUs is hosting its sixth annual “Israeli Soldiers’ Stories” program in Boston [see sidebar].
On its website, leaders from Huskies for Israel, a pro-Israeli student group at Northeastern, wrote that SJP’s actions are based on “intimidation tactics, publicity stunts and walk-outs, which do not leave space for open discussion or reasoned debate.” A similar message was released by Northeastern Hillel.
A March 18 rally supporting SJP attracted about 150 demonstrators. They picketed in front of the school, and later marched to the office of University President Joseph Aoun to deliver a petition with some 6,000 names that called on NU to reinstate the student group.
“Censorship on university campuses is distressing,” stated Sarah Wunsch, a staff attorney for the Massachusetts chapter of the ACLU, who also spoke at the demonstration. “We think the university is engaging in viewpoint discrimination and content discrimination.”
Richard Daynard, a distinguished professor of law at NU, told the Journal he wholeheartedly endorses the free expression of ideas on a college campus, but he thinks placing eviction notices under dorm room doors is inappropriate, and believes the university was obliged to suspend SJP.
The issue was addressed at the March 19 meeting of the faculty senate, which Daynard leads.
“Whatever one’s position on the merits of their concerns, the end doesn’t justify the means. They have to follow the rules,” he said.
There are an estimated 1,200 Jewish students at Northeastern, according to Arinne Braverman, director of the Hillel chapter there. The total number of undergraduates is about 16,000. Braverman was not authorized to comment about the current incident regarding SJP.
The school came under scrutiny after a report by Americans for Peace and Tolerance in December 2012 alleged that Jewish students felt intimidated in some classes and on campus.
Dennis Hale, a co-director of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, says that Students for Justice in Palestine stands out among student organizations because the tactics they use do not follow the rules.
Last year, Northeastern President Aoun spoke out against anti-Semitism on campus. Hale and Braverman credit Aoun with initiating a variety of steps to address concerns, including reorganizing the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service, and appointing a new director.
Adam Stark, a third year business student, told the Journal that SJP has disrupted many events he’s participated in at NU, and have contributed to his feeling some discomfort as a Jewish student. He believes there are elements of anti-Semitism involved in SJP’s actions, and would like to see the administration acknowledge that.
“At the end of the day … the only people who feel it are Jewish students,” Stark said.
On April 6 and 7, the public is invited to “Israeli Soldiers Stories,” a program sponsored by StandWithUs, an international Israel education organization. A group of reserve duty Israeli college students will speak candidly about their experiences.
Their mission is to educate and inform about the Israeli-Arab conflict by putting a human face on the IDF uniform. All events are free.
Sunday, April 6, 7:30 p.m. Young Israel 100 Ames St., Sharon
Monday, April 7, 4 p.m. Congregation Beth Elohim 133 Prospect St., Acton
Monday, April 7, 6:30 p.m. Boston University One Silber Way, CAS-211, Boston. For more information, visit standwithus.com .