Two weeks ago in Boston, Northeastern University suspended a student group — Students for Justice in Palestine (NU SJP) – for an assortment of infractions against Jewish students and those who support Israel. The stunts that got them suspended were consistent with the strategy of anti-Israel forces at universities around the country: Campus enemies of Israel directly target the free speech of pro-Israel student groups by having their speakers disinvited, their members intimidated, and their events shouted down. So it is with a fair amount of gall that SJP has now launched a shrill campaign, aided by Massachusetts media, claiming that free speech is a value they cherish and that theirs has been abrogated by the University.
The reason this duplicitous campaign has gotten a warm response in some circles has to do with a double standard in academia and the media. When it comes to certain protected groups, free speech is trumped by “sensitivity.” Two-thirds of universities have speech codes meant to provide a safe environment for minority groups. The use of certain offensive words is forbidden and the use of certain offensive symbols can shut down a campus. However, these protections hypocritically do not extend to pro-Israel Jews.
Anti-Semitism is defined as treating Jews as you would treat no others. SJP attacks the only Jewish state. It does not deny post-WWII Germans or genocidal Sudanese or Rwandans their right to self-rule. Only the Jewish people may not have a state. SJP is an anti-Semitic organization and anti-Semitism is the only hatred still accepted on American campuses.
On February 16th, members of a Mississippi State University student group vandalized the statue of Ole Miss’s first black alumnus with a noose and a Confederate-type flag. Campus police posted a $25,000 reward for finding the suspects, the three students were caught and the FBI is planning to charge them with hate crimes. Their student group was suspended. The students’ actions were widely covered and roundly condemned in the national media.
Among the infractions that got Northeastern SJP suspended was vandalizing the statue of a Jewish alumnus twice in two days by taping over the statue’s mouth with the message: “Zionism = Racism” superimposed over a Jewish star. Upon seeing a photo of the vandalism posted to Facebook, the group’s president, Tori Porell, commented, “This is my favorite thing ever.” National and local media also covered the act of racist vandalism at Northeastern and SJP’s suspension, but in this case, media sympathy (led by the Boston Globe, of course) was not for the victimized minority group, but for the punished victimizer’s supposed loss of “free speech.”
In the current campus climate, ‘free speech” arguments are typically invoked on behalf of those who offend and intimidate Jews, Christians and conservatives. When NU SJP marched across campus a little over a year ago shouting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” — a genocidal call for the destruction of the only Jewish state, nothing was done in response. In contrast, when Yale’s Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity members marched across campus in 2010 shouting, “No means yes, yes means anal,” Yale suspended the frat for 5 years and the US Department of Education forced the university to institute greater protections for female students.
When Arizona State University’s Tau Kappa Epsilon posted pictures of themselves at an MLK party this past January dressed in urban street clothes and sipping alcohol from watermelon cups, the university immediately suspended the chapter.
Yet SJP leaders have posted photos of themselves posing with terrorists’ machine guns. They come to protests wearing t-shirts glorifying gun violence and designated terrorist groups like Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. These terrorist groups explicitly call for the murder of all Jews and have murdered hundreds of Israelis (and in the case of Hezbollah, Americans as well). Yet nothing has been done to sanction these particular Northeastern University students.
The offense that finally earned SJP its suspension was what Northeastern terms “dorm storming” in the student conduct list of don’ts. They entered student dorms in the middle of the night and slipped fake eviction notices under bedroom doors telling students that they are being kicked out for no reason, because that’s exactly what Israel does to the Palestinians. Even the ACLU considers the violation of privacy with the intent to intimidate and single out students to be outside the bounds of free speech at universities. In 2013, three San Jose State University students were charged with hate crimes for writing racial slurs on a black student’s dorm room message board. Nobody would dare call that “free speech.”
Indeed, SJP’s message wasn’t meant for the uninvolved student, who will maybe take a half second look at the piece of paper before throwing it away. This action was aimed directly at Jewish pro-Israel students. The clear message was: “We who hate you can reach you at the very door to your room. We can come back again. And we will try to make others hate you as we do.”
While demanding freedom of speech for themselves, SJP and its supporters are perfectly happy to suppress the free speech of pro-Israel Jews. An SJP violation that contributed to its suspension was the disruption of a Holocaust Awareness Week event put on by Huskies for Israel in 2013. In this case, NU SJP actively plotted to violate the free speech rights of Jewish students. SJP sent an email to its members calling for a “creative disruption” of the event. The goal: “we need to show them that war criminals are NOT welcome at Northeastern,” emphasis theirs. At the event, SJP members chanted slogans en-masse and disrupted the free speech of the speakers.
Speaking to an SJP meeting in 2013, SJP faculty advisor M. Shahid Alam bragged how he has made pro-Israel students in his classes afraid to argue with his anti-Israel lectures, “because they can sense that they will get no support from the class.”
Northeastern Law School’s chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which is closely affiliated with SJP, has put out a poorly-argued legal brief about supposed violations of SJP’s free speech rights. Yet the brief demands the suppression of free speech rights for Zionist groups like Americans for Peace and Tolerance:
At the same time, it is important that groups such as ZOA and APT not be allowed to marginalize politically oppressed student groups through hate speech. To that end, we ask the University to adopt a more comprehensive hate speech policy that provides for transformative justice, anti-oppression training and, at the prerogative of the victim, disciplinary action.
(Stalin must be smiling in his grave.)
The National Lawyers Guild even invoked a standard anti-Semitic smear, claiming that Northeastern has bowed to pressure from wealthy Jewish donors when it suspended SJP. (“No free speech for rich Jews!”) This was echoed by NBC News “journalist” Nona Aronowitz, who interviewed us, NEU’s Hillel director and pro-Israel students and then simply ignored in her “report” every one of our points which did not fit her preconceived narrative.
On March 19th, as Northeastern SJP held a rally demanding that the university reinstate it, a Jewish student was watching. Here is his reaction:
I stood across the street and watched in complete awe as they shouted messages of hate, screamed how Zionism was racism, and that they were in no way being anti-Semitic. They continued with their chants of “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” When I hear that, I hear anti-Semitism, I hear a call for the complete destruction of the Jewish state and all that they call home.
I am what they call a member of the “Zionist war/propaganda machine,” and while I stood across the street and watched this rally, I kept a folded Israeli flag underneath my jacket. I kept on wanting to unfold it and hold it up high, but I was scared. I was afraid for one of the first times in my life as I heard their chants of anti-Semitism, full of hatred and shouting for intifada and increased violence. I was scared, but I am even more afraid of the idea of what happens when nothing is done, when nobody stands up.
When it comes to women, blacks, Latinos and gays, hate speech that creates a “hostile campus environment” is punished. Their right to live hostility-free limits the free speech rights of those who hector them. Yet the right to hate and hector Jewish students, argue the mainstream media and the National Lawyers’ Guild, is “protected free speech.”
Jewish students need our help. Brownshirt tactics cannot be tolerated even when masquerading as free speech or academic freedom.
It is about time that the only hatred still acceptable on college campuses – the hatred of Jews and the only Jewish state – is treated like all other hatreds. The entire Jewish community must publicly stand up and fight to protect our students.
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