Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Loyola University – Chicago today released a statement about the university’s lifting of a temporary suspension on their group and an ongoing investigation against individual students after they attempted to register at a Birthright Israel table on September 9.
As SJP’s statement explains,
about fifteen students decided on an ad-hoc basis to peacefully line up at the Taglit-Birthright table and ask if they, as Palestinians whose families were expelled from villages inside present-day Israel, could also register for a Birthright trip. Taglit-Birthright Israel is an Israeli government-funded program that sponsors free trips to Israel exclusively for Jewish students on the basis of a claimed ‘Birthright’ to the land, despite the fact that Israel is built upon the dispossession of indigenous Palestinians. Any Jewish student worldwide can register for the program, while indigenous non-Jewish Palestinians are not only ineligible for the program, but often are denied the right to live in or even visit their homeland freely.
Complaints were filed against the students, claiming that they violated university demonstration policies, and that they were blocking the table and behaving in a threatening manner towards the students hosting the table, who are affiliated with the campus Hillel organization. These claims are contradicted by videos showing students quietly standing in line in front of the table waiting to ask questions of the hosts, and a conversation happening at the beginning of the line between a few students. The students lined up to take a picture after they were told they could not sign up for the Birthright program, and then left.
PSLS, with CAIR-Chicago and local attorney Rima Kapitan sent administrators a letter on September 24 raising concerns about the suspension and the investigation of individual students, and highlighting contradictory messages in the school’s policies. The letter also informed the administration about the nation-wide trend of similar complaints accusing those who advocate for Palestinian rights of being anti-Semitic and causing a hostile environment for Jewish students generally. The letter attached a Legal Advisory sent by civil rights groups regarding the dismissal of several Title VI complaints by pro-Israel organizations claiming that universities tolerated a hostile environment for Jewish students. The letter states that
These dismissals provide a resounding affirmation of the need to protect political speech that criticizes a country’s policies from often unfounded, inaccurate or highly exaggerated allegations of harassment and discrimination… Loyola should encourage, rather than punish these students’ commitment to peaceful engagement on one of the most important human rights and social justice issues of our time
Loyola University made the news last Spring when pressure on the university led to its denunciation of a student measure that twice passed the student government asking the administration to divest from companies that profit from Israel’s military occupation. In that case, as here, it appears that significant pressure is being placed on the university to punish and even ban SJP. Social media posts attached to PSLS’ letter illustrate that students opposed to SJP’s message have been seeking “to get @SJPLoyola1 banned from campus.”
See Loyola SJP’s statement here.
See PSLS & CAIR-Chicago’s letter here.