On February 26, Northeastern University’s Student Government Association (SGA) again blocked Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) from placing a referendum on the election ballot asking university trustees to divest from companies profiting from violations of Palestinian rights.
“In our opinion, the referendum met every requirement, and our opening statements spelled out why; in the past, Northeastern has cut ties with companies it had close relationships with, such as Adidas, due to student pressure and human rights violations,” wrote Sara O’Brien, the president of Northeastern SJP. “There is no reason that the same precedent cannot be applied again.”
In a memo explaining the SGA executive board’s decision, the Student Body President wrote that the referendum “presents biased viewpoints on the issue,” “unfairly ask[s] whether Northeastern should divest its endowment from the four companies,” and argues that the referendum “unfairly strips students of the choice to make an educated decision.” The memo also claims that the referendum does not adhere to university policy on “the abuse of others,” and falsely equates divestment with anti-Semitism.
Last year, in response to similar calls to prevent the student body from voting on a divestment referendum, Palestine Legal, the ACLU of Massachusetts, The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) of Massachusetts sent a letter to the student body president urging the student government to resist calls to suppress student democracy.
The letter advised the student government that:
Allegations that expression criticizing the state of Israel, standing alone, is harassment or intimidation that targets and creates a hostile educational environment for Jewish students on campus on the basis of race or national origin have been soundly rejected by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
Debate, disagreement, and free expression—including divestment referendums such as the one submitted by SJP—embody the highest values of a free university. As a representatives elected to “serve as the voice of the undergraduate student body” Northeastern’s Student Government should live up to the highest ideals of free speech and student governance. We urge you to stand firmly in support of student democracy, and to refuse to accede to demands to prevent students from voicing their opinion on this critical issue.
This most recent effort to stop students from voting on SJP’s divestment referendum comes after years of intensive pressure on the university from outside groups, including the Zionist Organization of America, who have encouraged scrutiny and punishment of SJP for its speech activities in support of Palestinian human rights.