In April 2019, an anonymous group of pro-Israel students sued the University of Massachusetts Amherst in an attempt to prevent a panel featuring Marc Lamont Hill, Linda Sarsour, Roger Waters, Dave Zirin, and moderator Vijay Prashad from taking place on campus.Read More
Issues: Academic Freedom, Free Speech, Boycott Divestment and Sanctions
University of Michigan professor John Cheney-Lippold and graduate student Lucy Peterson were investigated after declining to write recommendation letters for study abroad programs in Israel because they support the academic boycott for Palestinian rights.
Read More >>
In October 2018, University of Michigan tenured professor John Cheney-Lippold was sanctioned by the school with loss of his earned sabbatical for two years and no merit increase for the academic year after he told a student he would be unable to write her a recommendation letter for a study abroad program in Israel because he supports the academic boycott for Palestinian rights. The University also warned “further conduct of this nature is subject to additional discipline.”
Lucy Peterson, a doctoral student in Political Science, similarly declined to write a recommendation for a student wishing to study abroad at an Israeli academic institution. In early October, she was questioned by the administration. Three weeks later – after an intense campaign of support on behalf of Cheney-Lippold and Peterson – the administration informed Peterson that there was no contractual obligation to write letters and she would not be punished.
Professor Cheney-Lippold said about his decision to boycott, “I wouldn’t cross a union picket line and I can’t cross this one. I support the Palestinian boycott call because I am appalled at Israel’s continuing violation of Palestinian rights, and our government’s support for those violations. If a student had wanted to do a study abroad at an institution in Apartheid South Africa, I would have declined to write a letter for her as well.”
Lucy Peterson wrote about her decision: “Regardless of whether or not the University changes its relationship to Israel/Palestine, at the very least, individuals who hold positions within the university must nevertheless be free to engage in critical discourse and disagreement about the university’s purpose.”
The backlash against the professor and graduate student came after right-wing anti-Palestinian groups launched a campaign to pressure the university itno punishing them. After Cheney-Lippold declined the letter in an email to a student, Club Z, a Zionist organization, posted the email on Facebook. Islamophobe ideologue Pamela Geller and right-wing groups including the Zionist Organization of America called for the professor to be dismissed. The story spread across conservative sites such as Fox News, Breitbart and the Daily Caller and was soon picked up by other sites such as CBS and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Soon after, Cheney-Lippold received over 500 emails, including messages calling for him to be killed.
“It’s not uncommon for professors to decline to write recommendations for ethical, political or academic reasons,” said Radhika Sainath, Senior Staff Attorney with Palestine Legal, who initially advised Cheney-Lippold and Peterson.“A professor is not obligated to write a recommendation letter for organizations complicit in unlawful or unethical activity – whether it’s the NRA, President Trump or Israel institutions complicit in violations of Palestinian rights.”
September 5, 2018 Professor Cheney-Lippold informs student that for political and ethical reasons he could not write her a recommendation for a study abroad program in Israel due to his support for the boycott for Palestinian rights. Cheney-Lippold offers to write letters for other programs.
September 16, 2018 Club Z, a Zionist organization, posts the email on Facebook. The story spreads on right-wing media, and Cheney-Lippold receives death threats.
October 1, 2018 Graduate student Lucy Peterson declines to write a letter of recommendation for a study abroad program in Israel.
October 3, 2018 Elizabeth Cole, interim dean of College of Literature, Science and the Arts, sends Cheney-Lippold a letter sanctioning him with loss of his earned sabbatical for two years, no merit increase for the academic year, and warning “further conduct of this nature is subject to additional discipline.”
October 4, 2018 Rosario Ceballo, Associate Dean of Social Sciences, calls Lucy Peterson into a meeting with her and the chair of Peterson’s department.
October 9, 2018 The university president and provost issue a public statement stating: “Withholding letters of recommendation based on personal views does not meet our university’s expectations for supporting the academic aspirations of our students. Conduct that violates this expectation and harms students will not be tolerated and will be addressed with serious consequences.” Associate Dean Ceballo meets with Lucy Peterson and questions her about her actions.
October 29, 2018 The university informed Peterson it would not be punishing her for refusing to write a letter of recommendation.
Letters and Statements >>
Petitions and Action Alerts >>
UM faculty senate says recommendations should be choice of faculty, Martin Slagter, MLive.com (October 23, 2018)
Professor Was Improperly Punished for Israel Boycott Actions, Says Academic Group Cited in Punishment, Zaid Jilani, The Intercept (October 18, 2018)
Listen: Michigan professor punished for supporting boycott, Nora Barrows-Friedman, Electronic Intifada (October 16, 2018)
Op-Ed: Why I declined to write a letter of recommendation, Lucy Peterson, The Michigan Daily (October 16, 2018)
A professor withheld a recommendation letter for a student heading to Israel. Here’s why I’m fine with it., David Palumbo-Liu, Washington Post (October 13, 2018)
Op-Ed: This university will not silence us, UM Alumni, The Michigan Daily (October 11, 2018)
University of Michigan punishes professor for boycotting Israel, Ali Harb, Middle East Eye (October 11, 2018)
Michigan U punishes prof. for denying recommendation to Israel-bound student, Michael Bachner, Times of Israel (October 10, 2018)
UM disciplines prof over Israel letter controversy, Kim Kozlowski, The Detroit News (October 9, 2018)
Michigan professor stands firm despite Israel lobby attacks, Nora Barrows-Friedman, Electronic Intifada (September 27, 2018)
The ethics of study abroad in Israel, David Lloyd, Mondoweiss (September 20, 2018)
Lawyer: UM prof in Israel letter flap gets death threats, Kim Kozlowski, The Detroit News (September 19, 2018)
In October 2018, just ahead of the annual National Students for Justice in Palestine (NSJP) conference, UCLA sent NSJP a letter claiming that a bear logo used by the group violated the school’s trademark. The university’s threat was sent to NSJP amid a barrage of efforts by pro-Israel actors to shut down the conference at UCLA.Read More
Students Supporting Israel at Columbia University has filed several harassing complaints against professors and students for speech critical of Israeli policies. All complaints have been dismissed.Read More
In November 2017, a New York City book store was compelled to hide copies of a children’s alphabet book, P is for Palestine, behind the cash register, and ultimately release a statement denouncing boycotts for Palestinian rights after local Israel supporters and a prominent local synagogue complained about the book.Read More
In spring 2017, a diverse coalition of student organizations at the University of Wisconsin – Madison launched a campus-wide campaign to pass a student government resolution urging the university to divest from companies complicit in environmental and human rights abuses including fossil fuels, private prisons, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and Israeli abuses of Palestinian rights.
In the wake of the resolution’s passage, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law demanded that the university rescind the resolution and punish several students, including student government chairperson Carmen Gosey – who backed the resolution – and adopt a discredited definition of antisemitism that classifies virtually all Palestinian rights advocacy as inherently antisemitic.
Palestine Legal wrote the University demanding that the administration take action to protect students’ First Amendment right to advocate for Palestinian rights, and to protect students of color from a pattern of harassment and discrimination.
Pattern of Harassment and Discrimination Against Palestine Supporters
Several students of color involved in the divestment campaign, including Gosey, who is Black, and members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), faced a pattern of racist, sexist, homophobic and Islamophobic harassment and discrimination from on- and off-campus groups, including online messages such as:
- “you fa***ts are f***ing gonna lose; Islam/Palestine is a terrorism communist f****”t state.”
- “you are the perfect example of affirmative action … no other way you could of [sic] made it to college…ghetto trash n****r.”
- “We need to completely eliminate all affirmative action for any group before our college goes down the drain due to your inferior quality types.”
Palestine Legal wrote the University Chancellor. The letter called on the university to take necessary steps to ensure that these students are afforded educational opportunities free of harassment and discrimination, including meeting with and providing support to the targeted students and rejecting Brandeis Center’s demand to adopt the discredited and overbroad definition of antisemitism. The university failed to take any steps to address the situation.
Kenneth Marcus’ Brandeis Center Sides with White Supremacy (and Zionism)
Gosey and SJP were singled out in the Brandeis Center letter, which chastised them for condemning white supremacy and Zionism, calling their statements “unacceptable.” The Brandeis Center urged university officials to specifically reprimand Gosey for saying “Fuck White Supremacy” at a student government meeting.
See Palestine Legal’s letter to UW-Madison Chancellor Blank here.
Select Media Coverage
- Palestine Legal calls on UW to recognize ‘harassment and discrimination’ against former ASM chair, Emilie Burditt, The Badger Herald, (November 9, 2017)
- Former ASM chair faced harassment, discrimination after divestment, letter says, Maggie Chandler, The Daily Cardinal, (November 9, 2017)
- An Advocate for Israel Draws Fire as he Nears Confirmation to Civil Rights Post, Erica L. Green, The New York Times, (January 18, 2018)
Palestine Legal, together with the Center for Constitutional Rights and co-counsel Alan Levine, filed a lawsuit in New York challenging Fordham University’s denial of club status to Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
The decision to deny club status to SJP occurred in December 2016 – more than a year after Fordham students had applied to start an SJP club. The justification was that the group would create "polarization" on campus and "run contrary to the mission and values" embraced at Fordham.
Palestine Legal represents current and former Fordham students Ahmad Awad, Sofia Dadap, Sapphira Lurie and Julie Norris, who hoped to organize events on Palestinian history and raise awareness on the issue of Palestinian rights.
The case is being brought as a special proceeding under Article 78 of the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules. Students are seeking a judgment compelling Fordham to officially recognize SJP and provide it the same rights enjoyed by all other clubs at Fordham. Without club status, the students may not hold events, obtain funding, flyer or invite guest speakers.
The lawsuit argues that Fordham, a private university, violated Article 78 by failing to follow its own rules and policies that bar it from restricting students’ expressive activities based on the positions being advocated. New York courts have ruled that even private universities may not arbitrarily and capriciously violate their own rules.
Nov. 19, 2015: Fordham students submit application to form an SJP club as per Fordham's rules.
Nov. 17, 2016: Fordham’s student government votes to approve SJP as a club at Fordham.
Dec. 22, 2016: Fordham dean overrules the student government’s decision and denies club status to SJP in an unprecedented decision.
Jan. 17, 2017: Palestine Legal and CCR send letter to Fordham expressing concern over SJP denial.
June 5, 2017: Fordham files motion to dismiss case.
July 7, 2017: Students file brief opposing Fordham's motion to dismiss.
July 17, 2017: Fordham files its reply brief.
Nov. 2, 2017: Students file order to show cause why preliminary injunction should not be issued and expedited discovery granted against Fordham.
Dec. 15, 2017: Fordham files its brief opposing Students’ preliminary injunction and request for expedited discovery.
Dec. 22, 2017: Students file reply brief.
Jan. 3, 2018: Court hears oral arguments on Students’ preliminary injunction and Fordham’s motion to dismiss.
Feb. 8, 2019: Students file motion to add a new petitioner to the case.
Mar. 4, 2019: Fordham files a motion opposing adding a new petitioner to the case.
Mar. 11, 2019: Students file reply brief.
May 8, 2019: Court hears oral arguments on adding new petitioner to the case.
Select Media Coverage
Students of SJP Await Court Decision, Ruby Gara, The Fordham Observer (January 24, 2018)
Law and Disorder Radio: January 15, 2018, with co-counsel Maria LaHood
Students Await Judgment in Suit Over Fordham University Banning of Pro-Palestine Club, Dina Sayedahmed, The Intercept (January 7, 2018)
Fordham Students Sue over Free Speech Rights to Establish Students for Justice in Palestine Group, Democracy Now! (January 3, 2018)
NJ students head to court in battle over Fordham University Palestinian club, Hannan Adely, The Record (January 3, 2018)
Pro-Palestinian Group Banned on Political Grounds, Elizabeth Redden, Inside Higher Ed (January 18, 2017)
Fordham flunks a free speech test, Ahmad Awad, New York Daily News (January 23, 2017)
Letters Supporting the Formation of SJP
Catholic clergy and professors letter
Fordham faculty letter
Friends of Sabeel North America letter
Jewish Voice for Peace letter
Middle East Studies Association letter
US Campaign for Palestinian Rights statement
US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel open letter
Legal Documents (in progress)
In September 2016, UC Berkeley suspended a course, titled, “Palestine: a Settler Colonial Analysis,” a week after it began, after Israel advocacy organizations and an Israeli government minister complained that the class was antisemitic. Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks' office justified the suspension by erroneously stating the facilitator failed to follow procedures, and by citing concerns that the course “espoused a single political viewpoint and appeared to offer a forum for political organizing.”
After an outcry, the university reinstated the course. But UC Berkeley never accounted for the blatant violations of academic freedom and free speech.
Berkeley’s suspension of an academic course on Palestine stands in sharp contrast to the university’s defense of free speech for white supremacist visitors like Milo Yiannopolous and Ben Shapiro. The contrast provides a stark illustration of the “Palestine exception” to free speech.
The Course, "Palestine: A Settler Colonial Inquiry"
Paul Hadweh, a Palestinian-American and UC Berkeley senior majoring in Peace and Conflict Studies, spent eight months preparing to facilitate the student-led course, which set out to examine Palestinian history through the framework of settler colonialism. Hadweh designed the course in close consultation with his faculty sponsor, and followed all procedural requirements. The course was approved by Hadweh’s sponsor, the Ethnic Studies Department, and the faculty body charged with overseeing academic curriculum. The class met for the first time on September 6, 2016, and twenty-six students enrolled.
The syllabus included material from both Palestinian and Israeli scholars like Edward Said, Saree Makdisi, Eyal Weizman, and Ilan Pappe. The course description emphasized, “we will explore the possibilities of a decolonized Palestine, one in which justice is realized for all its peoples and equality is not only espoused, but practiced.”
The enrolled students included a diverse group, self-described as “Christians, Muslims, and Jews; we are white, Black, Latin@, Asian, North American indigenous, Middle Eastern, and more; we study Peace and Conflict Studies, Ethnic Studies and Middle Eastern Studies, Media Studies, Economics and Engineering.”
The accusation that the course would only tolerate a single viewpoint was false, as explained by the enrolled students: “We the students collaboratively designed and established community agreements to ensure that we would engage with course content and each other in a mature and respectful manner. Any and all participants were welcome to attend the course, irrespective of background or preconceived perspectives on the subject matter.”
Suspension Without Warning
Executive Dean of the College of Letters and Science Carla Hesse suspended the course on September 13, 2016, three weeks after the semester started and one week after the course began. Hesse made the decision without consulting the course facilitator, the faculty advisor, or the department. To support its decision, the university cited concerns that the course was one-sided, that it was a vehicle for political mobilization, and that Hadweh failed to follow proper procedures.
The university publicly announced its decision less than 30 minutes after informing the faculty advisor and department chair that the course was suspended. Administrators made no contact with Hadweh to discuss their concerns about the course or give him an opportunity to respond before publicly alleging that he failed to follow proper procedures and that his course was inappropriate for the university setting.
Nor did the university reach out to Hadweh to discuss how he may protect himself and stay focused on his studies while facing scrutiny in the international media.
Hadweh learned his course was in jeopardy when a friend alerted him on the morning of the suspension that he was in the Israeli media. This was only several hours before the university suspended it. That same day he began to receive a barrage of harassment emails and contacts from reporters.
Blatant Academic Freedom Violations
As Palestine Legal pointed out in multiple legal letters, the university’s reasoning for the suspension (that the course was politically one-sided) violated First Amendment protections and the university’s academic freedom policies. The procedural justification that “the facilitator for the course in question did not comply with policies and procedures” was also erroneous. No policies or procedures were cited to support this claim, and the university later conceded it was an error.
Palestine Legal demanded immediate reinstatement and an apology to the students. The suspension also caused an outcry among academic freedom advocates, faculty associations, the Berkeley Academic Senate, alumni, and students who also demanded the reinstatement of the course.
Pressure from Israel Advocacy Organizations
The suspension followed heavy pressure from Israel advocacy organizations and the Israeli government. Israeli news media claimed the course offered “practical tips for how to drive Jews out of Israel.” Israel Channel Ten also reported that Israeli Minister Erdan and the Association of University Heads had been trying covertly to prevent the course from taking place. Headlines in the American pro-Israel press claimed, “UC Berkeley Offers Class in Erasing Jews From Israel,” and “New Course At Berkeley University: How To Get Rid Of Israel.” The director of UC Berkeley Hillel wrote, "This course seems to be a matter of political indoctrination in the classroom and is a violation of the newly adopted principles by the U.C. regents on intolerance."
The Israel advocacy group AMCHA Initiative, along with 42 other Israel advocacy organizations, issued a public letter and commenced a letter-writing campaign to Chancellor Dirks about Hadweh’s class on September 13, claiming that it violated Regent’s Policy by allowing a classroom to be used for “political indoctrination” and “as an instrument for the advance of partisan interest.” AMCHA’s media statement called the course, a “classic example of antisemitic anti-Zionism.” The group Students Supporting Israel likened UC Berkeley to a “Hamas terror academy.”
Internal communications released to Palestine Legal through a public records request show UC Berkeley officials scrambling to respond to a high volume of email messages from pro-Israel alumni and donors claiming the course was antisemitic.
Student Facilitator Smeared in the Media
Following the sudden suspension, Hadweh was thrust into an international media storm amidst efforts to reinstate the course, and defend his name from false accusations. The controversy was covered in Israeli, Arab, European, national, and local media outlets. Hadweh was depicted falsely throughout the coverage as a student who violated university policies and attempted to indoctrinate his peers with antisemitic thinking. The university made no statements in his defense.
Reinstatement Without Remedy
On September 19, Dean Hesse announced that she was reinstating the course. The enrolled students met on Tuesday September 20, but Mr. Hadweh was unable to engage his students in the planned discussion of the course material because of questions about the university’s suspension of the course and its reinstatement. They fell two weeks behind on the course syllabus as a result of the suspension.
On Tuesday September 20, the Academic Senate released a statement condemning the university’s suspension of the course as a major infringement of academic freedom policies, and demanding that the university retract and apologize for false statements accusing Hadweh of failing to follow university procedures. The university issued no known response.
Palestine Legal wrote again on October 18th, 2016, because the university had taken no action after the reinstatement to remedy the harms to Hadweh or to remedy injuries to the free speech environment. The letter reiterated: “The absence of a valid justification for suspending the course, combined with the absence of similar scrutiny applied to any other [student-led “DeCal”] course, and the ample evidence of an international pressure campaign on the university to restrict Palestinian perspectives, all point to the conclusion that the university suspended the course in response to controversy over the perceived political viewpoints in the syllabus. This is a violation of the University’s obligation to uphold academic freedom and free speech under the California and U.S. Constitutions.” The university did not reply.
In November, Dean Carla Hesse who was directly responsible for the course suspension wrote to Hadweh to “offer our apology for the public misstatement made regarding your DeCal course” citing “confusion.” Hesse wrote, “We regret stating that you had not followed the appropriate procedures, when in fact you had.” She did not apologize for, or acknowledge, the violations of free speech and academic freedom, or the personal consequences on Hadweh. The university took no known further action on the case.
Consequences to Student Facilitator
For the weeks that followed the reinstatement, Mr. Hadweh was forced to devote himself full time to defending his reputation and responding to high interest from international and local media outlets. He fell irreparably behind in an intensive Hebrew language course, which he eventually had to drop. Hadweh lost sleep, had trouble concentrating, and was consumed with the anxiety of potential consequences to his future and his family.
In December 2016, following the suspension, the Israeli government denied Hadweh a permit to cross from the West Bank to Jerusalem for Christmas. The church applied on Hadweh's behalf, as it has in previous years successfully. This was the first time his permit was denied.
Hadweh, explained, “The university threw me under the bus, and publicly blamed me, without ever even contacting me. It seems that because I’m Palestinian studying Palestine, I’m guilty until proven innocent. To defend the course, we had to mobilize an international outcry of scholars and students to stand up for academic freedom. This never should have happened.”
Letters from Palestine Legal to University of California
- Palestine Legal letter to UC Berkeley challenging the suspension (Sep. 16, 2016)
- Palestine Legal letter to UC Berkeley demanding remedies after the course reinstatement (Oct. 18, 2016)
- Palestine Legal and other civil rights organizations letter to University of California warning of repeated First Amendment violations (Nov. 21, 2016)
Letters from Students, Professors, and Associations
- Open Letter to the UC Berkeley Administration Regarding Academic Freedom From Every Student of Ethnic Studies 198 (Sep. 15, 2016)
- Middle East Studies Association Letter to Chancellor Dirks, (Sep. 16, 2016)
- California Scholars for Academic Freedom, “Letter to Chancellor Dirks and Dean Hesse Re Cancelled Palestine class at UC Berkeley,” (Sep. 16, 2016)
Select Media Coverage
- Berkeley Bans a Palestine Class, Academe Blog (Sep. 15, 2016)
- UC Berkeley’s ban on Palestine course ‘McCarthyist’, Al Jazeera (Sep. 18, 2016)
- Berkeley’s Choice To Nix Palestinian Course Disgusts Me as a Jewish Alum, The Forward (Sep. 18, 2016)
- UC Berkeley Suspends Class on Colonialism in Palestine, Chicago Monitor (Sep. 19, 2016)
- UC Berkeley reinstates Palestine course, but tried to change content, Electronic Intifada (Sep. 20, 2016)
- Why A Controversial Palestinian History Class At Berkeley Was Canceled, Then Reinstated, Newsweek (Oct. 5, 2016)
In spring 2016, two well-known leaders of City University of New York-Brooklyn College SJP were investigated, charged with student conduct violations and ultimately exonerated after they briefly protested during a faculty council meeting to voice concerns over tuition increases, faculty diversity, police surveillance and other topics.Read More
In October 2013, the Department of Homeland Security arrested Rasmea Odeh, a pillar of the Palestinian community in Chicago, and charged her with ‘unlawful procurement of naturalization’ for omitting mention of her arrest and conviction by an Israeli military court on her citizenship application.Read More
When students of color at Loyola University Chicago (LUC) organized a November 12, 2015 demonstration in solidarity with racial justice protests at the University of Missouri, over 700 students, faculty, and staff attended. Demonstration organizers did not fully comply with LUC’s draconian demonstration policy – full compliance would have precluded participation in a national day of solidarity with Mizzou.
But despite promises from senior administration officials that no student would be disciplined, LUC charged three organizers – all black students – with violating the demonstration policy. The students faced suspension. All three students were also members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at LUC, and Palestine Legal staff attorney Rahul Saksena acted as their adviser during their disciplinary hearing.
On December 8, LUC’s Interim President announced a moratorium on the school’s demonstration policy.
In January 2016, Palestine Legal and the NLG-Chicago wrote to LUC’s interim president, raising three demands: 1) end the draconian provision of the demonstration policy, including the requirement that students register demonstrations with the University; 2) adopt stronger due process measures during the student disciplinary process; and 3) apologize to SJP for unfair and selective enforcement of the demonstration policy in 2015. LUC responded to Palestine Legal with a standard letter (dated Jan. 19, 2016) reiterating its commitment to “fostering a vibrant and productive dialogue about important social issues regardless of viewpoint.”
In March, LUC revised the school’s demonstration policy. Students will no longer need to obtain approval to demonstrate.
In the Fall 2015, Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace members at the University of Chicago faced harassment on campus and online. Much of the harassment targeted students based on their perceived sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity, including:
- On October 14, as part of the International Day of Action on University Campuses for Palestine, SJP put up posters at the University of Chicago in recognition of recent Palestinian victims of Israeli violence. Many posters were torn down or vandalized with Islamophobic and anti-Arab messages, including “stop venerating terror” and “TERRORIST.”
- On October 19, offensive posters using the SJP and University of Chicago logos were posted on campus. The posters replaced “Students for Justice in Palestine” with “Stabbing Jews for Peace.” SJP reported both incidents to Associate Dean Inabinet via email on Oct 20.
- On October 22, a fake Facebook user named “Rachel Corrie” posted harassing and intimidating comments about an SJP member on SJP’s Facebook page. The posts included homophobic, disparaging comments about the student’s sexual orientation, and threatened to expose sexually explicit photos of the student. One comment, for example, threatened to post flyers on campus with “graphic nude photos of [redacted] he’s been sharing on [gay mobile phone app] grindr.” Another comment stated, “I think most queers would agree that power bottom [redacted] needs to stop pinkwashing palestinian brutality against palestinian homosexuals, oh and stabbing jews too.” Members of SJP reported these Facebook posts to the Associate Dean Inabinet via email on October 22.
- On November 2 and 3, a University of Chicago student who identifies as non-binary and queer, received threatening transphobic and homophobic Facebook messages from the same “Rachel Corrie” referenced above, including “when are you going to get your boobies taken off?” and “i’m going to have lots of fun with you and your family.” The student is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace – UChicago and had posted publicly on Facebook in support of Palestinian human rights. The student reported these messages to the Administration via e-mail on November 3.
- On November 6, a Facebook user created a fake account using the name and photo of an SJP member. The fake account made several offensive, harassing, and intimidating comments on SJP Chicago’s Facebook page. The comments included disparaging statements about the student’s sexual orientation, and attributed to the student statements that could be construed as support for terrorism and anti-Semitism. In one post, for example, the fake profile commented, “I would love to join, but I’m more interested in murdering some jews, er… I mean zionists.” Another comment stated, “…How can I get arrested, I want to fulfill a prison rape fantasy, dying for some big black cock.” The student reported these Facebook comments to Dean of Students Michele Rasmussen via e-mail on November 6.
- On November 14, a Facebook user created a fake account using the name and profile photograph of a Palestinian student at the University of Chicago, who is also a member of SJP. The imposter account left a series of harassing, threatening, sexual, and misogynistic comments on SJP’s Facebook page, including “you don’t have to rape me, i’ll make you touch my genitals.” The Palestinian student reported these comments to Dean of Students Michele Rasmussen and other administrators via email on November 16.
Each time students reported incidents to administrators, the responses expressed sympathy and referred the student(s) to Title IX coordinator. These responses were insufficient.
On November 19, Palestine Legal sent a letter to the University. The letter called on the University to investigate who was behind the harassment and issue a public statement affirming the right to speak out in support of Palestine. The University responded to Palestine Legal’s letter, stating that they had investigated and were unable to identify the sources of online harassment. But the University failed to address the students’ other demands, including publicly affirming and protecting the rights of students to speak out in favor of Palestinian human rights.
Nearly a year later, in October 2016, a number of defamatory, hateful posters made by the David Horowitz Freedom Center were found around campus targeting students due to their support for Palestinian rights. That year, students were also profiled on blacklisting site Canary Mission. Palestine Legal again sent a legal letter to administrators documenting the incidents and demanding that the university take immediate action to support the targeted students.
Palestine Legal continued to work with University of Chicago students throughout 2016 and 2017 to build pressure on the university to take action. In the summer of 2017, the University announced it was considering action to support students targeted by Horowitz and Canary Mission.
On April 4, 2016, St. Louis University student Christopher Winston attended a campus event entitled “Israel: First Responders to World Crisis.” During the question-and-answer portion of the event, Mr. Winston asked questions critical of Israeli ambulance service policies towards Palestinians. His questions were met with hostility by the event hosts, who at one point threatened to call campus security to remove Mr. Winston, the only black person in the room. In response, Mr. Winston said, “[t]hank you, your Zionist fascism is on full display today” as he left the event.
On May 11 an SLU administrator informed Mr. Winston that he had been found to engage in a “bias related incident.” Not once did the university consult Mr. Winston or give him the opportunity to state his side of the story. Mr. Winston was also found to have violated university policy prohibiting “disruptive behavior” due to the “manner in which he presented himself” at the April 4 event.
On May 23, Palestine Legal wrote to the president of St. Louis University to express outrage over the school’s decision to discipline Mr. Winston for simply expressing his political viewpoints at a student-organized event. Mr. Winston appealed the case, stating that he was not provided an opportunity to refute the allegations. In a June 9 letter, the University’s appeal board upheld the sanctions.
- Palestine Legal letter to SLU
- Video of Mr. Winston’s questioning at the event
- Electronic Intifada article: “Black student censured in St. Louis for challenging Israeli spin”
- Alternet article: “African American student accused of ‘Bias Incident’ by St. Louis University for Condemning Israeli Human Rights Abuses”
After a five-month long investigation, Boston University’s (BU) Equal Opportunity Office found that students who had been ejected from a January 2016 BU Hillel event on “combatting BDS” should not have been removed, and had done nothing disruptive.
Nine students, seven of whom were students of color, were ejected from the “All Students, All Israel Think Tank” event on January 28, 2016. When the students asked why they weren’t allowed to attend the event, campus police told them “you’re not welcome” and threatened them with criminal trespass. Three of the nine ejected students are of Palestinian origin, six are Muslim, and seven were members of SJP.
In its determination letter, the Equal Opportunity Office stated that the event “should have been open to all BU students.” It noted that a non-Hillel affiliate asked campus police to eject the students based on a vague assumption that they would be disruptive. While the Office determined that there was not sufficient evidence to conclude the students’ exclusion was due to discriminatory motives, it did recommend “appropriate management of future events at Hillel House so that Boston University students are not treated disrespectfully, or put in a position to conclude that they are being targeted because of national origin, color, religion, or any other protected characteristic.”
Palestine Legal, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) Massachusetts Chapter wrote Boston University in May 2016 demanding that the university apologize to the nine students who were removed from the BU Hillel event and issue a statement to the campus community affirming that all students are welcome at open campus events, including Palestinian-American students, Muslim students and students active with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
The letter, written on behalf of BU students Marlene Kalb, Ibraheem Samirah and Negin Taleb notes:
It is clear, as reflected by comments from the police officer, that these students were removed from the event because Boston University Hillel complained about their presence, based on assumptions relating to the students’ national origins and religions or because they disagree with their viewpoints supporting Palestinian rights.
The letter also states:
Fearful of being arrested, Ms. Kalb, Mr. Samirah, Ms. Taleb and their two remaining friends exited the room, under police escort. The experience left Ms. Kalb, Mr. Samirah and Ms. Taleb feeling humiliated, scared and like outsiders on their own campus. Ms. Samirah felt like he didn’t belong on BU’s campus, and that he wasn’t allowed to be part of a discussion because he was Palestinian, that his identity was viewed by BU and BU Hillel “as a negative” and that BU and BU Hillel “made me feel bad as a Palestinian.”
Former Federal Prosecutor and Former Federal Judge Vindicate Students for Justice in Palestine
After a six-month investigation, an independent task force concluded that alleged instances of anti-Semitism on CUNY's campuses were not attributable to Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
The investigation, conducted by Paul Shechtman, a former federal prosecutor, and Barbara Jones, a former federal judge, was commissioned after the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) called for SJP to be banned from over twenty CUNY campuses. Subsequently, 35 New York legislators responded by calling for SJP's suspension, newspaper editorial boards demanded action against the student group, the New York State Senate threatened to cut CUNY's funding and the New York City council considered legislation in response.
In their 24-page report, the “Task Force” emphasized that student conduct supporting Palestinian rights such as die-ins, mock checkpoints and banners is constitutionally-protected speech. The report also described a "tendency to blame SJP for any act of anti-Semitism on any CUNY campus," which it called a "mistake."
The report focused on four CUNY campuses with active SJP chapters: Brooklyn College, CUNY Staten Island, Hunter College, and John Jay College. It concluded that:
- Calls for boycotts and divestment in response to Israel’s human rights abuses “should not be tarred as anti-Semitic”
- SJP was not to blame for genuine incidents of anti-Semitism, such as swastika graffiti or threatening comments at a rally
- Banners with depictions of a keffiyeh (Palestinian scarf) are protected speech and should not be removed
- Criticism of Zionism should not be equated with anti-Semitism
The findings also describe incidents of Islamophobia and censorship targeting SJP students, including cyber harassment and vandalism. In one case of censorship, an administrator told John Jay SJP students not to use sheets with red paint to depict Palestinian lives lost in Gaza because they “would make people uncomfortable.”
Citing the Supreme Court, the report emphasized that: “Political speech is often provocative and challenging, but that is why it is vital to university life. If college students are not exposed to views with which they may disagree, their college has short-changed them.”
The ZOA said they were “worse than disappointed” with the outcome which they thought “did the opposite of what it was supposed to do.”