Fordham Bans Students for Justice in Palestine

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).

Fordham student Ahmad Awad. Photo: Martin Nunez-Bonilla

Fordham student Ahmad Awad. Photo: Martin Nunez-Bonilla

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.

In August 2019, the Court annulled Fordham’s decision to deny SJP club status, finding it arbitrary and capricious, as nothing in Fordham’s rules permitted it to “reject an application of a student club because it criticized the policies of only one nation.”

Timeline

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.

Apr. 26, 2017: Students sue Fordham, seeking an order compelling approval of club status for SJP.

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.

Aug. 5, 2019: Court allows new petitioner and annuls Dean Eldredge's decision, mandating that Fordham recognize SJP as an official club.

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Letters Supporting the Formation of SJP

  • Catholic clergy and professors letter

  • Fordham faculty letter

  • Friends of Sabeel North America letter

  • The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) letter and second 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)

UC Berkeley Suspended Course on Palestine

Paul Hadweh, student instructor of the suspended course. 

Paul Hadweh, student instructor of the suspended course. 

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

Letters from Students, Professors, and Associations

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Brooklyn College Students Cleared After 5 Hour Hearing

Brooklyn College Students Cleared After 5 Hour Hearing

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.

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Loyola: Black Students Disciplined for Protesting Racial Injustices

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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.

After intense pressure from students and media, LUC’s interim president dismissed all charges and expressed a willingness to revise the demonstration policy.

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.

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St. Louis University: Black Student Sanctioned for Asking Questions Critical of Israeli Policies

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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.

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Boston U: SJP Members Wrongfully Ejected From Hillel Event

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.

BU BRIDGE. CREDIT:  JASONIC

BU BRIDGE. CREDIT: JASONIC

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.”

Relevant Links

  • Letter from Palestine Legal, CCR and the NLG-Massachusetts Chapter to Boston University
  • A video of the incident can be found here.

George Washington U Bans Palestinian Flags on Campus

University then apologizes to student publicly, promises equal application of policy

Inspired by the many flags he had seen hung outside residential hall windows during his three years at George Washington University (GW), Mr. Abounaja, a junior biomedical engineering major, hung a Palestinian flag out his dorm window in October 2015. On October 26, a campus police officer came to Mr. Abounaja’s door, instructed him to remove his flag because of complaints the department had received, and filed a police report. The following week, Mr. Abounaja received a ‘Warning Letter’ from GW threatening future sanctions should he be named in a “subsequent report.”

In the following weeks, Mr. Abounaja attempted to discern what policy he violated, writing the university, calling, and emailing several times. “I felt like I was being singled-out, because of my heritage and the viewpoint of my speech, for something I’ve seen dozens of students, fraternities and other student groups do in my three years at GW. . . ,” Mr. Abounaja wrote.

“The events of the last week have left me feeling humiliated, upset and like I can’t even feel safe in my own dorm room. I’ve had finals this week and have found it very hard to study or to think about anything else.”

For weeks, Mr. Abounaja received no communication from GW explaining what rule he had allegedly broken. GW failed to provide him with a hearing or any opportunity to respond to the allegations against him.

On December 7, Palestine Legal wrote GW, explaining that the university’s actions appeared to be based on complaints by other students who disagreed with the viewpoint of Mr. Abounaja’s message. In its letter, Palestine Legal requested that the ‘Warning Letter’ be removed from Mr. Abounaja’s file, that GW issue an apology and clarify that its policies would not be discriminatorily enforced against students based on the viewpoint of their message or their national origin.

On December 10, after a large public outcry, GW President Knapp called Mr. Abounaja and apologized for GW’s treatment of Mr. Abounaja. Later that evening, the apology was posted on GW’s website, along with a statement that GW would revise its policies so that they were applied evenly. 

The ‘Warning Letter’ issued by GW to Mr. Abounaja has been rescinded and removed from his file. 

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Border Officials Detain and Interrogate Palestinian-American Artist for Sketching and Writing

Drawing near the border is not a crime

BADDAWI BY LEILA ABDELRAZAQ

BADDAWI BY LEILA ABDELRAZAQ

On December 2 2015, Palestinian-American artist and author of the graphic novel Baddawi, Leila Abdelrazaq, and two friends were detained and interrogated near the Mexico border because Ms. Abdelrazaq's notebook sketches and Arabic writing apparently raised red flags.

The incident took place in Nogales, Arizona, where Ms. Abdelrazaq was researching her next art project. Ms. Abdelrazaq and her friends were near the border for only a few minutes, soaking in the surroundings and sketching the scenery in a notebook, when several Customs and Border Patrol Officers (CBPOs) approached. The officers asked them to leave, and they complied.

As they were leaving, the CBPOs apparently became suspicious of Ms. Abdelrazaq's drawings and detained and questioned Ms. Abdelrazaq and her friends for nearly four hours. When they ordered her to hand over her sketchbook, Ms. Abdelrazaq initially objected for personal and privacy reasons, though she ultimately complied. The CBPOs looked through the book, noting Arabic writing among the sketches. CBPO returned the sketchbook and ultimately let Ms. Abdelrazaq and her friends go.

“I had never seen the US-Mexico border before, and since my next project is about immigration and borders, I just wanted to see it for myself,” Ms. Abdelrazaq said. “Alongside my sketches, I included notes in both Arabic and English that poke fun at my choppy Arabic. I didn’t realize self-deprecation would get me in trouble.”

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NYU: SJP Investigated Over Human Rights Flyers

New York University: SJP Investigated for Distributing "Mock Eviction Notices"

credit: scott Beale

credit: scott Beale

On April 24, 2014, NYU SJP distributed “mock eviction notices” to two NYU residence halls with a sentence informing the students that their suite was scheduled for demolition in three days, several paragraphs on Israel’s home demolition policies, and the statement that “[t]his is not a real eviction notice . . . This is intended to draw attention to the reality that Palestinians confront on a regular basis.” 

Later that day, the Times of Israel published an article by the president of NYU’s pro-Israel advocacy group, TorchPac, falsely claiming that that SJP had targeted a dorm with a “high concentration” of Jewish students (because one of the two residence halls had a Sabbath elevator), and that the action constituted “anti-Semitic fear mongering.” Several news outlets repeated the baseless claims, and SJP was summoned to speak with the administration and forced to defend itself against the false and inflammatory charges in the media. 

NYU spokesperson John Beckman later rebuked the charges of anti-Semitism, explaining that “we don’t believe there is perception of [these dorms] being home to a higher percentage of Jewish students (the presence of a Sabbath elevator in one of them is the result of a stairway that empties to the street and cannot be entered through the lobby behind the security desk, not because of a large presence of Jewish students in the building). . . .” Likewise, SJP stated that it chose these two particular dorm rooms because they were NYU’s largest and the most accessible to SJP members. 

Palestine Legal advised SJP. No disciplinary action was taken.

Barnard College: Palestine Justice Banner Censored

Barnard College: ‘Stand for Justice, Stand for Palestine’ Banner Removed 

credit: BWOG

credit: BWOG

On March 10, 2014, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine (which consists of students from Barnard College and Columbia University) installed their hand-painted banner with the message “Stand for Justice, Stand for Palestine.” They followed the standard procedure for student groups wishing to advertise an event in front of Barnard Hall. The banner also contained a hand-drawn map of historic Palestine and the hashtag #IAW, a shorthand for Israel Apartheid Week.

Within hours of the C-SJP banner’s installation, an email campaign opposing the banner was started by the former president of the Columbia/Barnard Hillel. A Facebook post from the former Hillel president called Israeli Apartheid Week an “attempt to perpetuate the pernicious lie that Israel is an apartheid state” and an “anti-Semitic” display.

Without notice, and within hours, Barnard removed SJP’s banner. On March 11, Barnard Dean Avis Hinkson announced the College’s decision to reexamine its “long-standing” tradition of installing banners promoting student events alongside the official Barnard banner, stating that “until we have had time as a community to discuss the banner placements on Barnard Hall and better define a policy, [the College] will not be hanging student banners on Barnard Hall.”

Palestine Legal, as co-counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights, wrote Barnard College, asking the College to reaffirm its commitment to free speech principles. The letters stated that Barnard’s explanation for the banner’s removal—that it wanted to avoid the perception that the university was endorsing the banner’s content—was disingenuous, given that student banners had hung in the same place for many decades without any confusion as to whether the university was endorsing their messages.

Relevant Documents

Loyola: Students Punished for "Birthright" Demonstration

Loyola University: Students Unfairly Punished for Demonstration of “Birthright Israel” 

In September 2014, several students at Loyola University—Chicago (LUC) learned of a tabling event happening on campus the next day publicizing Birthright Israel, a program that takes Jewish youth from around the world on free trips to Israel. According to a statement by LUC SJP, the SJP chapter decided not to endorse any actions, but individual Palestinian and other students later decided to line up at the table to attempt to register for a Birthright trip. The purpose of the protest was to highlight the discriminatory nature of the program because as protestors explained, “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.” About fifteen students lined up quietly at the Birthright table, and the students at the front of the line engaged in a conversation with the tablers about why they were not allowed to register for Birthright, even though their ancestral villages are located in present-day Israel. As Palestine Legal explained to the administration, several individuals hosting the table told the protestors to leave, after which the Palestinian students in line took a picture together and then dispersed.

One article claimed that the protestors blocked the Birthright table, insulted and threatened the tabling students, and violated multiple school policies. The article was based on statements from Hillel affiliated organizers of the tabling event.

The university began an investigation of the students for alleged misconduct, at first suspending SJP’s status as a student group while the investigation was pending and later reinstating the group.

In a letter to Loyola administrators, Palestine Legal, together with the Council on American-Islamic Relations and attorney Rima Kapitan, raised concerns that the university’s investigation threatened peaceful speech activities. The letter highlighted the inflammatory and unfounded nature of the accusations made against SJP and the individual students, which the letter stated fit in with a pattern of such complaints across the country.

After a month-long investigation, Loyola charged SJP with six disciplinary violations, including bias-motivated misconduct, harassment and bullying, disruptive conduct, and violating the demonstration policy by failing to register their event. Loyola’s Hillel chapter, which sponsored the Birthright Israel tabling, was also charged with failing to register its own tabling event.  After a four-hour long hearing Loyola found SJP responsible for only one of the six charges – failing to register their “demonstration.”  Hillel was also found responsible for a similar charge.  The sanctions, however, were strikingly disproportionate.  While Hillel was required to meet with LUC administrators to clarify school policies, SJP Loyola was suspended for the remainder of the academic year – depriving it from any additional funding for its activities and putting the group at risk of more severe sanctions for any other infractions. The group was also required to undergo intergroup dialogue training.  SJP Loyola’s appeal was denied.

Relevant Documents

Northeastern University: SJP Suspended for Human Rights Flyers

Northeastern University: Student Group Suspended for Distributing "Mock Eviction Notices"

On March 7, 2014, Northeastern University suspended its Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter after SJP distributed mock eviction notices raising awareness of Israel’s policies of demolishing Palestinian homes.

Campus police interrogated two SJP students in their homes, approached two students in class and called four other students on their phones. The two students who were interrogated were charged with violating dorm policies.

Palestine Legal, along with CCR, the NLG and the ACLU of Massachusetts called on Northeastern to lift SJP’s suspension, arguing that the group’s suspension constituted viewpoint discrimination in violation of Massachusetts law. The students mobilized a community campaign to protest Northeastern’s decision, organizing mass demonstrations and call-in campaigns that received media attention. On April 23, 2014, SJP announced that the administration had reinstated SJP.

Northeastern’s history of discriminatory treatment

A year before, in April 2013, SJP was punished with probation and required to write a “civility statement” after staging a walkout at a campus event featuring an IDF soldier. Campus officials had warned students by email before the event not to hold signs or engage in "vocal disruption." The students instead taped the names of children killed by the IDF to their shirts and staged a mostly silent walkout.  The university charged SJP with failing to comply with school officials’ directions and violating the demonstration policy because they did not register their demonstration at least one week in advance. They were found responsible for the second charge. 

Other student groups had previously staged similarly unregistered demonstrations for which they were neither charged, nor punished, most prominently Zionist students’ protest of a lecture by Norman Finkelstein, which involved repeated vocal disruptions of the speaker.

The suspension of 2014 and the probation of 2013 occurred in the context of significant external pressure on the university to restrict SJP’s activity. In July 2013, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) complained to Northeastern in July 2013 of a hostile, anti-Semitic environment, threatened a Title VI complaint, cc’ing Robert Shillman, a major university donor affiliated with ZOA. A right-wing group, Americans for Peace and Tolerance, released a documentary film targeting SJP’s faculty advisor, two other professors, and SJP as a whole. The films included footage secretly recorded at SJP events and the professors’ classes. Professors and SJP students subsequently reported receiving death threats.

Students reported a pattern of discriminatory treatment, which likely occurred in response to this external pressure. For example, in the spring of 2013, the administration notified SJP that its mock checkpoint event was cancelled the day before it was to take place, supposedly because SJP had not followed proper procedures. Students complained that campus police were present at all SJP events, against SJP’s express wishes. Finally, students reported that the administration revoked SJP’s status as a student group for failure to properly sign a form, but reinstated it when the students quickly responded. Palestine Legal, through CCR Cooperating Counsel, complained to Northeastern that these bureaucratic obstacles created a pattern of apparent discriminatory treatment.

Relevant Documents