‘There is no ‘Palestine Exception’ to free speech rights’: Northeastern overturns Students for Justice in Palestine suspension
Notheastern University Students for Justice in Palestine sent out this press release on April 23, 2014
Northeastern University Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has announced that the University is backing off of its decision to suspend the student organization until January 2015. “This is a victory for freedom of expression on campus,” said SJP leader Tori Porell who thanked SJP supporters. “Weeks of protests, picket lines, petitions, phone calls, and emails appear to have paid off and SJP will be operational next semester,” Porell said. “This is also a victory for the national student movement for justice in Palestine.”
Although the news came in a letter from university Vice President Laura Wankel, which nominally rejected SJP’s appeal of its suspension, the letter effectively stated the university’s agreement to abandon the suspension if SJP agreed to take certain mutually agreed steps. SJP leader Tori Porell said, “Of course, we disagree with the administration’s statement that the earlier decision to suspend SJP was appropriate and we believe this is largely a face-saving statement.” She noted, “SJP is happy to work cooperatively with Associate Dean Bob Jose, one of the conditions the university is imposing – and, frankly, we were insisting upon – to plan our upcoming programs addressing important social justice issues.”
Porell also criticized the university’s decision to impose probation on SJP for the fall semester as a condition for lifting the suspension. “We are willing to live with being on probation for one semester, although that is objectionable and most likely also a way to appease those groups calling on the university to censor SJP.” “It is absolutely essential that SJP has a voice on campus and that our rights are not restricted by outside groups enforcing the status quo on Israel-Palestine,” she said. Another SJP leader, Max Geller, commented, “I am glad that SJP can resume its educational mission. This is a victory for every SJP chapter in the country and one that will reverberate around the world, since people in many countries had criticized Northeastern for suspending SJP.”
SJP leaders are setting to work immediately to plan a new series of events and a renewed presence on campus, invigorated by the gains in membership and attention made during the suspension.
The lawyers from the ACLU, Center for Constitutional Rights, and the National Lawyers Guild who have been assisting SJP will continue to monitor the university’s treatment of SJP. “SJP’s reinstatement is a victory for freedom of expression which is a crucial aspect to any quality university,” said ACLU attorney Sarah Wunsch.
What happened to SJP at Northeastern is just one part of the larger assault on speech supporting Palestinian rights in this country,” said Radhika Sainath, staff attorney with Palestine Solidarity Legal Support and co-operating counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights. “There is no ‘Palestine Exception’ to free speech rights and the First Amendment.”
Regarding this victory for Northeastern SJP, and student, as well as Palestine speech rights in general, Attorney Lamis Deek of the National Lawyers Guild said: “We believe this is an unprecedented victory made by the Northeastern University students who, with meager resources, have faced down an internationally sponsored repression movement, The students of Northeastern must proudly own the progress they have made in protecting the rights to free speech and equal protection for all students and all Americans. Equally important, we must recognize students’ role, through this victory, in protecting the rights of Palestinians in the US and globally from the violent narrative that vilifies them and criminalizes their basic demands to live in dignity and freedom. It is no exaggeration to say this is a victory for all people, one for which we should all be grateful.”