Northeastern University Attempts to Block Divestment Referendum

 Credit: Northeastern SJP

Credit: Northeastern SJP

PSLS and Partners Urge Student Government to Resist Calls to Suppress Student Vote on Divestment

On Thursday, March 12, Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, along with the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild sent a letter to Northeastern University Student Body President and student government members, urging them to resist calls to suppresses student democracy by preventing the student body from voting on Students for Justice in Palestine’s (SJP) divestment referendum.  The referendum asks Northeastern trustees to “divest from companies engaged in human rights violations in Palestine.”

The letter responds to a February 20 memo from the student government executive cabinet to SJP stating that it had unanimously voted to prevent SJP from placing their referendum on the ballot.  The vote was based on the cabinet’s belief that the referendum would create a “hostile, threatening, intimidating, or abusive environment” for Northeastern students. The decision was later retracted on the basis that only the student senate – not the cabinet – had the power to block referendums from being placed on the ballot.  The student senate will hear the referendum on March 16.

The letter advises the student government that:

certain groups disagreeing politically with SJP and other activists have engaged in a widespread effort to brand all students at Northeastern and other universities who advocate for Palestinian rights and divestment initiatives as anti-Semitic, un-civil, targeting a specific group, or potentially harmful to a university community. These allegations are factually and legally incorrect, as evidenced by the U.S. Department of Education’s rejection of these types of complaints.

It goes on to explain that SJP’s referendum is neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Jewish and that “[w]hat would be harmful to a university community is the restricting of the discussion of human rights and international law likely to be engendered by the referendum proposed by SJP.”

The letter calls on Northeastern’s student government to stand firmly in support of student democracy and to refuse to accede to demands to prevent Northeastern students from voicing their opinion on this important issue.

This 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.

To read the full letter, click here.

To read the letter from 30 Boston-area community organizations, click here.