Palestine Legal’s Statement Re: Calls to Ban SJP from CUNY campuses

Credit: Jennifer Moo

Credit: Jennifer Moo

November 20, 2015 - Palestine Legal issued the following statement today:

Palestine Legal is deeply concerned by a recent petition calling for City University of New York (CUNY) to unconstitutionally ‘shut down’ Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters because of student speech supporting Palestinian rights and by attempts to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

University administrations are increasingly being pressured to censor speech supportive of Palestinian rights. Some Israel advocacy groups attempt to suppress activity with which they disagree by mislabeling speech that criticizes Israeli government policies as hateful and anti-Semitic.

SJP’s speech at last Thursday’s Million Student March criticizing Israeli settlements, CUNY’s investments in companies that aid and abet Israel’s occupation, or the political ideology of Zionism, is neither anti-Semitic, nor anti-Jewish.  Allegations that expression criticizing the state of Israel 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.

The Supreme Court has long held that “speech on public issues occupies the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values, and is entitled to special protection.”

SJP’s chants are examples of core political speech and thus deserve the highest level of protection afforded by the First Amendment. A public university may not censor or chill protected expression.

This incident reflects a well-documented pattern of suppression of Palestinian rights advocacy across the country. Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights documented hundreds of such incidents in a report released in September, "The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack in the U.S."