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SJP across the nation: What’s after Brandeis?

On Nov. 6, the University officially released a decision to derecognize the Brandeis chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). University President Ron Liebowitz made the announcement in his letter that “this decision was made because SJP openly supports Hamas, which the United States has designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, and its call for the violent elimination of Israel and the Jewish people.” As Brandeis became the first private institution in the United States that has uncharted SJP,  this letter has caused major concerns and uprisings within the Brandeis community. 

Subsequently, a vigil planned to be held the same night had to be canceled by Student Affairs, as SJP (@deis_sjp) announced on their Instagram “as Student Affairs considers it ‘a genuine threat’ or ‘harassment.’” Regardless of the university’s decision, the vigil was still held at the same place and time. 

Four days later, seven individuals including three Brandeis students were arrested by police on Brandeis’ campus, when they were doing a peaceful protest against the situation in Gaza. Later, university Provost Carol Fierke addressed the police’s actions, saying “we must not and do not condone hate, the incitement of violence, threats or harassment” in her email. 

This has raised the condemnations and disputes both within and beyond the Brandeis community into an unprecedented high level, causing Brandeis to attract global media attention that it had never had before. Several mainstream media outlets like Fox News, The Boston Globe, NBC Boston and CBS News have all reached out to the university, as Liebowitz wrote an opinion piece for The Boston Globe that openly referred to SJP as a student organization that participates in antisemitism. At the same time, in an interview with The Hill, Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression senior program officer Zach Greenberg criticized university officials by indicating that “Brandeis is punishing its students for nothing more than protected political advocacy … In this difficult moment, Brandeis could have demonstrated how students can engage with opposing viewpoints. Instead, President Liebowitz is teaching them to simply silence those they hate.”

A few days later, Columbia University also sent out a notification that suspended all activities of its own chapter of SJP as well as Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) until the end of this semester. Columbia Senior Executive Vice President Gerald Rosberg said in his announcement that the two organizations “repeatedly violated university policies related to holding campus events.” Despite this, the students still held a peaceful walkout on campus. On Nov. 14, Columbia’s decision received attention at a higher level, with hundreds of students and faculty signing letters to condemn the suspension of its chapters of SJP and JVP. The letter wrote: “Columbia University’s and Barnard College’s vilification and censorship of some beliefs – but not others – not only threatens the safety of the students holding these beliefs but the sanctity of university life as a whole”, according to the Columbia Spectator.

The day after, George Washington University announced that it would suspend its SJP chapter for at least 90 days, making it the third US university this month to derecognize the organization, as its SJP was openly screening anti-Israel messages on the outer wall of GWU’s Gelman Library, named after two prominent Jewish figures. GWU’s administration issued a statement saying SJP’s action has violated university policies, including both being antisemitic and the violation of user guideline of the Gelman Library. However, a new pro-Palestinian student group–the Student Coalition for Palestine–has already been established, being a “coalition of student organizations struggling towards the liberation of Palestine and an end to GW’s complicity in genocide and settler colonialism.”

As the situation in Gaza proceeds and intensifies, US students have felt that this has been, and will continue to be, an uncertain time on campus. Students have said to the press that they were seeing universities limiting free speech, and they also saw people being arrested for exercising their free speech rights. They know for sure that even though they are facing more uncertainties, there will always be people across the country chanting “from the river to the sea.”

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