On March 7, Northeastern University suspended its chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) following an incident that administrators claim violated campus policies.
To symbolize the encroachment of Palestinian territory, the group distributed mock eviction notices under students’ dorm doors. The 600 notices claimed that the dorm was “scheduled for demolition in 3 days” along with information about Palestinians displaced by what SJP calls “Israel’s apartheid policies against the Palestinian people.”
Northeastern’s policies require fliers to be pre-approved by administration prior to distribution, but Max Geller, an SJP leader at the university, claims, “There are hundreds of fliers in different places around campus, and almost none of them have the university’s stamp of approval.”
The university launched police investigations, and now two women of color are accused of “endangering behavior” and may face expulsion. Many Muslim and Arab members of SJP felt particularly targeted for the infraction as well.
“They were freaked out and scared,” says Geller. “It’s hard enough being a brown person with an Arabic name on campus. Now imagine what it was like being treated like a criminal for handing out fliers.”
Tensions surrounding the SJP’s suspension are high due to speculation that the group has been victimized by a “pro-Israel” administration. Tori Porell, president of SJP, claims that their “free speech is suppressed.”
Northeastern spokesman Michael Armini disagrees saying, “The students have been pretty successful at convincing some members of the press that this is a speech issue, but it’s simply not the case.” According to the university, SJP has violated several school policies prior to the mock eviction campaign: vandalizing the statue of a notable pro-Zionist alum with “Zionism=racism” stickers, toppling a menorah, and staging a walkout while an Israel Defense Force soldier spoke on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
SJP members at Boston College share in Porell’s outrage. Social media coordinator Conor Kelly, A&S '16, says, “Northeastern’s actions are reprehensible, and we [BC SJP] call on the administration to immediately drop all charges against the two students in question, cease the disproportionately aggressive and discriminatory interrogation of its students, and reinstate normal club status to Students for Justice in Palestine.”
President of BC’s SJP chapter Ale Rodriguez, ’14 A&S, feels that Northeastern’s reaction to the mock evictions was an “asymmetrical response.”
“The group wasn’t targeting any students,” says Rodriguez, “but the university targeted SJP.” Rodriguez is grateful that the BC administration has been supportive of SJP’s recent revitalization over the past few years; she attributes the encouragement to the school’s support of human rights and social justice.
Debates about Israel-Palestine relations have increased heavily in the past few years, particularly in college settings. On March 11 administrators at Barnard College removed a “Stand for Justice in Palestine” banner posted by Columbia SJP. Last April students at Florida Atlantic University faced conduct charges for protesting an event hosting an Israeli Defense Force soldier. University of Michigan has sparked a movement to divest from companies that support Israeli occupation, like Caterpillar and United Technologies.
The BC chapter of SJP hopes to educate students about Palestine through talks and discussions, particularly through their “Peace, not Apartheid” week, ongoing now.