Amid escalating anti-Israel protests on university campuses, Columbia has suspended two more pro-Palestinian groups with the claim that they have “repeatedly violated University policies related to holding campus events.”
Sympathizing students and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY) instead believe that the ultimate purpose of the suspension of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) is to suppress criticism against Israeli policies and stifle support for the people of Gaza.
The recent pro-Palestinian demonstrations on university campuses have sparked controversy and backlash from some administrators and students. The protests, which are in solidarity with the people of Gaza who are under siege and bombardment by Israel, have been met with accusations of antisemitism, censorship and intimidation.
It has become automatic to conflate Israeli politics with the Jewish religion and “antisemitism” has become a catchall label used against those that voice pro-Palestinian sentiment.
The protests started at Harvard University when a coalition of 34 students organizations said they “hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence” following decades of occupation, adding that “the apartheid regime is the only one to blame.”
The organizations signing the letter included Muslim and Palestinian support groups plus others named for a variety of backgrounds including the Harvard Jews for Liberation and the African American Resistance Organization.
The severe blowback from the letter, which included pro-Israel donors withholding funds from the university, participating students seeing their job offers rescinded, and the doxing of those that took part, has underscored issues related to free speech—especially in academia where the presumption is that the first amendment right should be unfettered.
Other universities have seen clashes between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli protesters, such as at MIT, NYU, CUNY, Georgetown, Cooper Union– where some students were suspended after occupying a lobby for hours–and Tufts University, where Jewish students said they feared for their safety after a pro-Palestinian rally. The protests have exposed the deep divisions and tensions that exist on college campuses over the Israel-Hamas war and the broader issue of Palestinian rights.
Now Columbia University has suspended the pro-Palestinian student groups Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. The school says it’s because the two groups have repeatedly violated school policies.
Officials cited an event Thursday afternoon involving “threatening rhetoric and intimidation.”
In its aftermath, the Chair of the Special Committee on Campus Safety released the following statement:
“Columbia University is suspending Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) as official student groups through the end of the fall term. This decision was made after the two groups repeatedly violated University policies related to holding campus events, culminating in an unauthorized event Thursday afternoon that proceeded despite warnings and included threatening rhetoric and intimidation.
“Suspension means the two groups will not be eligible to hold events on campus or receive University funding. Lifting the suspension will be contingent on the two groups demonstrating a commitment to compliance with University policies and engaging in consultations at a group leadership level with University officials.
Does the condition imposed for the lifting of the ban, that it will “be contingent on the two groups demonstrating a commitment to compliance with University policies” mean that they have to surrender their right to protest?
Columbia’s statement continues with: “During this especially charged time on our campus, we are strongly committed to giving space to student groups to participate in debate, advocacy, and protest.”
But the suspension of the two groups seems to imply that this does not apply equally to both sides and questions are being asked.
CBS New York got reactions from some students on campus who don’t believe that Columbia is acting in an unbiased manner on the issue.
“I feel like the university should definitely be a place to pro-free speech,” student Tiffany Le said. Another student Kelsey Harrison said, “That just sounds like they want to stifle a certain crowd of voices to me. I don’t know why they wouldn’t want to work together with the student groups instead of just suspending them,”
The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY) today condemned the decision.
In a statement, CAIR-NY Executive Director Afaf Nasher said:
“Once again, we are witnessing the suppression and silencing of pro-Palestinian voices on campus. SJP and JVP are dedicated to holding institutions, including institutions of higher learning, to account for their support of Israeli apartheid and genocide of the people of Gaza. This brave, principled stance seems to bother the administration of Columbia University. We stand in solidarity with them and call on the university to stop this attack on constitutionally protected free speech.”