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Columbia Suspends Pro-Palestine Student Groups Amid Crackdown on Free Speech

“No one should participate in any Columbia events until SJP and JVP are reinstated,” one civil rights attorney wrote.

Partial view of the Columbia University campus on October 30, 2023, in New York City.

Columbia University says its suspending two campus Palestine groups.

In a statement posted on the school’s website Senior Executive Vice President of the University and Chair of the Special Committee on Campus Safety Gerald Rosberg said the university is suspending Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) for the remainder 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,” reads the statement.

The event that Rosberg referenced was a peaceful walkout and subsequent art installation. It was carried out as a part of a national call to action in response to the Israeli attacks on Gaza. So far over 10,000 Palestinians have been killed.

“Suspension means the two groups will not be eligible to hold events on campus or receive University funding,” the statement continues. “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.”

Jewish Voice for Peace and National Students for Justice in Palestine released a statement on social media, calling it “a clear attempt by the university to restrict the free speech of their students.”

“To Columbia and other institutions too cowardly to stand against genocide and apartheid, history will not reflect kindly on your silencing tactics, or your bullying of students,” reads the statement. “These young adults are standing up for what they believe in and trying to make the world a better place — as should we all. No one can stop our hearts from beating for liberation, humanity, and the freedom of Palestine.”

In an additional statement, Jewish Voice for Peace called the move an “appalling act of censorship and intimidation by the administration,” and added:

The students in these groups are acting with moral clarity. They are protesting war and trying to save lives by calling for a ceasefire. By suspending Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine, Columbia has made a statement that Palestinians, students who support Palestinian rights, and Jewish students who reject the state of Israel’s actions in their name, are unwelcome on campus.

Instead of supporting students’ rights to speak and to mobilize on campus, Columbia has chosen to prioritize suppressing speech on Israel and organizing to end the ongoing genocide and worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

As the largest progressive anti-Zionist Jewish organization in the world, counting hundreds of thousands of members and supporters, including Columbia and Barnard students, staff and faculty, JVP condemns the Columbia administration’s unjust suppression of speech and advocacy for Palestinian liberation.

The move comes just days after Brandeis University became the first school to ban SJP on campus. Students were sent a letter informing them of the news, but they had never been notified about any kind of voting process or investigation.

“The National SJP has called on its chapters to engage in conduct that supports Hamas in its call for the violent elimination of Israel and the Jewish people,” claimed the letter. “These tactics are not protected by the University’s Principles. As a result, the University made the decision that the Brandeis chapter of the National SJP must be unrecognized and will no longer be eligible to receive funding, be permitted to conduct activities on campus, or use the Brandeis name and logo in promoting itself or its activities, including through social media channels.”

“Brandeis has always been unsupportive of Palestinian students and one of our goals is to provide a safe environment for Palestinians on campus,” Brandeis SJP’s president told Mondoweiss. “If they want to target Palestinian students then they might as well silence the only organization that supports them.”

Last month Florida Governor and presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis (R-FL) called on state universities to “deactivate” campus chapters of the group over their alleged support for terrorism.

These move come amid multiple letters from pro-Israel groups calling on schools to crack down on Palestine campus groups. A letter to 200 universities from the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) and the Louis D. Brandeis Center calls on SJP to be investigated for “potential violations of the prohibition against materially supporting a foreign terrorist organization.”

“SJP is a network of student groups across the U.S., which disseminate anti-Israel propaganda often laced with inflammatory and combative rhetoric,” claims the letter.

The decision was immediately criticized across Twitter. “This is pure, targeted political suppression,” wrote civil rights attorney Dylan Saba. “No one should participate in any Columbia events until SJP and JVP are reinstated.”

Columbia University did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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