On March 7, members of Northeastern University’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) were informed by the school’s Center for Student Involvement that their chapter had been suspended for at least a year.
In a letter sent to the SJP chapter and provided to me by Max Geller, a second year Northeastern University School of Law student who actively campaigns with SJP, the school’s Director of the Center for Student Involvement, Jason Campbell-Foster, offered a litany of charges against the students. At the top of the list was the SJP’s February 24 distribution of notices across Northeastern campuses that mocked the sort of eviction notices slapped on Palestinian homes slated for Israeli demolition – an awareness-raising tactic increasing in popularity among SJP chapters nationwide.
… At 10 AM that same day, members of Northeastern SJP received phone calls and visits from campus police officers. “All of the sudden the school was accusing us of an act of criminality for simply [an] act of leafleting,” remarked Geller. “A special investigation was launched for what the university claimed was a petty handbook violation and NYPD-style tactics were used against students. It was so disproportionate to what happened and a complete misappropriation of university funds.”
Geller told me the first Northeastern SJP members to be visited by teams of university police were Muslim and Arab members. “They were freaked out and scared,” he recalled. “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.” (Full disclosure: Geller hosted me for a discussion of my book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, at Northeastern on January 7).
Following the police investigations, the university has pursued disciplinary sanctions against two SJP members, accusing them of “endangering behavior” and threatening them with expulsion for their involvement in the mock eviction action. They happen to be the only women of color in the Northeastern SJP chapter.
According to Geller, neither student was involved in a leadership role in the organization or in the leafleting action. “It is so arbitrary and Kafkaesque what the school has done,” he said. “Instead of going after the actual leadership they are targeting two women of color with Muslim backgrounds.”
… The campaign against Northeastern SJP escalated when Jacobs’ AFPT created a Facebook page called, “Exposing Islamic Extremism at Northeastern University.” Threats poured in through the page, both publicly and privately, according to Geller. As Northeastern University Middle East Studies MA candidate and SJP board member Ryan Branagan documented at Electronic Intifada, one commenter said of Geller, “I would seriously introduce that kid to the inside of an ambulance.” Geller said he began receiving threats targeting his family when his parents’ home address was posted online.
The Boston Globe’s Yvonne Abraham described the sanctioning of SJP as a symbol of the transformation of American universities into “overpriced country clubs with climbing walls, sushi, and a culture of enforced politeness that is downright depressing.”
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