BOSTON (JTA) — More than 200 protesters rallied at Northeastern University opposing the school’s suspension of the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.
Tuesday’s demonstration was organized by a coalition of more than 29 organizations including Jewish Voice for Peace Boston and many of its local student chapters, as well as feminist, anti-war and social justice organizations.
The activists marched to the office of Northeastern’s president, Joseph Aoun, to deliver a petition with some 7,000 signatures in support of the group. The protesters called on the university to reinstate Students for Justice in Palestine as a student organization and drop all disciplinary actions against two students.
Students for Justice in Palestine was suspended from campus on March 7 for at least a year, and its current executive board members were barred from serving on future boards in the organization after the group distributed a mock eviction notices in student residences to protest Israeli policies.
The leaflets, which stated that they were not real eviction notices, had the headline, “Dorm scheduled for demolition in three days.”
“Eviction notices are routinely given to Palestinian families living under oppressive Israeli occupation,” the leaflets stated.
“We condemn the university’s strong-arm tactics as blatant violations of free speech and dangerous attempts to suppress academic debate on campus,” said Lisa Stampnitzky in a statement released by Jewish Voice for Peace.
The timing of the demonstration coincided with a university hearing for two students facing disciplinary charges for their participation in the leafletting.
Northeastern released a statement on Tuesday saying that “the undergraduate Students for Justice in Palestine organization at Northeastern has been temporarily suspended for multiple violations … over an extended period of time.”
It further states that the disciplinary hearing for the two students relates to violations of residence hall rules and not freedom of expression.
“The students are not facing suspensions or expulsion, for any reason,” the statement says.
“Censorship on university campuses is distressing,” said Sarah Wunsch, a staff attorney for the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union who spoke at the rally. The ACLU and two other legal groups have been advising the Northeastern chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine since last year when it was placed on probation after members of the group staged a walkout at a presentation by Israeli soldiers.
“Fliers are handed out at Northeastern all the time without advanced permission,” Wunsch told JTA. “We think the university is engaging in viewpoint discrimination and content discrimination.”
Following the suspension of Students for Justice in Palestine, the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, issued a statement welcoming Northeastern’s actions.
“We realize that the Arab-Israeli conflict is a contentious issue,” said StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein. “But on too many campuses, anti-Israel activists have increasingly crossed red lines. They deny free speech to Israel’s supporters, spread lies about Israel, spew bigotry and anti-Semitism, and bully pro-Israel students. We applaud NEU for upholding a responsible environment.”