Demanding Action

ADL, Brandeis Center send letter to university presidents calling on them to investigate SJP’s terrorism ties

ADL’s Greenblatt: ’Providing material support to a foreign terror organization, whether it would be Al-Qaida, ISIS or Hamas, is against the law’

Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Students from Brooklyn College and supporters hold signs during a pro-Palestinian demonstration at the entrance of the campus. The pro-Palestinian student organization Students for Justice In Palestine held protests in colleges across the nation on Oct. 12.

A letter to nearly 200 university presidents that claims Students for Justice in Palestine “provides vocal and potentially material support to Hamas, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization,” was sent on Thursday, demanding that schools investigate the campus group. The call comes amid a rise of antisemitic incidents on U.S. campuses — and a 388% spike nationwide — following the Oct. 7 terror attacks in Israel.

The letter, written jointly by the Anti-Defamation League and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, asks that universities “investigate the activities of your campus chapter of [SJP] for potential violations of 18 USC 2339A and B, and its state equivalents, that is, for potential violations of the prohibition against materially supporting a foreign terrorist organization.” 

No university administration had responded to the letter as of Thursday night, the ADL said. 

Dozens of national Jewish groups and campus organizations have called on universities to withdraw their recognition and funding for groups affiliated with National Students for Justice in Palestine (NSJP). Most of the group’s chapters, which commonly go by the name SJP but have other names on some campuses, have celebrated or defended Hamas’ terrorist attack against Israel.

“We fully recognize and support students’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, even odious speech,” the letter continues. “We remain committed, however, to calling out and speaking out against antisemitism and anti-Israel bias. And we certainly cannot sit idly by as a student organization provides vocal and potentially material support to Hamas, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.”

“At the ADL we track extremism and we have been very alarmed by the intensification of SJP’s activities, by the threatening nature of their rhetoric,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the group’s CEO, told Jewish Insider. “I have specifically called out SJP publicly on many occasions. The nature of their language is incitement to violence.” Greenblatt said there appears “to be a basis for material support for a Foreign Terrorist Organization.” 

“There are laws preventing organizations here in the U.S. from providing ‘material support’ and what we want are these chapters of this organization that are stealing Iranian propaganda, pro-Hamas rhetoric, it’s time that they were thoroughly investigated to understand [whether] there are links… information links [and] funding links. We want a detailed investigation,” he continued. 

Kenneth Marcus, founder and chairman of the Brandeis Center, who signed the letter with the center’s president, Alyza Lewin, told JI that “we’re seeing a different situation than what we’ve been dealing with on campus.”

“Groups have shunned, marginalized and excluded Jewish individuals,” Marcus continued. “Now student groups are going as far as aligning themselves with a State Department identified terrorist organization that has pledged genocide against the Jewish people.” 

Marcus said that there is a “real prospect” legal action will be taken against schools that do not investigate SJP groups. “We’re not just talking about offensive speech. This is the greatest level we’ve seen. 

“When there are student organizations that are explicitly and prominently glorifying the work of a terrorist organization, you wouldn’t think that university presidents need to be reminded of this obligation. But they do,” Marcus continued, adding that the goal of the letter is to “make sure they have no excuse for not doing so.”

The ADL and Brandeis Center letter was published on the heels of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order banning SJP groups at state universities. “Based on the National SJP’s support of terrorism, in consultation with Governor DeSantis, the student chapters must be deactivated,” the state university system’s chancellor, Ray Rodrigues, wrote in a memo on Tuesday to university leaders. The move marks the first time a state has outlawed SJP.

Marcus said that “some states are starting to look at this carefully,” adding that he is “reasonably confident that Florida won’t be the last.”

Greenblatt noted that the letter was drafted before DeSantis’ announcement. He said the next step “should be 175 individual investigations to ascertain what is really going on underneath the hood of SJP.” 

The ADL will follow up with each institution it has reached out to, Greenblatt said. “We will explore every legal recourse possible to address this kind of hateful activity that intimidates Jewish students and creates an unsafe or threatening environment for them.”

On the one hand, Greenblatt said, “universities have obligations under Title VI [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964] to prevent students from being discriminated against because of their ethnicity or nationality. Those protections extend to Jewish students and Israeli students.” 

“Secondly, we want these universities to investigate the activities of their campus chapters of SJP for potential violations of relevant federal and state laws.”  

On Oct. 12, “Day of Resistance” events to celebrate the attack on Israel were planned by local SJP chapters at more than a dozen universities, including the University of Virginia, the University of Arizona and the University of California Los Angeles. Some of the groups, at schools including Georgetown University and University of California San Diego, described their events as vigils for the Palestinian “martyrs” killed during the raid on Israel.

The Florida university system said its SJP ban is based on a “toolkit,” issued by the national organization to chapters ahead of the “Day of Resistance.” JI obtained a copy of the “toolkit,” which has since been removed from the internet. The seven-page kit referred to Hamas’ massacre of 1,400 Israelis on Oct. 7 as “the Palestinian resistance.” 

“Today, we witness a historic win for the Palestinian resistance: across land, air, and sea, our people have broken down the artificial barriers of the Zionist entity, taking with it the facade of an impenetrable settler colony and reminding each of us that total return and liberation to Palestine is near,” it said. “As the Palestinian student movement, we have an unshakable responsibility to join the call for mass mobilization. National liberation is near- glory to our resistance, to our martyrs, and to our steadfast people.” 

SJP, in conjunction with other groups, led more than a dozen “Walkout for Gaza” rallies on Wednesday, including at The Ohio State University, Columbia University and Howard University. At the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, hundreds of protesters walked out of class at 3:30 p.m. holding signs and chanting “From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go!” In Denver, the walkout ended with a protest at the Golda Meir House Museum. 

During the walkout at Cooper Union in New York, Jewish students were barricaded in the library as protestors pounded on the door. 

Florida’s crackdown has touched off a debate over whether such a move will pass legal scrutiny. Greenblatt said that “freedom of expression does not translate to freedom to incite violence.”

“Providing material support to a foreign terror organization, whether it would be Al-Qaida, ISIS or Hamas, is against the law,” he said. “It’s not for me to decide whether or not they’re providing material support. We want to make sure that universities and U.S. law enforcement are looking at that.” 

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) departments on campuses, designed to address inequities against historically marginalized groups, have come under fire for overlooking the anxieties of Jewish students during a surge of antisemitism over the past two weeks. 

DEI is “not going to go away,” Greenblatt said, adding that rather than ceasing to legitimize DEI infrastructure,“there is utility to ensuring we create inclusive and welcoming environments but that needs to be inclusive and welcoming for all students, including Jewish students.”

Greenblatt expressed hope that “these DEI programs can be expanded upon such that programs that do not address antisemitism, should do so. Programs that do address antisemitism should do it along very specific guidelines laid out by the IHRA definition to ensure that anti-Zionism is tackled along with other forms of antisemitism and that Jewish students, irrespective of how they worship or what they look like, are all protected,” he said, referring to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism.

On Thursday, the ADL launched a Workplace Pledge Against Antisemitism. As part of the pledge, corporations agree to “incorporating antisemitism in [diversity, equity and inclusion] efforts, updating religious accommodations, and supporting the development of Jewish employee groups.” The signatories include Adidas, Google, the United Parcel Service, the National Basketball Association, Accenture, NASCAR and Tripadvisor.

Greenblatt said the goal of the workplace pledge is to get “companies with DEI programs to make sure they include antisemitism.” 

He said a focus is to “keep pushing universities as well, if they have DEI programs — and I understand why many of them do — to make sure that they also cover antisemitism in an appropriate manner.” 

Greenblatt added that Jewish inclusion in DEI programs is “100 percent” possible. “I don’t see why not. To the extent you have a DEI program that doesn’t include Jewish students, it’s not a real DEI program.” 

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