campus beat

Controversial pro-Palestinian group resumes anti-Israel protests after campus suspensions 

Rutgers, Columbia and GW are taking different approaches dealing with Students for Justice in Palestine in new semester

Columbia SJP protest, Barnard campus, Dec. 11, 2023

Alon Levin

Columbia SJP protest, Barnard campus, Dec. 11, 2023

Heading back to school after winter break, Rutgers University students discovered that the campus’ chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine was reinstated from its suspension and allowed to continue its on-campus protests, though the group remains on probation until December. 

Across the Hudson River, at Columbia University, students were also welcomed back with chants of “Long live the Intifada” around campus from SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace — although in Columbia’s case both pro-Palestinian groups remain suspended. 

At The George Washington University, the third school to issue a temporary suspension of SJP following the organization’s activities after Oct. 7, a new semester means a new phase of restrictions for the controversial group. 

As the Israel-Hamas war roiled college campuses and brought attention to groups such as SJP and JVP, whose protests have included anti-Israel and antisemitic slogans and even praise for Hamas, the three universities that temporarily banned their campus chapters have taken drastically different approaches to handling the disciplinary action. 

On Jan. 17, Rutgers lifted the suspension of SJP’s chapter on its flagship New Brunswick, N.J., campus and imposed a one-year probation period following an investigation into alleged disruptive behavior.

“Rutgers typically issues an interim suspension of organizational activity when a student organization is facing multiple conduct complaints,” Megan Schumann, a spokesperson for the school, told Jewish Insider. “The conduct case involving the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at Rutgers-New Brunswick has been resolved and the interim suspension of organizational activity is over. The organization has been put on probation for a year, with educational sanctions.” 

Schumann noted that “none of the actions taken were based on speech.”

“Decisions were based on the fact that the students were protesting in nonpublic forums, causing disruption to classes and university functioning, which are violations of university policy,” she said. 

The crackdown at Rutgers stemmed from multiple complaints that alleged that “SJP disrupted classes, a program, meals, and students studying,” Schumann told JI. Rutgers opened the investigation one day before the Biden administration announced it had launched a civil rights investigation into its Newark campus over alleged antisemitism. 

Columbia University, meanwhile, suspended its chapters of SJP and JVP on Nov. 10 after the groups held an unauthorized event that “included threatening rhetoric and intimidation.” The administration said both groups could be reinstated in the spring semester if they show “a commitment to compliance with University policies.” When the new semester started a week ago, both groups remained suspended. 

A university spokesperson told JI, “Staff advisers have met with representatives from the groups to discuss steps toward reinstatement. Most importantly, the groups would have to agree to fully comply with the university’s long-standing policies and procedures. If the groups agree to follow these prescribed steps and fully comply with university rules, they may be reinstated.”

In response to the suspension, the two groups said in November, “You can shut our organizations down, but can’t stop our hearts from beating for liberation, humanity and the freedom of Palestine.” Within weeks after Columbia announced the temporary suspensions of the groups as official student groups through the end of the fall term, both continued organizing on-campus events.

According to witnesses, some of the unauthorized events held in December and January by the anti-Israel groups have included holding protests featuring chants of “Intifada, Intifada, long live the Intifada” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Deans have not acted to stop the events the school claimed were canceled, students on campus told JI.

In response to JVP events held during Hanukkah, Samantha Slater, a Columbia University spokesperson who spoke to JI at the time, didn’t outline what attempts were made, if any, to prevent the groups from sponsoring campus events. 

“We have communicated with JVP that this is an unsanctioned event by an unsanctioned student group. The university supports students who wish to commemorate religious holidays, including by lighting menorahs and celebrating the festival of Hanukkah. Our event policies are in place to ensure that group gatherings are as safe as possible, and to minimize any disruption of ongoing instruction, research, and other activities taking place on campus,” Slater said.

At GW, SJP’s suspension, which is set to continue into the spring semester, was issued in two phases: the first, a 90-day period that began in November, bans the group from sponsoring and holding events on campus; in the second phase, beginning on Feb. 12 and lasting for the remainder of the academic year, the university will “continue to restrict” its activities. 

The school’s administration cited the group’s unauthorized projection of pro-Hamas messages on a library named after deceased Jewish supporters of the school as cause for the suspension. 

“GW determined that SJP’s actions violated university policies… As a result, the university prohibited SJP from participating in activities on campus, including the ability to sponsor or organize on-campus activities or use any university facilities for 90 days,” Joshua Grossman, a GW spokesperson, told JI. “Additionally, SJP has restrictions against posting communications on university property until May 20, the end of the school year,” he said. 

Brandeis University remains the only private university to have banned SJP permanently since the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks in Israel. On Nov. 6, the school cited SJP’s open support for Hamas, which the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization, as the driving factor in the decision.

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