Northeastern University in Boston recently sparked controversy when it suspended a pro-Palestinian student group, Students for Justice in Palestine. A Northeastern spokeswoman told the Boston Globe that the group was suspended because it flouted university rules, vandalized school property and failed to deliver a “civility statement” outlining rules for future conduct, required after the group was placed on probation last year for a walkout at a campus presentation by Israeli soldiers. “They are not being singled out,” said Renata Nyul. “There is no pressure coming from anywhere. This is simply the result of violating a series of policies and procedures that every single student organization needs to adhere to.” Student activists counter that the group was singled out because its views are unpopular and that the administration was bowing to pressure from alumni and donors. In this interview, StudentNation writer Keegan O'Brien talks to Ryan Branagan, an executive board member of Northeastern University's Students for Justice in Palestine, to get his side of the story.
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Keegan O'Brien: Before we get into the details of this story, could you start off by describing the mission of Students for Justice in Palestine?
Ryan Branagan: Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is a grassroots solidarity organization with the Palestinian struggle for liberation with hundreds of autonomous chapters in North America and thousands of student members and community supporters. It is committed to ending Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the separation wall. It recognizes the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality. It calls for respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return. The first chapter was founded in 2001 at UC Berkeley during the Second Palestinian Intifada (2000-2005), but since Israel's criminal 2008-09 assault on the people of Gaza in Operation Cast Lead, SJP chapters have really mobilized and increased our membership and influence exponentially.
The focus of many SJP chapters has been responding to the 2005 call of Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, on the model of the international campaign against Apartheid South Africa, which assisted the ANC's defeat of the white supremacist government in 1994. By boycotting Israeli goods, divesting our universities from companies that directly assist the colonization of Palestine and pushing for an arms sanction against Israel—à la South Africa—until it complies with international law and discontinues its war crimes and crimes against humanity, we hope to join with Palestinians and people of conscience internationally to bring down another apartheid state.
Can you tell me what happened at Northeastern University with your campus' SJP chapter? Why has the university revoked your club status? What are the charges students are facing?
Northeastern SJP's suspension comes at the end of a long line of differential treatment, academic sanctioning and censorship of our student organization on campus. After SJP organized a silent walkout of an event featuring representatives of the Israeli Defense Force in April 2013, we were put on probation, pressured to sign a "civility statement," and required to attend "leadership trainings." Despite the fact that we completed all of these and were officially removed from probationary status in the beginning of this semester, we were suspended on March 7, 2014 without a hearing. The suspension—which is in place until 2015 unless the university considers our appeal, which it has yet to do—charged us with violations that we were not responsible for or in any way connected to (such as the "vandalism" of a statue on campus of prominent Zionist Robert Shillman), old violations from our probation that we had already been cleared of or found not responsible, and new charges that had to do with a mock eviction flyering campaign we did on campus.