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Following death threats, rights groups issue call to support US students’ right to speak about Palestine

Incident at Florida Atlantic University Another Example of Hostility Students Face for Speaking in Support of Palestinian Rights

April 25, 2012, New York–Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights and other Rights Groups issued the following statement in support of student groups promoting awareness in college communities about the Palestinian peoples’ struggle for freedom and human rights. Members of the student group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Florida Atlantic University recently faced intense pressure from outside groups and were the subject of death threats after organizing a non-violent action to protest the demolition of Palestinian homes by Israeli forces. Students participating in the action posted 200 fake eviction notices on dorm room doors to raise awareness of the issue.

Statement in Support of Student Speech on Palestinian Rights

When members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) randomly posted fake eviction notices on about 200 dorm room doors at Florida Atlantic University on 30 March 30 2012, they thought they were teaching fellow students about Israel’s practice of evicting Palestinian families and demolishing their homes in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in violation of international law. But their action was soon the subject of an altogether different lesson. The students learned that the University was willing to bow to pressure from the campus Hillel chapter and outside organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Zionist Organization of America, by opening an investigation into their peaceful action, which had been officially authorized and accompanied by University housing authorities. And some news media were willing to report falsely that the notices were posted only on the doors of Jewish students, without independently investigating the matter. Legal and administrative action was threatened, and death threats were made against some of the student activists.

After weeks of turmoil, the University rightly announced that it would not take action against the students and confirmed that there was no evidence that Jewish students were targeted by the notices. Other student Palestinian human rights activists across the country have been less fortunate, including at the University of California (UC) - Irvine, Rutgers University, Columbia University, the [University of Pennsylvania], UC-Berkeley, [Brandeis] and UC-Davis. Students at these and other universities have been verbally and physically intimidated, threatened, sanctioned by their universities, and even criminally charged. What they all share in common is vocal and active peaceful opposition to violations of Palestinian human rights.

We, the undersigned, condemn efforts, both on and off campus, to silence student speech in support of Palestinian rights, and affirm the First Amendment rights of students to engage in such speech. It is not anti-Semitic to criticize the conduct of the State of Israel. It is not “hate speech” to challenge violations of international law and internationally recognized human rights standards.

Such criticism is no less protected because some individuals may find it upsetting. As the U.S. Supreme Court recognized in Terminiello v. Chicago, speech “may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea.” Protection of free speech rights “is nowhere more vital” than on campuses. (Keyishian v. Bd. Of Regents of Univ. of State of N.Y).

We urge all universities to resist outside pressure to punish students for their political speech, and to respond with the respect for students’ constitutional rights that it is the university’s duty to protect and to promote. For our part, we will stand by such students to defend their constitutional rights to free speech when they exercise them, and challenge attempts to silence them solely for their political views.

April 25, 2012

  • Adalah - NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel
  • American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
  • American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
  • American Muslims for Palestine (AMP)
  • Asian Law Caucus (ALC)
  • The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)
  • CODEPINK
  • Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) - Florida & CAIR - San Francisco Bay Area
  • Committee for Open Discussion of Zionism (CODZ)
  • Grassroots International
  • International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN)
  • Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP)
  • National Lawyers Guild (NLG)
  • U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN)

The FAU incident is the latest example of the hostility and intimidation many students face for organizing non-violent actions to educate their communities about Palestinian human rights. The Center for Constitutional Rights condemns these attempts to silence political speech and affirms its commitment to defending the First Amendment rights of college students to advocate for Palestinians’ human rights and challenge Israel’s occupation.

Comments

In a democratic society, all opinions are valued. If one side is repressed, how can we see the whole picture? When American students, voters and tax payers are not allowed to learn, understand and experience empathy with Palestinians, how will anything ever change?
Do you believe peace in the Middle East is a serious goal worth working for, or is it just lip service? Who will benefit from peace? Who will not?

Of course the statement issued by the usual groups is correct. Clearly the attempts by mostly Jewish groups to limit students' freedom of expression and by extension their right to learn runs counter to basic concepts of academic freedom. The fact that universities in the U.S. tend to submit to this sort of pressure is reprehensible.

This response has become predictable over a large number of cases and, unfortunately, has had very little impact. While issuing these statements might make those who do so feel better, the situation is demonstrably getting worse. It is time that we turn our attention to finding approaches that might be more effective.

For example as was the case at FAU, it is most often organizations such as Hillel, ADL, etc. attacking freedom of speech. We might want to consider a broad-based campaign to discredit these organizations, showing that they represent the narrow interests of Israel and reduce the effectiveness of U.S. education by limiting discussion of an important issue that has direct ramifications for the United States.

In short, it is time that the anti-occupation movement starts thinking about actually accomplishing something that will change the actual situation in Palestine.

The ultimate response of the intellectual and moral charlatan is to use force to silence truth. No doubt the world's indifference to the fate of Palestinians is a function of ignorance, naive belief in the myth of Jews as chosen and fear of Zionist electoral backlash.
We must do more to support those who fling both stones and words at the Israeli behemoth (Job 40 v. 23 "Behold, he plunders the river, and [he] does not harden; he trusts that he will draw the Jordan into his mouth.").