A pro-Palestinian student organization with chapters all over the country is under increased scrutiny over political activism seen as favorable to Hamas, and several universities have taken steps to suspend the group.
Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace have repeatedly made national headlines in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks against Israel after several of its campus chapters released statements praising the attacks as an act of resistance and blaming Israel for the bloodshed.
In the intervening weeks, the groups have continued organizing rallies and protests on college campuses, using phrases like “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which is commonly understood to mean the elimination of the state of Israel. The protests have been met with widespread condemnation from outside observers and even from university administrators who have expressed concerns that the group’s activities are making campus life unsafe for Jewish students.
The group’s flirtations with Hamas have drawn the scrutiny of lawmakers. The Washington Examiner recently reported that the House Ways and Means Committee, led by Chairman Jason Smith (R-MO), is investigating Students for Justice in Palestine over its finances. The committee is more broadly investigating the possible terrorism ties of several pro-Palestinian nonprofit groups.
During their protests, Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace have been accused of violating university policy for conducting demonstrations, and several universities have moved to suspend their activities on campus.
George Washington University
On Monday, the administration of George Washington University suspended Students for Justice in Palestine after the group projected a series of pro-Palestinian messages onto the university library on the night of Oct. 24. The projected messages included the phrases “glory to our martyrs” and “divestment from Zionist genocide now.”
The university informed the group that the projections violated university policy and that the organization was suspended from campus activity for 90 days. The school’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter is restricted from posting advertisements and announcements on campus for the remainder of the school year.
In a statement to the GW Hatchet, the campus newspaper, a spokesperson for the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine said the suspension was a political retaliation.
“We see this very clearly as being a political response to a growing wave of backlash and repression towards Palestinian organizing,” the spokesperson said, “but specifically the Palestinian student movement that’s been happening the past few weeks. … GW is continuously proving, as they have proven time and time again for many, many years, that they will always align with the Zionist lobby and against the right to free speech and the right to assembly of their own students.”
Columbia University in New York was the first university to suspend Students for Justice in Palestine following a recent demonstration the institution said violated university protocols. Also suspended was Jewish Voice for Peace.
“This decision was made after the two groups repeatedly violated University policies related to holding campus events, culminating in an unauthorized event … that proceeded despite warnings and included threatening rhetoric and intimidation,” Gerald Rosberg, the university’s senior executive vice president and the chairman of the special committee on campus safety, said while announcing the suspension.
In response, the two student groups called the suspension “an attack on free speech to distract from and enable Israel’s genocidal campaign against the Palestinian people” and accused Columbia administrators of “repeatedly changed event approval policies” and being “deliberately vague about these changes.”
“We recognize Columbia’s intimidation tactics for what they are: our suspension is the latest instance of a pattern of censorship. Columbia’s repression of our free speech reinforces a racist narrative that devalues Palestinian life and erases anti-Zionist Jews who condemn the conflation of a violent apartheid state with the Jewish people,” the group said.
Other suspension attempts
The suspensions at Columbia and GWU are not the only ones that have been enacted or threatened. Brandeis University in Massachusetts also suspended its campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine because the group “openly supports Hamas.”
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) directed the state university system to shut down all chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, citing their support of Hamas. But the state university system has since walked back the directive after free speech organizations threatened to sue to keep the groups active.