The recent actions taken by the administration of Northeastern University against Students for Justice in Palestine extends far beyond the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and makes one question the democratic nature, role and responsibilities of our universities. When does it become acceptable for American Universities to exact retribution on student groups that question and protest the Israeli narrative? The most recent incident involved Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) who; in pursuit of protesting the Israeli house demolition program perpetuated upon Palestinians, served mocked "eviction notices" upon other students. I want to make it abundantly clear that the "eviction" notices in question were clearly marked in bold and provided the disclaimer, "This is not a real eviction notice #BostonMockEviction", taking care to ensure they were not perceived to be real eviction notifications.
In the long line of similar tactics utilized by other university administrations, the group was banned and its members were threatened with further disciplinary measures. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, the disproportionate response of the Northeastern administration should outrage all democratically minded individuals.
The protected right of individuals to allow them to freely express their opinion without recourse is a defining trait of a democratic state. Difference of opinion between sane, logical individuals, especially those seeking an education, provides an arena that fosters dialogue inevitably leading to understanding, progression and real solutions. A university is the one institution where the freedom to express differences of opinion is inherent and vital to its existence. Subverting first amendment rights, including the guaranteed right for individuals to assemble and freely express themselves, doesn't merely place us on a slippery slope, but sets us directly in the path of a full blown avalanche. Muzzling the rights enshrined in the constitution that protects the rights to free speech and protest in an institution of higher learning is contrary to the character of such said institution. The responsibility of a university extends beyond the dissemination of subsistent knowledge, ultimately lying within the advancement of existent scholarship achieved through interpretation, exploration and expansion. To deny this fundamental constitutional right not only circumvents democracy, but also negates a university’s raison d'être. How can a society advance humankind if we purge the tool we require to evolve?
In recent history, university after university has quashed any form of protest involving Israel's endless occupation, its numerous violations of human rights and complete disregard of international law which further perpetuate the dispossession of an indigenous population in the name of land expansionism. In previous years, University of California Irvine punished 10 students for disrupting a speech given by Israel's former US Ambassador, Michael Oren, culminating in a sentence of probation and community service. This year Northeastern University kept company with Barnard (NYC) and Columbia College (Chicago). At Barnard University, administrators ordered the removal of a previously approved SJP Palestinian Solidarity banner. At Columbia College the administration infringed upon instructor Iymen Chehade's academic freedom by ordering him to teach in a "more balanced" way in response to a student complaint based on the screening of Oscar nominated documentary, 5 Broken Cameras, in his class. 5 Broken Cameras is far from controversial as it merely depicts the life of Palestinians living under occupation in Bil’in, West Bank and the resultant resistance and protest to Israel's Palestinian policies. Any rational individual’s indignation, anger and wrath should be consigned to a University administration that shamelessly pandered to a student offended by a film dispelling that dispelled his or her Israeli hasbaric fairy tale. If we follow the logical of the administrators at Northeastern University, should they stop offering Evolutionary Biology courses when an evangelical Christian student takes umbrage with the teachings of evolution and Darwinism?