National SJP Conference an important opportunity to challenge campus censorship

Guest contribution by Rahim Kurwa

The upcoming National SJP Conference is an important opportunity for students around the country to meet, educate each other, and formulate strategies for the growing campus Palestine solidarity movement. Recent experiences of SJPs on the West Coast illustrate the urgent need for collaboration across schools.

This summer has seen a massive fight over student rights at the University of California, where a recent Campus Climate investigation has recommended broad forms of censorship designed to limit students’ ability to freely criticize Israeli state policies. By claiming that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, the University’s Campus Climate committee justifies recommendations to ban speakers from campus and force groups to provide balanced speakers at political events about the Middle East.

SJPs, Jewish solidarity groups, and free speech groups have responded to the report by highlighting the exclusion of Jewish students who themselves criticize Israeli policy, the lack of evidence to the claim that SJPs have engaged in offensive speech, and the constitutional illegality of several of the report’s recommendations. There has been wide public outcry against the report and a petition to rescind it has been signed by 2,500 people. In response, pro-Israel groups lobbied the California State Assembly to pass a resolution (HR 35) supporting the investigation and doubling down on the claim that criticizing Israel is anti-Semitic. Later reporting revealed that the University of California had advised the authors on the bill’s language before eventually dissenting from its final language. In comparison to other fights, such as the effort to deny tenure to Joseph Massad at Columbia University, HR 35 is a serious development in the censorship of student groups as it marks the first time a state legislature has stepped in to encourage censorship at a university.

Of course, these efforts to silence SJPs are an indication of the success SJPs have had so far in educating the public and generating pressure for divestment from companies collaborating with Israeli violations of international law. Despite attempts to smear their good record, one of the strengths of SJPs is their commitment to anti-racist principles, which has facilitated exciting collaborations with allied struggles across the country. The past year has also seen a tremendous growth in activism, with campus chapters becoming more active across the country and BDS resolutions passing in Arizona and Indiana. Israeli Apartheid Week, the TIAA-CREF campaign, and the Right to Education Week have also grown significantly, and students at the UC are resisting censorship with a new resolution against HR 35 and plans for increased activism during the upcoming year.

One critical way that students can resist censorship and find new ways to organize successfully is through the National SJP Conference. Now in its second year, this conference will bring together students from 130 schools across the country, training young activists, sharing knowledge and experiences, and developing new strategies for effective organizing. Volunteers have been organizing this conference throughout the summer, but we need financial support in order for it to be successful. By making a contribution, you can help students from across the country attend the conference and continue developing their campus chapters. Help us keep working and help us keep growing!

Rahim Kurwa

Rahim Kurwa is a graduate student in Sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has been a member of SJPs at Columbia University and UCLA. 

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