August 20, 2019 | 81° F

Rutgers committee finds SJP campaign unbiased

On Oct. 6, Students for Justice in Palestine distributed more than 850 mock eviction notices across residence halls across the different Rutgers-New Brunswick campuses.

This action was a part of a national campaign to raise awareness about Palestinians being evicted from their homes. The mock eviction notices stated that students’ suites and apartments were scheduled for demolition in the next three days.

The campaign sparked bias complaints, and according to a previous article published by The Daily Targum, similar complaints were filed against Harvard University’s SJP chapter when the campaign ran.

But in an email sent to Liz Jackson, cooperating counsel for the Center for Constitutional Rights, who was representing SJP, the Rutgers Bias Prevention Education Committee said the mock eviction notices incident did not constitute a violation of the student life policy prohibiting harassment.

“Although the distribution of the mock eviction notices did not violate that policy, it did violate the housing and residence life posting policy, copies of which were made available during student organization orientation. This violation was appropriately addressed,” according to the email statement penned by Sarah Luke, senior assistant general counsel.

SJP was found in violation of a University posting policy in residence halls, and according to a previous article in The Daily Targum, Kerri Willson, director of student involvement at Rutgers Student Life, said the policy states students need to have all posters stamped with approval by Student Life.

“We have a process where there is a staff member in residence life. The student organization is supposed to reach out to find out about getting something approved to be posted and that individual would say, ‘okay, I get this many fliers’ and they drop them off at a central location,” she said in the article.

Jackson, who coordinates Palestine solidarity legal support with the Center for Constitutional Rights, said she provides legal support to community activists facing legal bullying and intimidation tactics.

“SJP or the students doing the postering did not target Jewish students and the notices were distributed randomly,” she said. “The committee seems to understand that criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic, but political speech of nation states and its policies, and that is not considered bias speech that targets anyone because of their race, religion or ethnicity.”

Rutgers Hillel’s Rabbi Esther Reed said regardless of the committee’s decision, students came to Hillel expressing feelings that SJP’s actions were an act of bias.

“We encouraged them to report it to the Bias Prevention Education Committee,” she said. “We’re very happy there is a bias committee on this campus to handle such matters, and regardless of their decision, we still recognize that students had these feelings.”

Jackson said hardnosed political debate should be protected and nurtured on a university campus, and to use false allegations to silence and intimidate students who advocate for Palestinian rights on campus is not correct and should be condemned by university officials.

Rutgers SJP President Aman Sharifi said SJP understood their speech was protected under the First Amendment, and when they went to the bias committee, the committee declared the same.

SJP Treasurer Amanda Najib said the fact that SJP was called biased took away from the point of the campaign, which turned into a Hillel versus SJP battle.

She said when they were posting the mock eviction notices they purposely avoided the Chabad House and the Rutgers Hillel house.

“Everything was random and it was calculated that we avoid Hillel and Chabad,” she said. “The action wasn’t against anyone, but for the plight of the Palestinians.”

In the email to Jackson, Luke said Rutgers works to promote a robust exchange of divergent ideas and to safeguard the right of students to enjoy an educational environment free from unlawful discrimination and harassment.

“Rutgers addresses First Amendment issues such as this very scrupulously, and students are never sanctioned for expressing controversial views, even when such views may offend other members of the University community,” Luke said.

By Julian Chokkattu

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