Mar

30

Columbia Turath Releases Statement on SJP Banner

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SJP's banner, removed by Barnard.

This afternoon, Bwog received a statement from Columbia Turath’s President in response to the SJP Banner incident. The group describes themselves in the statement as “a non-partisan undergraduate student association that serves to promote Arab culture at Columbia University.” Turath sides with SJP in the conversation over whether or not the banner should have been taken down, saying:

We believe that SJP, as an organization that is recognized by both Columbia and Barnard, and who followed the proper administrative procedures to post its banner, should be granted the same privileges of access as any other student group on campus. The Barnard administration decided that the feelings of some students, who found the poster offensive, were more important than allowing SJP to promote its event and its message.

Statement:

Turath is a non-partisan undergraduate student association that serves to promote Arab culture at Columbia University. We provide a voice for students on campus who identify as Arabs and it is our priority as an organization representing a diverse ethnic, religious and political community at Columbia to uphold the principles of freedom of speech that are necessary to foster an environment of mutual respect on campus. We believe that every student and organization has the right to express an opinion without meeting resistance, intimidation or censorship on an institutional level.

Turath expresses its disappointment with the Barnard administration’s decision to remove Students for Justice in Palestine’s banner from the front face of Barnard Hall. We believe that SJP, as an organization that is recognized by both Columbia and Barnard, and who followed the proper administrative procedures to post its banner, should be granted the same privileges of access as any other student group on campus. The Barnard administration decided that the feelings of some students, who found the poster offensive, were more important than allowing SJP to promote its event and its message. The rhetoric surrounding the removal of SJP’s banner was concerned with students’ emotional distress at the interpretation of the poster as promoting a Palestine “without internal borders.” By this logic, the administration should recognize how other members of the Columbia community may feel “unsafe” when they see Taglit-Birthright Israel advertising free trips for their very classmates to have fun on the beach while few miles away, some of their own family members continue to live under occupation. Rather than censor an unpopular opinion, Barnard should allow SJP to celebrate and promote the connection of Palestinians to their historical and cultural homeland- just like Birthright trips are intended to celebrate the connection students have to their historical and cultural homeland.

There is more than one way that a student may feel unsafe. A student may feel unsafe when they see a banner they believe may be undermining a culture or political stance they may value, and Turath respects that offense may be taken. But a student may also feel unsafe when they attend a university that prioritizes the opinions of a certain community over others.

When the late Edward Said helped create Turath, it was with the hope and expectation that Arab students could transcend the racial, ethnic, and political affiliations that are often tied to minority groups on this campus. Turath has realized, through its ongoing conversations and growth over the years, that it is difficult to transcend these boundaries when the administration poses a barrier, as it recently has with regard to SJP, to freedom of expression.

Our own organization’s activities are purely contingent on respect for all political opinions, and it is our hope that such a conversation has not and will never lead to the question of whether there are more pro-Palestine students than there are pro-Israel students (and we find this binary problematic to begin with). This is an issue about looking at an incident that has seriously put into question how the university community, both its administrators and its students, engage with unpopular speech seen by some as offensive. Regardless of its private or public status, this university claims that it is a place of learning where all perspectives, should they be political or otherwise, are protected and respected. Chapter XLIV, Clause 440 of Columbia’s essential policies states that a violation of free speech is an offense against the entire university community. If this is true, then as a community, and especially as students, we should make sure it treats it that way.

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33 Comments

  1. Anonymous  

    The big mistake everyone keeps making about the whole Israel-Palestine conflict is assuming that it's fought on the basis of morality rather than just geopolitical interests. Neither side is fighting the good fight, they are only trying to survive.

  2. Why

    Does birthright keep being brought up? Was there ever a birthright banner on barnard hall? Birthright has had tables on college walk, just like sjp has had demonstrations on college walk. Niether of those became an issue, but the sjp banner was on barnard hall. They're very different situations.

    • Anonymous  

      There's frequently a Birthright poster in one of the glass cases on College Walk though.

    • You're not getting the point  

      It's about the use of public space in general. If Barnard's administration sets a precedent for the use of Barnard's campus for flyering, tabling, and/or putting up a banner, then they have made a commitment to accord freedom to student groups to utilize it as such. If the entrance of a residential hall is used for tabling by taglit, that is just as suggestive as a banner. Regardless, freedom of speech is freedom of speech, and (as long as policy is followed) the administration had no right to bring that banner down.

  3. Anonymous

    How is a group dedicated to Arab culture with a president named Omar non partisan? what a joke.

  4. Anonymous  

    This is a joke. Their description of themselves is laughable.

  5. not exactly comparable  

    Apartheid Week = let's close our ears and yell and maybe things will go our way
    Birthright = let's go to the beach and have sex

  6. Heisenberg  

    "We believe that SJP, as an organization that is recognized by both Columbia and Barnard, and who followed the proper administrative procedures to post its banner, should be granted the same privileges of access as any other student group on campus."

    Right, and Barnard sees the problem with that location implying an implicit endorsement, and will no longer be allowing any student groups to have banners there.

    Can this "controversy" just end, or is someone going to get offended that Turath got offended that Zionistic students got offended at a debatably offensive banner by SJP.

  7. Pretty much  

    First reasonable statement on this issue.

  8. But really though  

    What is the point of turath if it's just sjps bitch?

  9. Hello  

    I'm glad we can have these discussions, it's not like we have any work to do

  10. lionpac member  

    While I stand by LionPAC's decision to request the banner's removal, I feel that the Barnard administration handled the whole thing terribly. For one, SJP was entitled to much more correspondence before the removal than they received. Spar wrote in her Op-Ed "I wish we had had the opportunity to notify the leadership of SJP before the banner’s removal on that Tuesday morning." I'm not sure how could they have not had the opportunity to send an email. Also, after being taken down, the banner should have been hung up in a different location that wouldn't have incited notions of official endorsement. I'm not sure why that option was never explored for the rest of the week.

    Having said all that, the statements condemning Barnard's decision have consistently ignored the root of the original issue which was that the banner, because of its location, was perceived as being officially endorsed by Barnard. That exact banner would have been fine in any number of other campus locations. Tourath mentioned Birthright. Nothing about Birthright ads give off the impression of official school endorsement. And nothing about the rest of SJP's campaigns do so either, which is why there hasn't been a problem before. I find it unfortunate that these statements condemning Barnard's decision have been able to distract from the real issues instead of seriously confronting them.

  11. Turath member  

    I agree with most of what you said, but in mentioning Birthright, Turath was not trying to make a claim that Barnard officially endorses Birthright. Rather, it was trying to shed light on how having your feelings be hurt by a poster or a campaign isn't suitable grounds to remove a message. The "root of the original issue" is NOT the implicit endorsement. Evidence:
    1) Barnard has not put the poster back anywhere.
    2) Why reconsider these "policies" and "implicit endorsements" until now?

    • lionpac member  

      The issue of endorsement was always the key issue. See Barnard's initial statement: http://barnard.edu/news/barnard-reexamine-banner-policy. It was never simply a matter of SJP advertising something controversial. I believe this only came up now because something like this simply hasn't happened before. I don't remember ever seeing a political message broadcast from that location and I don't know anyone who has.

      I agree with you that some effort should have been made to hang up the banner elsewhere, though maybe such an effort took place and no location was found or maybe SJP preferred the press from having it down. In any case, I agree with you that hurt feelings is not grounds to remove a poster. However, if people are distraught by a message because it appears to come from the school administration, then there's a good case to remove it.

  12. anony  

    Sorry you guys are 3 weeks too late.

  13. yo  

    but actually
    isn't it kinda racist to criticize turath for supporting SJP? like they can't have opinions because, although the issue at hand is about free speech, one of the organizations involved supports a marginalized group that is ethnically arab?

    that's like saying a group that is jewish shouldn't have an opinion about this because they're jewish.

    I'm pretty sure that would be anti-semetic. Following the same argument, it's racist to be criticizing turath.

    peace and love yo

  14. Most people don't get it  

    It's not about being offended. If I were merely offended by what the banner said, I would absolutely be against its removal. The banner was not offensive. It was antisemitic. Even though I don't think anyone ever intended it to be, As a Jew (who does not claim to be a representative of Columbia's Jewish community) I found the message to be unambiguously antisemitic.

    Israel was created after the Holocaust, to provide a home for millions of Jews who had literally nowhere to go, and to protect the Jewish people from future oppression. The survival of Israel is imperative for the survival of the Jewish people and culture.

    To suggest that Israel should not exist is to say that Jews have no right to a state or to a home--a place Jewish culture and identity can flourish and be safe. I am not offended by this suggestion--it makes me feel unwelcome and unsafe. To deny a Jewish state is as indefensible as denying Palestinians the right to a state.

    It's not a coincidence that Israel's allies, like the US, the UK and Germany are democracies, and those who wants its destruction, like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and The Nation of Islam are antisemitic Holocaust deniers.

    Disagreeing with Israeli policy is not antisemitic. But disagreeing with Israel's right to exist is.

    • Factual Inaccuracy  

      **Zionism predates the Holocaust by decades (Christian Zionism by centuries). It's simply not true that the creation of a Jewish state was meant to save European Jews. Read Herzl or Nordau or basically any other early political Zionist.

      • OP  

        I never said Zionism originated after WWII, but the actual creation of the state of Israel with the help of the newly formed UN in the 40s was absolutely in response to the Holocaust.

  15. Wtf

    is the Nation of Islam?

    Also am I the only one on this damned campus that knows what anti-Semitic means? Palestinians are also Semites.

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