Update (12:27 pm): LionPAC has released a statement. Find it after the jump.
Update (2:26 pm): A student in SJP has released a statement after consulting with other members of the group.
Update (5:43 pm): SJP has released an official statement.
Update (7:12pm): J Street CU has released an official statement.
The kick-off of Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine’s Israel Apartheid week has upset some people at Barnard, a school that is 33% Jewish. Wow, who could have seen that coming.
This morning, Bwog got the following tip:
Shit’s goin cray over the fact that Barnard let SJP put a banner outside Barnard hall… Is this a statement of the administration’s tacit support for a group that refuses to recognize the state of Israel? Is this a crucial realization of our right to free speech?
The banner depicted the Israel/Palestine area without borders, and all colored green. Some saw this as an anti-Semitic statement. According to another tipster, “a huge majority of the Jewish community including parents and alums emailed DSpar about it last night. They’re all pretty pissed about it.” Although SJP went through the appropriate channels to get the banner approved, it has since been taken down.
Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine will also have a mock separation wall and display for Israel Apartheid Week every day this week between 2:00-6:30 on Low Steps.
According to LionPAC’s facebook page, President Spar sent the group the following email in response to their concerns about the banner (bolding by Bwog):
Thank you for your thoughtful email and for bringing this matter to our attention. We are removing the banner from Barnard Hall at this time and will be reexamining our policy for student banners going forward. It has been a long-standing tradition to allow any recognized Barnard or Columbia student group to reserve a space and hang a banner promoting their event. However, we understand your concern that in hanging the C-SJP banner next to the official Barnard College banner it inadvertently gave the impression that the College sanctions and supports these events. These Barnard Hall banners have always been student-created and, as such, reflect the diversity of student interests and concerns, but are not meant to convey an endorsement. Barnard has been and will remain committed to free speech and student groups will still have the ability to flyer and promote their events throughout campus, but until we have had time as a community to discuss the banner placements on Barnard Hall and better define a policy we will not be hanging student banners on Barnard Hall.
So, no more student banners on Barnard Hall for the time being. This is a significant change that will affect many student groups at Barnard.
Update 12:27 pm: LionPAC’s statement:
LionPAC strongly believes in freedom of speech and respects that SJP has the right to freedom of speech and the right to demonstrate and advocate their political viewpoint on college walk, or through posters on campus. We respect that SJP followed the proper protocols to book the banner space, and we recognize their respect for the policy. We believe that the banner space is not appropriate for any political message, by any student group. The hanging of a banner on Barnard Hall advocating a specific political message gives the impression that Barnard as a school publicly endorses the banner’s message. In this case, SJP’s banner depicts a map of Israel as one unified State for Palestine. It is a completely green map with no internal boarders, annihilating the existence of any Jewish state or the possibility of a two-state solution. The location of the banner makes it appear as if Barnard as a school is publicly endorsing SJP’s message that Israel as a Jewish state does not have the right to exist. The banner was not taken down in order to suppress a particular political viewpoint, but rather to ensure that people feel comfortable walking into Barnard Campus and do not feel as is Barnard is endorsing SJP’s message.
Update 2:26 pm: Statement by member of SJP, Ahmed Dardir, PhD student.
We have read LionPac’s Orwellian statement in which they claim to support freedom of speech while advocating censoring and silencing our voice. We think it is a serious and alarming precedent that a student group is trying to censor another group in coordination with the Barnard administration, who may change their policy regarding “political” messages, which have been allowed until now, in direct response to our political message. This both discredits the political dimensions of the work of groups that have hung banners before us, and makes the question of “the political” a censoring line that makes some voices acceptable, and not others.
But let us take a closer look at the banner in question. The reason we drew the whole map is that we believe in justice for everyone throughout this whole piece of land. The reason we did not draw any internal borders is that we do not believe that justice can be attained through division, segregation, and militarization. Rather, we believe that justice could be attained through coexistence, openness, inclusion, and ending the militarization of borders and military occupation. Now if LionPac believes that justice, openness, and coexistence is antithetical to Israel, if they believe that Israel cannot exist without division, segregation, militarization and military occupation, then it is they who are making the argument that Israel is an apartheid state.
Update 5:43 pm: SJP’s official statement:
On March 10th, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine hung a banner on Barnard Hall. The banner was placed after members of C-SJP went through the required bureaucratic channels and processes in order to give voice and presence to our week-long events as part of Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), a global period of action and awareness-raising that has been occurring throughout the world for the past ten years. This morning we awoke to find that our banner – which simply read “Stand for Justice, Stand for Palestine,” and featured the logo of our group (the silhouette of historic Palestine) – has been taken down by the administration of Barnard College after they caved to pressure from other groups. Barnard administration offered no explanation, and no warning that they planned to remove our banner.
Columbia SJP is a student group at this university—no different from any other group—and has equal access to the same platforms and resources that are made available to all students. Barnard College students went through the necessary banner placement review process, which included clearly stating the banner’s message in advance. Had our request been rejected, it would have been an act of censorship and an infringement on our freedom of expression as a student group at this university. The fact that our banner has been taken down now is a direct violation of our freedom of expression. The removal of our banner this morning has left members of Columbia SJP, Palestinian students on campus and other students that are often marginalized and silenced, feeling that Barnard College does not follow its own anti-discrimination policies. We are alarmed to know that ‘Palestine’ and ‘justice’ are not acceptable in Barnard’s educational space and that certain voices are discriminated against by the College.
We do not equate the State of Israel with all Jewish people, and we staunchly believe that making such a conflation is anti-Semitic itself. Not only does the population of Israel include many non-Jews, but increasingly Jews across the world (and in SJPs) affirm that the state of Israel’s discriminatory policies do not speak for them. Oppressive and violent policies of any regime, particularly one as closely and lucratively supported by the US as the Israeli regime of military occupation, should be criticized freely without censorship or backlash. As a group with members from multiple ethnic and religious backgrounds, what we are speaking of and calling for is justice and equality for all peoples. Students for Justice in Palestine is a diverse anti-racist group; our national movement’s platform states that we are against all forms of discrimination, which includes anti-Semitism. However, on this campus we are unable to even utter the word ‘Palestine’ without being called anti-Semitic. This kind of accusation only works to silence our voices and to silence our respectful engagement with our community. It tells Palestinian students on campus that their university discriminates against the presence of the name of their country in its public space.
We have seen President Deborah Spar’s recent statement, which attempts to explain Barnard’s actions: “We are removing the banner from Barnard Hall at this time and will be re-examining our policy for student banners going forward […] Barnard has been and will remain committed to free speech and student groups will still have the ability to flyer and promote their events throughout campus, but until we have had time as a community to discuss the banner placements on Barnard Hall and better define a policy we will not be hanging student banners on Barnard Hall.” Lionpac has stated that they “believe that the banner space is not appropriate for any political message, by any student group,” and that “the banner was not taken down in order to suppress a particular political viewpoint.” These explanations are not consistent with Barnard’s previous record. It is disturbing that it has not been Barnard’s policy to remove political messages in the past and that it elects to remove only this particular political message, and changes rules only in response to this banner. This behavior suggests that there is, in fact, a suppression of our voice.
Our banner aimed to publicize the events and conversations we are having this week as a student group, and we are outraged that our attempt to engage in meaningful and productive conversation about justice and solidarity with Palestine was faced with such backlash. Claiming that the existence of this banner is unacceptable is tantamount to declaring that Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine as a group should not exist, since the content in question is nothing that is not already part of our name and in our logo, as we have already stated. This does not stray so far from saying we should not be able to book Low Plaza or that we should not be able to organize events. This attack denies our voices and space as students on this campus, and we will not stand by as this happens.
It is our hope that Barnard College understands the great importance of protecting students’ freedom of expression. For years our group has contributed to the richness of this campus, provoking critical thought and conversation. We insist that Barnard Administration hear our voices and return the banner to its place. We also ask for a meeting with the administration in order to discuss the repercussions of this act of silencing on our community.
Update 7:12 pm: J Street CU’s official statement:
In C-SJP’s recent statement, they contend that the banner they hung from Barnard Hall was in the name of “justice for everyone”. But J Street CU does not view a map of Israel painted all in green and depicting a single state as justice for us.The C-SJP banner dishonestly portrayed the current political reality in Israel and symbolically denied the Jewish people a right to statehood. Arguing that rights for Palestinians must come at the expense of Jewish national rights is the height of hypocrisy, as both peoples have historic and legitimate claims to the land.
It must also be recognized that many prominent pro-Israel leaders and the groups they represent have symbolically denied the Palestinian people the right to a homeland. The iconic symbol of the Jewish National Fund charity box depicts a map of Israel that is all blue, erasing the 1967 Green Line that Palestinian political leadership has agreed in past and present negotiations will be the basis of a future permanent border of a Palestinian state. Sheldon Adelson, a prominent pro-Israel donor who is a primary funder of Birthright, has called the Palestinians “an invented people”. When it comes to denying the rights of Palestinians or Israelis to a national homeland, SJP is not the only one in the wrong.
SJP’s banner and the representations by the JNF and Adelson are largely unrepresentative of the actual opinions of the individuals within our Columbia community. Furthermore, a majority of Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians have consistently polled in support of a negotiated two state solution to the conflict.
Discomfort is a necessary part of engaging seriously with this issue. And it is a necessary part of any intellectually rigorous academic experience. All political groups have a right to voice their perspectives on our campus and on signs at Barnard Hall. The notion that we should take down banners with which we disagree because they are “political” is a misguided excuse to silence political speech. Most issues of import in our lives are politically charged. The role of the university has never been to police the publicly expressed beliefs of its students, and that should not start now.
Rathering than expressing our disagreement with the banner’s position by advocating for its censorship, J Street CU chooses to act in support of a realistic and necessary two state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We should not let this incident distract from the real work in front of Americans. As Secretary of State John Kerry leads intense and unprecedented negotiations between the parties, too many in our community fail to speak out in support of these efforts at exactly the moment when we need to gather behind our elected leadership. Let us put debates about banners aside and work for real political progress for two states: for Israelis and Palestinians alike.