Brandeis University bans Students for Justice in Palestine, saying group ‘openly supports Hamas’

WALTHAM, Mass. — Brandeis University on Tuesday said it will no longer recognize the local chapter of the National Students for Justice in Palestine because the student group “openly supports Hamas, a terrorist organization.”

“SJP has called on its chapters to engage in conduct that supports Hamas in its call for the elimination of the only Jewish state in the world and its people,” a university spokesperson said in a statement. “Such expression is not protected by Brandeis’ principles of free speech. Students are welcome to express their support for Palestinians in a manner that complies with our rights and responsibilities.”

The private university, located in Waltham, was established in 1948 by the American Jewish community “at a time when Jews and other ethnic and racial minorities, and women, faced discrimination in higher education,” the university says on its website.

In an opinion column in the Boston Globe on Monday, Brandeis University President Ronald Liebowitz called on leaders of higher educational institutions to not allow hate speech to flourish on campuses. He wrote that universities “should confront antisemitism on campus” and that while universities cannot stop hate speech, “they can stop paying for it.”

“Brandeis will ensure that groups that receive privileges through their affiliations with the university, including using its name, will lose their affiliations and privileges when they spew hate,” Liebowitz wrote.

“Faculty and students, through social media and university-chartered organizations on campuses across the country, celebrate the barbaric killing of Jews just because they are Jews,” Leibowitz wrote. “To counter this, leaders at colleges and universities must find their moral compass and no longer allow speech that constitutes harassment or threat of violence to flourish on our campuses. The logic of antisemitism is that left unchecked, it corrodes even the most basic moral standards that stand in its way.”

Furthermore, Liebowitz wrote, “Student organizations that do engage in such practices should lose all privileges associated with affiliation at their schools. In no way does this violate higher education’s deep and enduring commitment to free speech. With the focus on creating an environment for exchanging ideas freely for the purposes of challenging one’s limited views, freedom of speech rightly understood demands also the responsibility to uphold community standards against the incitement of violence and harassment, and free of intimidation.”

In a statement Tuesday, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that aims to protect free speech rights on college campuses nationwide, said: “The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression was disappointed to learn last night that Brandeis University has derecognized its campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. In a companion op-ed in the Boston Globe, Brandeis President Ronald Leibowitz suggested such a move was justified when student groups are guilty of ‘incitement of violence and harassment.’”

“None of the chants or slogans cited by President Liebowitz come close to meeting the legal criteria for incitement or harassment. Make no mistake, Brandeis is punishing its students for nothing more than protected political advocacy,” the statement said.

“In this difficult moment, Brandeis could have demonstrated how students can engage with opposing viewpoints,” the statement said. “Instead, President Liebowitz is teaching them to simply silence those they hate. This betrayal of Brandeis’s free speech promises is a stain on the school’s 75-year reputation as a bastion for free inquiry.”

“In 2018, Brandeis adopted a version of the Chicago Statement pledging to protect the free speech rights of its students and faculty,” the statement said. “This was more than just empty words: Massachusetts courts have found that such promises introduce a contractually binding legal duty on the part of the university. Yesterday’s punishment of students expressing themselves represents a clear violation of that duty.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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