[The following statement was issued by Students for Justice in Palestine of Columbia University on 11 March 2014]
On March 10th, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine hung a banner on Barnard Hall. The banner was placed after members of CSJP went through the required bureaucratic channels and processes in order to give voice and presence to our weeklong events as part of Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), a global period of action and awarenessraising 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 antidiscrimination 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 antiSemitic itself. Not only does the population of Israel include many nonJews, 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 antiracist group; our national movement’s platform states that we are against all forms of discrimination, which includes antiSemitism. However, on this campus we are unable to even utter the word ‘Palestine’ without being called antiSemitic. 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 reexamining 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.
[Individuals and groups interested in signing on to the statement should send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org]