Brandeis University has rescinded its recognition of a student group supporting Palestinians, saying that the organization has openly backed the actions of Hamas militants who attacked and killed Israelis in early October.
Brandeis officials notified the chapter of the National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) that they would be banned from activities on campus and lose university funding.
“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,” Brandeis spokeswoman Julie Jette wrote in a prepared 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.”
Brandeis’ chapter of the Students for Justice in Palestine did not respond to requests for comment but criticized the university in an Instagram post, saying that “an institution that values social justice (is) trying to silence us from speaking our truth.”
The friction on the Waltham campus comes as college campuses nationwide see bitter divisions among students, school leadership and even donors as the war in Gaza continues.
Advocates for free speech on campuses criticized Brandeis’ move to ban a student organization.
“It does strike me as undermining that broader purpose of American higher education to allow students some practice of free expression and to let them argue it out themselves consistent with the values of the First Amendment,” Tom Ginsburg, the faculty director of the University of Chicago’s Forum on Free Inquiry and Expression, told GBH News.
Ginsburg said that universities should discipline students if they run afoul of campus rules but not infringe on their free speech.
“Banning them on the basis of their viewpoint, which is held by millions of Americans, is problematic,” he added.
Zach Greenberg, a senior program officer at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression based in Philadelphia, said Brandeis had betrayed its commitment to free speech.
“Brandeis could have demonstrated how students can engage with opposing viewpoints. Instead, President [Ronald] Liebowitz is teaching them to simply silence those they hate,” Greenberg wrote in an email to GBH.
In 2018, Brandeis committed to free expressionon campus after a years-long task force re-examined its policies. “In narrowly-defined circumstances, the university may restrict expression,” the university wrote in its new policy, which singled out any action that are illegal, defamatory or “constitutes a genuine threat or harassment.”
In a Boston Globe op-ed Tuesday, Liebowitz wrote that universities cannot tolerate student groups that promote violence against Jews or an end to Israel and must sever ties with such organizations.
“In no way does this violate higher education’s deep and enduring commitment to free speech,” Liebowitz wrote.
Last week, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered his state universities to ban the same pro-Palestinian student organization from campuses, citing the same rationale as Brandeis.
DeSantis’ administration also said that Students for Justice in Palestine is supporting a “terrorist organization.”