By Clifford Michel
On September 1, over a hundred CUNY professors, including sixteen from the College of Staten Island, signed an open letter to administrators addressing the treatment of Students for Justice in Palestine chapters CUNY wide. The CUNY faculty cited unequal treatment of SJP chapters in comparison to other advocacy groups.
The CSI professors, joined with over a hundred other professors from outside the CUNY system, brought up the concerns of other legal rights groups that have taken notice of the CUNY’s actions, such as the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild and Palestine Solidarity Legal Support.
“We call upon members of the administration throughout the CUNY system to treat SJP as they would any other student organization, respecting their right to organize events and activities within the existing rules and practices governing such organizations and refraining from setting up unfair barriers or subjecting SJP to standards different from those applied to other student groups,” the letter stated. “These students are acting within the traditions of intellectual inquiry and public responsibility that have guided CUNY since its inception.”
Students at CSI’s SJP chapter experienced unfair practices almost as soon as they became an official chartered club last spring.
“They called it ‘contentious’ because of what happened in other CUNYs. They specifically mentioned what occurred in Brooklyn College,” SJP President Neerden Mohsen told The Banner last March, referring to the Office of Student Life’s reaction towards a peaceful demonstration the chapter wanted to hold. “Where, just to get into the SJP building, they make you go through a full body pat down, a full body metal detector and then a smaller metal detector to look through your bag—which are all intimidation tactics.”
The letter acknowledged the pressure CUNY faces from pro-Israeli organizations and individuals to actively support Israel and asked the administration to be “brave.”
The active support of Israel was a point of conversation across CUNY campuses last year when Chancellor William P. Kelly and CUNY presidents, including CSI President William J. Fritz, issued statements to the supporting Israeli education. The statements were issued after the American Studies Association stated that they would boycott the country’s universities.
The letter argued that whether or not CUNY agrees with SJP’s beliefs, that their right to free speech should not be challenged.
“As faculty, we know that our own right to free speech is inseparable from those of our students, whatever their views,” the letter continued. “This right is only meaningful if it applies to issues that are contentious.
“In the coming academic year,” further down in the letter Faculty claimed they, “will be watching closely to make sure that the CUNY administration—at the level of both campuses and the Central Office—respects the right of SJP to organize at CUNY without further administrative hindrance or harassment. The principles of equality and free speech should apply to all student groups, without discrimination.”
After holding their first meeting outside the Center for the Arts on September 17, SJP at CSI said that they haven’t had any issues with the college this year. The group holds meetings in 1S-217 on Tuesdays during club hours.
This past summer, after three Israeli teenagers were killed by members of Hamas, Israel began Operation Protective Edge in order to weed out members of Hamas. The military operation renewed resulted in the displacement of over 500,000 Palestinians and the death of over 2,000 people, an overwhelming majority from Gaza.
CUNY has not released a statement in response to the letter.