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Unlike the Barnard case, SJP’s distribution of the mock eviction notices at NEU was unauthorized. It moreover came after the campus chapter was put on probation for earlier activities. The probation ruling, in turn, followed letters sent to the school by the Anti-Defamation League and the Zionist Organization of America complaining about the group’s activities.
The latest decision, suspending SJP for the eviction notices, followed complaints made to the school by the campus Hillel center and some individual students.
The idea that pressure from supporters of Israel was provoking such actions against SJP activism — a cause and effect denied by the administration in NEU’s case — especially irked Silverglate, who is co-founder and chairman of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group devoted to campus free speech.
“Pro-Israel supporters should be relying on making arguments that have great historical and intellectual heft, rather than seeking to squelch the other side,” he said. “It is a very disturbing development, as a Jew, to see them resorting to censorship and thinking that this buys support for Israel. It doesn’t, it just makes the pro-Israel argument harder.”
Silverglate called it “laughable” for administrators to claim that students were terrified by the eviction notices — in his view a clear form of symbolic speech and protest.
“I don’t blame [SJP] students for not following the rules,” he said. “It’s like in Russia or China when you have to get permission to hold a protest. I believe the administrators scrubbed the student handbook looking for something they can hang their hat on.”
One pro-Israel group was proud to have put pressure on the administration to act against the SJP. Americans for Peace and Tolerance, a Boston-based organization co-founded and headed by local activist Charles Jacobs, made three videos documenting what it called a record of “Islamic extremism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Zionism at Northeastern University.”
NEU President Joseph Aoun “made a campus-wide comment that anti-Semitism won’t be tolerated” when he put SJP on probation last year, Jacobs told the Forward. “Then they did the fake eviction notices; this is the straw that has broken the camel’s back.”