A George Washington University student is threatening legal action after the college told him to remove a Palestinian flag from his dorm room — but the college insists it is simply enforcing rules about window decorations.
Ramie Abounaja, a Palestinian-American pre-med student, says George Washington discriminated against him when it made him take down the flag and issued him a disciplinary warning letter last month.
“I felt like I was being singled out, because of my heritage and the viewpoint of my speech, for something I’ve seen dozens of students, fraternities and other groups do in my three years at GW ,” he said. “The events of the last week have left me feeling humiliated, upset and like I can’t even feel safe in my own dorm room.”
George Washington counters that its rules prohibit hanging any item out of dorm windows — and rejects the claim that Abounaja was singled out.
“GW has not banned any flags from its campus,” the university said in a press release.
Palestine Legal, a legal group supporting Palestinian rights in the U.S., published a letter demanding GW reverse the disciplinary action against Abounaja.
It pointed out that the campus police officer who ordered Abounaja to remove the flag admitted that he was acting because the department had received complaints from classmates who were offended by it.
“It is clear, as reflected by comments from the police officer, that Mr. Abounaja was questioned, censored and sanctioned because some people do not like Palestinians or because they disagree with the viewpoint expressed.”
The letter explains how Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin by institutions that receive federal funding.
The dispute has raised hackles at the Washington D.C. school, which has one of the largest Jewish student populations in the country.
On a Facebook discussion group named “Overheard at GW,” a Palestinian civil engineering student, Michael Joseph, defended the school authorities, noting that his fraternity had to remove an American flag.
“This is not an issue of race. This is a matter of school policy. I am 100% Palestinian,” he wrote. “People are just trying to stir up drama.”
Foreign affairs student Jared Steven said he was never punished for hanging an Israeli flag from his dorm window.
“Whatever your beliefs, the university should not be censuring opposing views, as this is a disgrace to academia and free expression, ” he said. “If the university is not going to enforce it on everyone, why is it fair to just use the fire code to further a specific agenda?”