Ellen Ginsberg Simon

Brown University Must Ban SJP

Illustrative. Students sitting in the College Green outside Sayles Hall on the Brown University campus in Providence, Rhode Island. (Wikimedia Commons via JTA)
Illustrative. Students sitting in the College Green outside Sayles Hall on the Brown University campus in Providence, Rhode Island. (Wikimedia Commons via JTA)

I must begin this piece by expressing my deep love for Brown University.  My time there formed so much of who I am as a human being and an intellectual.  While I wash my hands of my other alma maters – Oxford and Harvard – as scarred by institutionalized antisemitism, Brown remains a home and a world to which I am fervently committed in terms of volunteerism and donation.  I gave on I Heart Brown Day last week even as I marched in Washington, D.C. with my fellow Jews.  I host Brown Club parties with Chattertock a cappella concerts every January in my home. My connection to the institution is visceral.

Perhaps that is why the information I obtained this week regarding the initial October 8th response of Brown’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) to the October 7th massacre of Israelis rent a bleeding hole in the place Brown occupies in my heart.

I have come into possession of Brown SJP’s notes from its emergency response meeting the day after the massacre to strategize and craft its public statement.  The most appropriate word to describe this wildly inappropriate document is appalling.

I share this information not as a condemnation of Brown University, because this is information that administrators likely do not possess.  I do so in support of the Jewish students being gaslit and harassed by a Brown SJP that reveals itself to be a morally degenerate organization.  I do so in the hopes that action may be taken to protect those Jewish students who have expressed to alumni their current struggle for safety and belonging at a school that has always been my safe place.

At this meeting, Brown SJP members expressed the desire to “establish appropriate tone” toward the event.  Apparently, this meant recognizing that “this is a big moment for Palestine.”

Page 1, Brown SJP Emergency Meeting Notes, 10/8/23

“This was in fact a victory” according to Brown SJP’s meeting minutes.

The burning and beheading of infants was “a victory.”  The massacre of teens at a musical festival was “a big moment for Palestine.”  This is what they viewed as the “appropriate tone” to take toward the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.

As they crafted their public statement, they engaged in a philosophical discussion regarding the right to resist and the nature of violent resistance.  Their attempt to morally justify wholesale, indiscrimate rape and murder reveals the existence of a contingent of students at Brown that lack any sense of decency.

Page 2 – Brown SJP Emergency Meeting Notes from 10/8/23

They rejected making a statement that dismissed Hamas’ violence because they felt that would dismiss the legitimacy of Hamas’ resistance.  Instead, they wanted to celebrate the violence, because “the root of the violence comes from the side of the oppressor.”  That is, Israelis were to blame for their own murder, and that murder was a justifiable “necessity.”

They noted the “difference between an ‘innocent’ civilian and a settler.”  That baby thrown into an oven and cooked in front of his parents?  Sorry, folks.  He was a “settler.”  He had it coming.  The teenagers raped over and over again until their pelvis’ shattered and then shot in the head?  They asked for it because they were “settlers.”

Page 3 – Brown SJP Emergency Meeting Notes, 10/8/23

Brown SJP asked themselves the repugnant question, “are we able to justify things like children being killed during the conflict for the Palestinian movement[?]”  They ruminated that, “otherwise, it would be “demeaning to Palestinians to imply that ‘violence against human beings is bad.'”

The correct answer to that question on any day of the week for moral human beings is NO.  The fact that this is not glaringly obvious to this group reveals the depth of their moral turpitude. The fact that they could not acknowledge that “violence agaisnt human beings is bad” should be massively concerning to administrators.

Ultimately, they answered the question in their finalized, public statements by holding that “the Palestinian right to return and the right to resist their elimination, is not only just but enshrined under international law.”  (emphasis added)

Page 4 – Brown SJP Emergency Meeting Notes, 10/8/23

The concept of justice has been tortured and perverted by Brown SJP to the point that these students feel the murder and mayhem of October 7th were both just and legal.  Where did they learn such wildly amoral and legally inaccurate ideas?

These statements not only betray the moral bankruptcy and hypocrisy of Brown’s SJP for victim blaming and lacking any sense of humanity or empathy, but they also reveal either a shocking failure of education on the conflict or intentional miseducation and absorption of propaganda.  The people living in the southern kibbutzim are not West Bank settlers.  And Gaza has not been occupied since 2005. 

The October 7th victims lived in Israel, an internationally recognized nation-state. Yet, Brown SJP justified the “necessity or inevitability” of the violence “in the context of Palestinian liberation” because they distinguish “between violence from settler and colonized.”  In sum, they view all Israelis, no matter where they live, as settlers, and all settlers as deserving of violence.

Page 5 – Brown SJP Emergency Meeting Notes, 10/8/23

What Brown SJP’s statement reveals is their rejectionist stance toward Israel.  This document indicates that they view ALL of Israel as occupied land.  By their own hand, they thus prove that, when they shout, “From the River to the Sea” at their campus rallies and marches, they truly are calling for the dismantling of the only Jewish state. 

They affirmatively rejected making a softer statement less praising of the violence of the massacre, describing such a version as “kind of oriented towards an audience with white-fragility and trying to promote non-violence, lacking the nuance of where the violence is coming from.”  They proposed “never condemning Palestinian resistance as a foundational principle.”  There are no depths to which Palestinian “resistance” can sink that they would condemn.  They thus unquestioningly accepted murder as lawful and justified.  Their promotion of and unequivocal support for terrorist violence must not be allowed to represent any voice on campus.

Their own document proves that they ARE calling for violence against Israelis and Zionists and that they DO support genocide and terrorism aimed at Israelis.  This crosses the line of free speech into incitement to violence. 

The Brown I know would not permit this to continue.  

All of their deep contemplations of legitimized violence toward innocent murder and rape victims culminated in a statement worthy of, dare I say it, Harvard.  They held “the Israeli regime and its allies unequivocally responsible for all suffering and loss of life, Palestinian or Israeli. While all loss of life deserves to be mourned, we cannot stand by as the root cause of this violence is not only ignored but strengthened: Israel’s settler-colonial regime of apartheid and military occupation and its brutal 16-year blockade of Gaza. We stand in solidarity with Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation.”

They went on overtly to “reject President Christina Paxson’s claims of neutrality, open dialogue, and community support for all…”  After all, what good is mutual respect and open dialogue when you already have all the answers and believe violence is the best way to resolve geopolitical disputes.

Tellingly, their notes indicate that they considered showing the statement to Professor Beshara Doumani before release.  What this may also reveal is the distinct possibility that Professor Doumani, the Mahmoud Darwish Professor of Palestinian Studies and founding director of Brown’s Center for Middle East Studies, is one of (if not the) source of their rejectionist stance.  This possibility must not be discounted by the university, which ought to investigate whether Professor Doumani participated in, approved, promoted, or sanctioned statements and ideas that are tantamount to incitement to violence.  These warped and twisted ideas derive from somewhere, and the fact that they sought Professor Doumani’s approval for their attitudes and statements presents a very real potential problem at Brown.


Embed from Getty Images

I do not approach this discussion in a vacuum of knowledge and understanding.

I am a lifelong student of the Middle East – its languages, religions, cultures, history, sociology, and politics.  It is a personal love I have nurtured since my teenage years.  Brown’s open-minded, healthy academic environment of mutual respect, rigorous discourse, and shared exploration of difficult subject matter nurtured that love.  It fertilized a personal interest into an academic speciality through dialogue, humanity, and a holistic approach that fooled me into believing all academic environments would be as respectful and accepting of diverse views.  (Oxford’s rejectionist Middle East Centre disabused me of my naivity on this score during my Master’s course like a bucket of ice water dumped over my head.)

In my imagination, Middle East Studies at Brown remained this bastion of open discourse fostered by academics like Professor Engin Akarli, the Joukowsky Family Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History and Professor David Jacobson, Director of the Program on Judaic Studies.

Professor Akarli somehow intuited my interest by watching me in the front row of his large, introductory lecture course on Middle East History.  He identified and nutured that interest by drawing me into the fold of his inner circle of students.  Through a small group seminar on Ottoman History, he gathered students from every perspective and background into one room and fostered the rich dialogue that I came to associate with Brown.

The fact that Professor Doumani took over Professor Akarli’s chair as the Joukowsky Professor of Modern Middle Eastern Studies feels like a massive blow to chest.  It certainly did not portend a time of collegiality, open expression of ideas, and respect for a variety of perspectives and backgrounds.

In my time, Professor Jacobson co-lead a study abroad program entitled the Brown-Wesleyan Israeli-Palestinian Studies Program with Professor Jeremy Zwelling of Wesleyan.  Almost unfathomable now,  this program involved an interdisciplinary semester in Jerusalem where we studied the conflict from every possible angle with instructors from every possible demographic.  It shaped a microgeneration of students able to view the conflict through multiple lenses, with empathy and humanity. From Jerusalem, I would email my thoughts and discoveries to Professor Akarli, bouncing ideas off of him and growing as a student of the Middle East and as a human being.

Where has this Brown gone?  That a professor on my beloved campus and his acolytes in SJP could together sanction and celebrate violence while rejecting the right of Israelis to exist and condone murder as just and permissible under international law makes me wonder if Brown has fallen down the rabbit hole of the other Ivies.

And yet, I have learned this month that Brown’s administration listens to and genuinely cares about its alumni body’s concerns.  In contrast to Harvard Law’s dogged refusal to respond to alumni, Brown’s Dean of Students and President both immediately returned my calls and emails the week of October 7 when I expressed my concern about the planned airing of the anti-Zionist film Israelism that very week.  They responded with appropriate concern, interest, and moral clarity.  While respecting freedom of speech, they also demonstrated awareness of the inappropriate timing of the screening. Notably, Israelism has yet to be screened at Brown.

When students attempted a sit-in at University Hall, in contrast to MIT’s failed leaders, the administration followed through and had those students arrested.  They have earned the respect of Jewish alumni for their comparative response to this month’s madness on college campuses.

If I did not trust the administrators or love Brown as dearly as I do, I would not be publishing this piece.  I would sit back and allow it to fall to the rejectionist, Islamist movement sweeping the Ivies.  But I do care.  I know what this community is capable of from my time there, and I believe Brown is the one Ivy that can and will survive this moment in history in tact and stronger for it.

Brown SJP is a failed organization that, by its own hand, in its own words, acknowledges its support for violence, rejectionist stance toward Israel, desire to eradicate the State of Israel, and *literal condoning of murder and celebration of violence.*  This group cannot be allowed to pollute the venerated halls of Sayles or suvbert the leafy calm of the Main Green. It stands in direct opposition to the spirit of Dear Old Brown. It has broken campus rules to the point of requiring arrest.  It is injecting a venom into the open discourse and respectful climate that always pervaded Brown academia.

I call on President Paxson and Dean Bakkegard to look to the examples of Brandeis, George Washington University, the University of Florida, and Columbia to ban SJP from Brown University.  I seek this for the sake of the current students and faculty, the alumni who value the education we received, and the spirit of an institution that is strong enough to stand for what is right and against what is evil in this world.

About the Author
Ellen Ginsberg Simon is an attorney and compliance professional. She has an M.Phil in Modern Middle Eastern Studies from Oxford University and is also a graduate of Brown University and Harvard Law School.
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