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The threat to freedom of speech

The suspension of a pro-Palestinian student group violates their freedom of speech and impoverishes the discourse

“The ultimate form of censorship is assassination.” -George Bernard Shaw

This week Northeastern University suspended the undergraduate student organization Students for Justice in Palestine. The group members were giving out fake eviction notices in campus housing saying that resembling notices were “routinely given to Palestinian families living under oppressive Israeli occupation”

This move was roundly opposed by the ACLU, which began a petition with 6,000 signatures asking for the group to be re-instated. The Boston chapter Jewish Voice for Peace, also opposes the rule. Yesterday students from Tufts University, Boston University and Northeastern staged a protest condemning the groups suspension.

Barnard College (affiliated with Columbia University) in New York City, had a banner reading “Stand for Justice, Stand for Palestine”. It was removed by Barnard administrators following campus-wide controversy. Although Barnard promised to review its policy, they will not allow any more banners in that space.

And during an SJP-BDS Conference at Brooklyn College this year, a group of Jewish students were escorted out by Brooklyn College Police after protesting the forum by holding signs. Brooklyn College President Karen Gould later apologized for this incident.

In Washington, members of congress have seriously began to draft legislation that would cut all forms of government funding to groups associated with the American Studies Association. The ASA decided to boycott all Israeli institutions and scholars, including the Israeli government. The head of the ADL Abraham Foxman said “However well-intentioned, we are not sure that this bill would be the most effective means of recourse.”

So this is the new freedom of speech in 2014?

Just because students and colleges use bold moves to promote their causes, that automatically sets the stage for muting and defunding them?

What’s the use of free speech if you can’t use free speech?

These tactics are not tantamount to promoting an open dialogue of ideas and beliefs between individuals and groups over the issue of Israel and Palestine, it demeans it.

What benefit do we have as a country if any measure is used to censor what we believe in? That doesn’t make us tolerant, it makes us prone to dishonesty. It gives us the impression that it’s fine to believe what we believe, and ignore any concern the other side may have. It is fostering the gullible mindset that “My opinion is right, yours is wrong and that’s all that matters.” And with an emotional and complicated issue regarding the plight of the Palestinians and Israelis, the last thing anyone should do is shut down anyone on either side.

I’m not doubting the sincerity of those involved in the Middle East conflict. I believe that most people who are actively engaged in that crisis are fighting for the overall benefit of that region.

I know several people involved with SJP’s in America, I know several people involved with StandwithUs. These individuals work tirelessly to promote and defend their beliefs and it would shame me to know that their hard work and dedication is being sidelined because it’s not the “popular opinion.” Hell, this article I’m writing will probably not be popular and I honestly don’t care. I am standing firm in my beliefs that a free and open society is beneficial to all of us, rather than one-sided rhetoric.

So to those who celebrate the demise and suspension of SJPs and Jewish groups you’re not just further adding to the dysfunction of America. You are celebrating the death of a diversity of thought. That is not democratic, that is tyrannical and it is something that I as an American will not tolerate.

About the Author
Dennis Austin is a political science major at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign and regular contributor.