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Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP): Profile

By Stand4Facts.org


Overview

If you are on an American campus, you are probably familiar with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) because of their anti-Israel demonstrations and political theater. The organization started as a small, radical anti-Israel group in the hub of student radicalism, UC Berkeley, in October 2000, in response to the Palestinian Intifada which began at almost the same time.[1] Within a year, chapters had spread to over 25 other campuses, including Yale and Princeton.[2] By 2005, chapters had sprouted on campuses across the country.

When the SPJ organizes events at your campus, be prepared for an anti-Israel assault. The SJP fomented new radicalism about the Palestinian-Israel conflict and gave a new energy and visibility to Palestinian propaganda. Even the progressive Forward quoted activists who claimed that the SJP moved “far beyond legitimate criticism of the Israeli government and its policies into complete delegitimization of the Jewish state.”[3]

The SJP equates Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with apartheid South Africa and calls for divestment from Israel and an end to the ‘occupation.’ It organizes demonstrations and political theater to dramatize the plight of the Palestinians whom it sees only as innocent victims. SJP chapters have set up mock checkpoints, mock “concentration camps” with barbed wire to demonstrate how Palestinians suffer, mock “apartheid walls” and even fake re-enactments of IDF soldiers beating up pregnant Palestinian women.[4] Some chapters even organize Deir Yassin remembrance day to mark what Palestinians have claimed was a massacre of Palestinians in 1948. In 2002, the Berkeley SJP staged this event on Holocaust Remembrance Day and directly competed with the commemoration Jewish students had organized.[5]

SJP also agitates to prevent pro-Israel speakers from visiting their campuses. The De Paul University SJP captured media attention in April 2005 because it protested against a pro-Israel professor who had argued with SJP members at their campus table. The University deferred to SJP and fired the professor, Thomas Klocek. He has brought a legal suit against the school.[6]

SJP chapters are only loosely affiliated with one another, and some are more radical than others, but as a whole, the group will not even condemn terrorism.

When SJP organizes an event on your campus, be prepared to hear:

Israelis a Nazi-like state[7]

Israelis a “racist” “apartheid” state[8]

“End 54 years of occupation!”[9]

"Sharon, Bush you can't hide, we charge you with genocide."[10]

"We support the right of Palestinians to resist occupation and do not dictate the methods of that struggle. There's a difference between violence of the oppressed and violence of the oppressors."[11]

The SJP events and theater are designed to dramatize the SJP’s political positions, which are[12]:

  • An end to US tax-funded aid to Israel.
  • Divestment of the U.S. government from all investments in Israeli companies or non-Israeli companies that do substantial business with Israel
  • Freedom and self-determination for the Palestinian people. The Israeli military occupation, with its daily humiliation, abuse and brutal violence, must end.
  • Equality of political, social, and economic rights for all Israelis and Palestinians
  • The right of return and repatriation for Palestinian refugees of war and ethnic cleansing
  • The cessation of settlement activity and the dismantling of settlements built outside of Israel's pre-1967 border in accordance the Fourth Geneva Convention.

 


[1] Peace Development Fund Grants at http://www.peacefund.org/donors/dnrgrants.htm

[2] Wendy Webb, “Students for Justice in Palestine?” FrontPage Magazine Dec 4 2002 archived at http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Printable.asp?ID=4910

[3] Rachel Donadio, “Berkeley Clash Seen as Glimpse of Future Strife,” The Forward, April 12 2002 at www.forward.com/issues/2002/02.04.12/news3.html

[4] Wendy Webb, “Students for Justice in Palestine?” FrontPage Magazine Dec 4 2002 archived at http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Printable.asp?ID=4910

[5] Rachel Donadio, “Berkeley Clash Seen as Glimpse of Future Strife,” The Forward, April 12 2002 at www.forward.com/issues/2002/02.04.12/news3.html

[6] http://www.chijewishnews.com/archives_articles.jsp?id=192612

[7] Rachel Donadio, “Berkeley Clash Seen as Glimpse of Future Strife,” The Forward, April 12 2002 at www.forward.com/issues/2002/02.04.12/news3.html

[8] Rachel Donadio, “Berkeley Clash Seen as Glimpse of Future Strife,” The Forward, April 12 2002 at www.forward.com/issues/2002/02.04.12/news3.html

[9] Rachel Donadio, “Berkeley Clash Seen as Glimpse of Future Strife,” The Forward, April 12 2002 at www.forward.com/issues/2002/02.04.12/news3.html

[10] Rachel Donadio, “Berkeley Clash Seen as Glimpse of Future Strife,” The Forward, April 12 2002 at www.forward.com/issues/2002/02.04.12/news3.html

[11] Alisa Solomon, “Tipping Towards Hate,” The Village Voice, May 15 2002 at http://www.wworld.org/programs/middleEast.asp?ID=204

[12] Mission page, http://sjpumd.org/mission.html

Organization Background

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) was founded at UC Berkeley in October 2000 just as the Intifada began. When it burst on the scene, it fomented new campus radicalism about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Its radical roots can be traced to its primary organizer, Indo-American graduate student Snehal Shingavi, who had been an activist in other left wing causes[1] and had ties to the International Socialist Organization (ISO).[2] The ISO is adamantly anti-Zionist and advocates one bi-national state in historic Palestine.[3]

The Berkeley SJP modeled their movement on the divestment campaign against apartheid South only now directed at Israel instead of South Africa.[4] They demanded that the University divest from Israel to pressure it to accept the right of return and to end the ‘occupation,’ presumably of the West Bank and Gaza though their rhetoric suggested all Israel was Palestinian land. “End 54 years of occupation!” one SJP demonstrator shouted at a Berkeley rally.[5] Borrowing from the activist tradition of Berkeley, Shingavi organized dramatic political theater and demonstrations, hoping to catch the attention of idealistic students and ignite an anti-Israel grassroots movement on campuses across the country. Within one year, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Georgetown, the Universitiesof Michigan, California, and Maryland, along with dozens of other major universities had SJP chapters.[6] In many instances, ISO affiliated members led the way in forming these chapters.[7]

The SJP catapulted to national attention in the spring of 2002 when the Berkeley chapter staged a sit-in in a classroom building although the administration had expressly told them this was not allowed. The group was temporarily suspended because "classes were disrupted...this was no longer a matter of free speech but rather a violation of the mission of the university.[8] " 79 demonstrators were arrested. SJP tried to marshal support for what they charged was overly harsh punishment and a suppression of their free speech. Shingavi argued that “[while] we obstructed access to education, we were [really] promoting it”[9] because they were educating students about the evils of the occupation, a subject normally censored in the media and academia. They pressured other student groups to post signs on their literature tables saying, “We are all students for justice in Palestine, [and we] form mass resistance and civil disobedience against the ban.”[10]

The group grabbed national attention that spring also because Shingavi, who taught a composition course entitled “The Politics and Poetry of Palestinian Resistance,” had written in the school catalogue that “This class takes as its starting point the right of Palestinians to fight for their own self-determination. Conservative thinkers are encouraged to seek other sections."[11] There was an outcry, not about the topic or presumptions of the course, but about its frank discrimination against conservatives. Shingavi even was interviewed on Chris Matthews’ MSNBC show “Hardball.”[12] He was forced to remove the offending restriction, but the course went on.

Berkeley’s SJP also ratcheted up the rhetoric with vilification of Israel and hate speech, alarming even progressives. SJP members carried posters that accused Israel of apartheid, “ethnic cleansing,” “racism” and of being a Nazi and colonialist state.[13] The attacks also skittered close to frank anti-Semitism even though the group had some Jewish members.[14] They rejected requests from Jewish groups to meet and try to work out their differences. “They have no interest in dialogue. Peace with the Jews is not part of their agenda," reported one pro-Israel activist.[15] Alarmed, the progressive Village Voice warned the SJP was “tipping towards hate,”[16] and the progressive Forward quoted activists who claimed that the SJP moved “far beyond legitimate criticism of the Israeli government and its policies into complete delegitimization of the Jewish state.”[17]

As SJP chapters spread, students at campuses across the country became familiar with the SJP’s radical rhetoric and political theater. However, the SJP chapters are only loosely affiliated and each maintains its own website and takes independent positions. Some chapters are more radical than others. Charlotte Kates of Rutgers University SJP caused a split in the movement when she refused to condemn suicide bombing, claimed that a “racist, apartheid state” like Israel had not right to exist, and invited members of Hamas to speak on campus.[18] On the other hand, NYU’s chapter has tried to tone down the radical rhetoric and message and even demanded that posters give accurate information.[19] And despite the group’s name, not all members are students. The original SJP platform called for community activists as well as students to become members. Of the 79 demonstrators arrested at Berkeley in 2002, only 41 were students.[20]

Despite these differences, the SJP has been close to terrorist-supporting groups. Its national convention in Ann Arbor in 2002 was sponsored by the Islamic Association of Palestine, a group that has been outlawed, and a guest speaker was Sami al-Arian, a former professor now indicted for ties to terrorism.[21] Many SJP members also refuse to condemn terrorism. "We support the right of Palestinians to resist occupation and do not dictate the methods of that struggle. There's a difference between violence of the oppressed and violence of the oppressors," a Columbia University SJP member told the Village Voice.[22]

The SJP had its primary prominence between 2001 and 2003. Protest against the war in Iraq both swelled the SJP’s numbers and overshadowed it. Though the SJP tried to link protests against the occupation of Palestine with that against the US occupation of Iraq, the effort caused a rupture in the anti-war movement.[23] By 2005, the SJP’s identity became somewhat blurred: it overlapped with and collaborated with other anti-Israel and anti-Iraq war groups.

Nonetheless, in its only four years of existence, SJP has managed to mobilize and radicalize American campuses and to move hate speech and Palestinian propaganda from the fringes into more mainstream discourse. Unfortunately, the combination of ignorance and misguided idealism among college students inspired many to accept SJP’s radical agenda and support its role in the anti-Israel propaganda war that has seized American campuses.

 


[1] Sarah Lubman, “Heated confrontation between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli students at UC-Berkeley,” Knight Ridder Newspapers, April 12 2002, archived at www.beloit.edu/~rndtable/articles/041202/wibeyond/berkeleylong.php

[2] Bryan Ritchie, “Numbers and Noise,” The Daily Californian, April 29 2002 at http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/675203/posts

[3] Alisa Solomon, “Tipping Towards Hate,” The Village Voice, May 15 2002 at http://www.wworld.org/programs/middleEast.asp?ID=204

[4] Wendy Webb, “Students for Justice in Palestine?” FrontPage Magazine Dec 4 2002 archived at http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Printable.asp?ID=4910

[5] Rachel Donadio, “Berkeley Clash Seen as Glimpse of Future Strife,” The Forward, April 12 2002 at www.forward.com/issues/2002/02.04.12/news3.html

[6] Wendy Webb, “Students for Justice in Palestine?” FrontPage Magazine Dec 4 2002 archived at http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Readarticle.asp?ID=4910

[7] Alisa Solomon, “Tipping Towards Hate,” The Village Voice, May 15 2002 at http://www.wworld.org/programs/middleEast.asp?ID=204

[8] Alan Goodman, “UC, Berkeley vs. Students for Justice in Palestine” Revolutionary Worker May 12, 2002 archived at http://rwor.org/a/v24/1148-1150/1150/sjp.htm

[9]http://rwor.org/a/v24/1148-1150/1150/sjp.htm

[10]http://rwor.org/a/v24/1148-1150/1150/sjp.htm

[11] Transcript of “Hardball” Interview with Shingavi, May 9 2002, archived at at http://www.campus-watch.org/article/id/49

[12] Transcript of “Hardball” Interview with Shingavi, May 9 2002, archived at at http://www.campus-watch.org/article/id/49

[13] Rachel Donadio, “Berkeley Clash Seen as Glimpse of Future Strife,” The Forward, April 12 2002 at www.forward.com/issues/2002/02.04.12/news3.html

[14] Wendy Webb, “Students for Justice in Palestine?” FrontPage Magazine Dec 4 2002 archived at http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Printable.asp?ID=4910

[15] Rachel Donadio, “Berkeley Clash Seen as Glimpse of Future Strife,” The Forward, April 12 2002 at www.forward.com/issues/2002/02.04.12/news3.html

[16] Alisa Solomon, “Tipping Towards Hate,” The Village Voice, May 15 2002 at http://www.wworld.org/programs/middleEast.asp?ID=204

[17] Rachel Donadio, “Berkeley Clash Seen as Glimpse of Future Strife,” The Forward, April 12 2002 at www.forward.com/issues/2002/02.04.12/news3.html

[18] http://home.comcast.net/~jat.action/ISM_essay.htm#Terrorism

[19] Alisa Solomon, “Tipping Towards Hate,” The Village Voice, May 15 2002 at http://www.wworld.org/programs/middleEast.asp?ID=204

[20] Carrie Sturrock, “Officials defend stance against UC Berkeley protesters,” Contra Costa Times, May 1 2002 at www.contracostatimes.com/mld/cctimes/3172784.htm

[21] Wendy Webb, “Students for Justice in Palestine?” FrontPage Magazine Dec 4 2002 archived at http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Printable.asp?ID=4910

[22] Alisa Solomon, “Tipping Towards Hate,” The Village Voice, May 15 2002 at http://www.wworld.org/programs/middleEast.asp?ID=204

[23] “Open Letter to Anti-War Movement from Muslims,” at http://lefthook.org/Politics/MuslimLetter013004.html



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