By Faygie Holt
November 30, 2023
The antisemitism watchdog group StandWithUs is calling on Montclair State University to suspend the school’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine after the group violated a campus policy regarding protests.
In a Nov. 21 letter to Junius Gonzalez, the school’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, StandWithUs stated that they were writing on behalf of a Montclair State student “who contacted us seeking help.”
“The purpose of this letter is to alert you to the MSU Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter’s recent violation of the new ‘Expressive Activity’ policy … and to request immediate administrative action to enforce such policy and hold SJP accountable for violating it,” the letter stated.
Montclair State’s Expressive Activity policy has existed for years; however, it was updated as of Nov. 6 to address the “volume” of rallies and vigils that have been taking place on the school’s quad and have “become disruptive to teaching and learning.”
Therefore, as of Nov. 6, “all such events will be located at the University’s Amphitheater, to allow safe expression in an area that is accessible but lessens the impact on instruction, especially during this critical time in the semester,” the school’s president stated in a letter issued earlier this month.
However, on Nov. 9, Students for Justice in Palestine at MSU participated in the National Day of Action and urged students to “shut it down for Palestine … We want to see everyone wearing keffiyehs and Palestine merch on campus!”
Along with the letter, StandWithUs included photos from the event that showed the students carrying flags and posters and marching through campus.
According to a student, the Nov. 9 march by the SJP went through the college campus and ended on Route 3, some two miles away. Even if the protesting students weren’t chanting, they were still disruptive due to the sheer number of marchers, said the student. Yet, she continued, “They have not had any repercussions or sanctions, despite breaking the rules we have all been informed about.”
“To our understanding, there have been no repercussions to SJP for violating this policy and no enforcement by your administration of its own policy,” wrote StandWithUs officials, including CEO Roz Rothstein and Yael Lerman, director of the agency’s Saidoff legal department. “MSU administration must enforce its own policy using all relevant disciplinary action available to it, including SJP’s suspension as a recognized student organization.
“Apparent administrative indifference to enforcement of its own rules,” the letter continued, “has alternatively communicated that, at best, students can break school policy with impunity, or at worst, MSU is not enforcing its policies in a viewpoint neutral way, in violation of federal and state laws.”
In recent days several schools, including Columbia University and George Washington University, suspended their SJP chapter. Brandeis University went a step further and withdrew its recognition of the group all together because of SJP’s support of Hamas.
“MSU must heed the precedent of these esteemed universities that have demonstrated moral clarity in how they have chosen to discipline their SJP chapters and deliver on their promises to protect their students’ learning environment,” the letter continued.
Since the Oct. 7 terror attacks committed by Hamas, Jewish and pro-Israel students at Montclair State — as at many other colleges and universities — have reported feeling besieged by pro-Palestinian supporters.
“It’s getting harder and harder to be a Jew on campus,” a Montclair State student said during a pro-Israel rally earlier this month. “We are tired. There is no excuse for hatred.”
It is the same across the country. In an opinion piece in the Nov. 16 issue of the Jewish Journal, Lerman of StandWithUs stated that in just the first four weeks after Oct. 7 the group had received 400 requests from people asking for legal help. Ordinarily, they would get around 270 requests for an entire year.
“The good news,” wrote Lerman, “is that many victims are reporting the incidents, and people of conscience are determined to hold accountable not just the perpetrators but the faculty, administrators and campus police who excuse the perpetrators or deliberately ignore them.”
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