Updated March 12, 11:55 a.m. with J Street CU statement.
The removal of a banner that advertised Students for Justice in Palestine's Israeli apartheid week from Barnard Hall sparked debate on campus today. The banner, which read "Stand for Justice. Stand for Palestine." went up yesterday, and was taken down by Barnard's administration this morning after receiving pushback from several students and groups on campus, including LionPAC and Hillel.
We are compiling statements from student groups and administrators as they come in. Read them after the jump:
In C-SJP’s recent statement, they contend that the banner they hung from Barnard Hall was in the name of “justice for everyone”. But J Street CU does not view a map of Israel painted all in green and depicting a single state as justice for us.The C-SJP banner dishonestly portrayed the current political reality in Israel and symbolically denied the Jewish people a right to statehood. Arguing that rights for Palestinians must come at the expense of Jewish national rights is the height of hypocrisy, as both peoples have historic and legitimate claims to the land.
It must also be recognized that many prominent pro-Israel leaders and the groups they represent have symbolically denied the Palestinian people the right to a homeland. The iconic symbol of the Jewish National Fund charity box depicts a map of Israel that is all blue, erasing the 1967 Green Line that Palestinian political leadership has agreed in past and present negotiations will be the basis of a future permanent border of a Palestinian state. Sheldon Adelson, a prominent pro-Israel donor who is a primary funder of Birthright, has called the Palestinians "an invented people". When it comes to denying the rights of Palestinians or Israelis to a national homeland, SJP is not the only one in the wrong.
SJP’s banner and the representations by the JNF and Adelson are largely unrepresentative of the actual opinions of the individuals within our Columbia community. Furthermore, a majority of Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians have consistently polled in support of a negotiated two state solution to the conflict.
Discomfort is a necessary part of engaging seriously with this issue. And it is a necessary part of any intellectually rigorous academic experience. All political groups have a right to voice their perspectives on our campus and on signs at Barnard Hall. The notion that we should take down banners with which we disagree because they are "political" is a misguided excuse to silence political speech. Most issues of import in our lives are politically charged. The role of the university has never been to police the publicly expressed beliefs of its students, and that should not start now.
Rathering than expressing our disagreement with the banner’s position by advocating for its censorship, J Street CU chooses to act in support of a realistic and necessary two state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We should not let this incident distract from the real work in front of Americans. As Secretary of State John Kerry leads intense and unprecedented negotiations between the parties, too many in our community fail to speak out in support of these efforts at exactly the moment when we need to gather behind our elected leadership. Let us put debates about banners aside and work for real political progress for two states: for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
On March 10th, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine hung a banner on Barnard Hall. The banner was placed after members of CSJP went through the required bureaucratic channels and processes in order to give voice and presence to our weeklong events as part of Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), a global period of action and awarenessraising that has been occurring throughout the world for the past ten years. This morning we awoke to find that our banner – which simply read “Stand for Justice, Stand for Palestine,” and featured the logo of our group (the silhouette of historic Palestine) – has been taken down by the administration of Barnard College after they caved to pressure from other groups. Barnard administration offered no explanation, and no warning that they planned to remove our banner.
Columbia SJP is a student group at this university—no different from any other group—and has equal access to the same platforms and resources that are made available to all students. Barnard College students went through the necessary banner placement review process, which included clearly stating the banner’s message in advance. Had our request been rejected, it would have been an act of censorship and an infringement on our freedom of expression as a student group at this university. The fact that our banner has been taken down now is a direct violation of our freedom of expression. The removal of our banner this morning has left members of Columbia SJP, Palestinian students on campus and other students that are often marginalized and silenced, feeling that Barnard College does not follow its own antidiscrimination policies. We are alarmed to know that ‘Palestine’ and ‘justice’ are not acceptable in Barnard’s educational space and that certain voices are discriminated against by the College.
We do not equate the State of Israel with all Jewish people, and we staunchly believe that making such a conflation is antiSemitic itself. Not only does the population of Israel include many nonJews, but increasingly Jews across the world (and in SJPs) affirm that the state of Israel’s discriminatory policies do not speak for them. Oppressive and violent policies of any regime, particularly one as closely and lucratively supported by the US as the Israeli regime of military occupation, should be criticized freely without censorship or backlash. As a group with members from multiple ethnic and religious backgrounds, what we are speaking of and calling for is justice and equality for all peoples. Students for Justice in Palestine is a diverse antiracist group; our national movement’s platform states that we are against all forms of discrimination, which includes antiSemitism. However, on this campus we are unable to even utter the word ‘Palestine’ without being called antiSemitic. This kind of accusation only works to silence our voices and to silence our respectful engagement with our community. It tells Palestinian students on campus that their university discriminates against the presence of the name of their country in its public space.
We have seen President Deborah Spar’s recent statement, which attempts to explain Barnard’s actions: “We are removing the banner from Barnard Hall at this time and will be reexamining our policy for student banners going forward [...] Barnard has been and will remain committed to free speech and student groups will still have the ability to flyer and promote their events throughout campus, but until we have had time as a community to discuss the banner placements on Barnard Hall and better define a policy we will not be hanging student banners on Barnard Hall.” Lionpac has stated that they “believe that the banner space is not appropriate for any political message, by any student group,” and that “the banner was not taken down in order to suppress a particular political viewpoint.” These explanations are not consistent with Barnard’s previous record. It is disturbing that it has not been Barnard’s policy to remove political messages in the past and that it elects to remove only this particular political message, and changes rules only in response to this banner. This behavior suggests that there is, in fact, a suppression of our voice.
Our banner aimed to publicize the events and conversations we are having this week as a student group, and we are outraged that our attempt to engage in meaningful and productive conversation about justice and solidarity with Palestine was faced with such backlash. Claiming that the existence of this banner is unacceptable is tantamount to declaring that Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine as a group should not exist, since the content in question is nothing that is not already part of our name and in our logo, as we have already stated. This does not stray so far from saying we should not be able to book Low Plaza or that we should not be able to organize events. This attack denies our voices and space as students on this campus, and we will not stand by as this happens.
It is our hope that Barnard College understands the great importance of protecting students’ freedom of expression. For years our group has contributed to the richness of this campus, provoking critical thought and conversation. We insist that Barnard Administration hear our voices and return the banner to its place. We also ask for a meeting with the administration in order to discuss the repercussions of this act of silencing on our community.
Statement from LionPAC:
What is LionPAC's response to the banner?
LionPAC strongly believes in freedom of speech and respects that SJP has the right to freedom of speech and the right to demonstrate and advocate their political viewpoint on college walk, or through posters on campus. We respect that SJP followed the proper protocols to book the banner space, and we recognize their respect for the policy. We believe that the banner space is not appropriate for any political message, by any student group. The hanging of a banner on Barnard Hall advocating a specific political message gives the impression that Barnard as a school publicly endorses the banner's message. In this case, SJP's banner depicts a map of Israel as one unified State for Palestine. It is a completely green map with no internal boarders, annihilating the existence of any Jewish state or the possibility of a two-state solution. The location of the banner makes it appear as if Barnard as a school is publicly endorsing SJP's message that Israel as a Jewish state does not have the right to exist. The banner was not taken down in order to suppress a particular political viewpoint, but rather to ensure that people feel comfortable walking into Barnard Campus and do not feel as is Barnard is endorsing SJP's message.
What is LionPAC's response to the banner being taken down, especially in light of Dean Hinkson's statement on the issue?
We are very thankful and appreciative for Dean Hinkson's quick response to our concerns.We believe that the banner space is not appropriate for any political message, by any student group. The hanging of a banner on Barnard Hall advocating a specific political message gives the impression that Barnard as a school publicly endorses the banner's message. On a campus that houses various diverse students with a plethora of political opinions, it is inappropriate to have any political message hung up on a banner on Barnard Hall, which makes it appear as though Barnard supports the banners message. This will only serve to ostracize segments of the community.
Statement from Barnard Dean of the College Avis Hinkson:
In light of the recent controversy concerning student banners in front of Barnard Hall, we have begun to reexamine our policy. It has been a long-standing tradition to allow any recognized Barnard or Columbia student group to reserve a space and hang a banner promoting their event. However, we understand that in hanging banners next to the official Barnard College banner we may have inadvertently given the impression that the College supports these events. These Barnard Hall banners have always been student-created and, as such, reflect the diversity of student interests and concerns, but are not meant to convey an endorsement. Barnard has been and will remain committed to free speech. Student groups will still have the ability to flyer and promote their events throughout campus, but until we have had time as a community to discuss the banner placements on Barnard Hall and better define a policy, we will not be hanging student banners on Barnard Hall.