Loyola University punishes non-Jews who tried to sign up for “Birthright Israel” program
Loyola University Chicago students affiliated with the student group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) will attend an administrative hearing scheduled Thursday, October 30 to respond to allegations made against the group after Palestinian students lined up on September 9, 2014 to try to register for a Birthright Israel trip to highlight its discrimination against Palestinians.
Charges against the student group, issued over a month after the incident, include “bias-motivated misconduct,” “harassment and bullying,” and violation of school demonstration policies. SJP-LUC explained their action in a statement released on October 1, stating that “about fifteen students decided on an ad-hoc basis to peacefully line up at the Taglit-Birthright table and ask if they, as Palestinians whose families were expelled from villages inside present-day Israel, could also register for a Birthright trip… After calm conversations between students at the front of the line and students tabling, and after being turned away from the registration table because they were not of the ‘right’ religious or ethnic identity, the Palestinian and Arab students lined up for a photo some distance away with signs identifying their village of origin and exposing their exclusion from the program…[N]o activities during this action can be characterized as threatening or as harassment.”
If found responsible, SJP-LUC could be sanctioned with anything from mediation to probation or suspension of the student group. The university temporarily suspended SJP after the incident, claiming it was for a different complaint, and lifted the suspension when SJP cleared up the misunderstanding. Individual students were also subjected to interviews with school officials about the Birthright incident. Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, CAIR-Chicago and local attorney Rima Kapitan issued a joint letter to University officials expressing concerns about the investigations of SJP students.
Said Zahraa Nasser, SJP-LUC member: “It’s ironic that we’re being accused of being biased and discriminatory when the whole point of registering for Birthright was to show how discriminatory the Israeli government-funded program is. It’s like white people saying that they’re being discriminated against when people of color call out their white privilege.”
Said Dima Khalidi, Director of Palestine Solidarity Legal Support and Cooperating Counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights: “The University may have an obligation to investigate such accusations, but Loyola’s preliminary investigation should have revealed that they were highly exaggerated and inflammatory, and follow a pattern we’re seeing around the country. It is the university’s obligation to distinguish between real harassment and political speech that may cause some discomfort when ideas are being challenged. Instead of nurturing critical thinking and peaceful engagement about the most difficult issues of the day, Loyola is sending the message that challenging injustice will be punished.”
Said Rabya Khan, Staff Attorney at the Council on American-Islamic Relations(CAIR)- Chicago, “These allegations present the students as aggressive and threatening, despite all the evidence showing that it was a peaceful and entirely calm action. Such insinuations that students supporting Palestinian rights are out to harm those who support Israel are anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab and Islamophobic. We must challenge these attempts to portray students who peacefully advocate for justice as ‘scary,’ or as terrorist-sympathizers who must be punished and silenced.”
Said Lynn Pollack of Jewish Voice for Peace- Chicago: “The idea that Palestinians protesting a Birthright Israel registration booth at their school are biased and motivated by animus towards Jewish people is a common trope that attempts to equate criticism of Israel’s discriminatory policies with anti-Semitism. Many Jews, along with Palestinians, oppose Birthright’s premise that any Jew in the world has a right to the land of Israel/Palestine, while Palestinians are continually dispossessed and ethnically cleansed from their ancestral homeland to make way for them. This is not bias, but a stand against injustice.”