Loyola SJP found Responsible for 1 of 6 Charges, Sanctioned with Probation & Dialogue Training; Hillel Only Sanctioned with Administrative Training for Violating Similar Rules.
On Friday evening, October 31, Loyola University- Chicago (LUC) released its decision regarding a number of disciplinary charges against Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)-LUC, finding the group Not Responsible for 5 of the 6 charges against it, and only Responsible for the charge of violating the Free Expression and Demonstration policy because they did not properly register their impromptu action to question Birthright Israel’s discriminatory policies. Complainants from LUC-Hillel were also at the hearing, and Hillel was found Responsible for failing to register their Birthright tabling event. The vastly uneven sanction was given despite the fact that Hillel had sufficient time to register their event, while SJP-LUC could not have registered their action, having learned of the (unregistered) Hillel tabling only the previous night.
The decision comes nearly two months after Loyola students lined up at a table publicizing Taglit-Birthright, an Israeli government-sponsored program to take Jewish students to Israel based on the idea that the land is their “birthright,” wherever they may be coming from. The mainly Palestinian students lined up to ask to register in order to highlight the discriminatory premise of the program, and to highlight that Palestinians have been expelled and excluded from their ancestral land and homes for over six decades since the establishment of the state of Israel to make way for Jewish immigrants from all over the world. Over the two months, SJP-LUC students were subjected to a temporary suspension, lifted after one week, and an extensive investigation.
Despite the fact that both Hillel and SJP were found responsible for failing to properly register their events, Hillel is merely required to attend a training on how to register events, while Loyola SJP was sanctioned with Probation until the end of the school year – putting the group at risk for suspension for any further violations. SJP is also required to attend an InterGroup Dialogue Training, a re-education program of sorts, which the notice states: “is an effort to support SJP’s skill development in exercising alternatives to approaching difficult dialogues.”
Said Zahraa Nasser, SJP-LUC member: “We feel vindicated that the Hearing Board understood that students were not acting on the basis of discrimination against anyone, but were peacefully making a political point at a public tabling event. It is unacceptable, however, that SJP and Hillel get such unequal sanctions for essentially the same violation: not registering our respective events. We also reject the notion that we need to be re-educated on how to ‘dialogue’ when our purpose was to engage in conversations about an openly discriminatory program being publicized by a student organization whose leadership upholds viewpoints we find racist and antithetical to Palestinian rights. It was the other side which was not prepared to answer questions about the problematic program they were publicizing.”
At a four-hour long hearing on Thursday, October 30, SJP-LUC students responded to 6 charges that their actions amounted to bias-motivated discrimination, harassment and bullying, and violations of demonstration policies. During the hearing, SJP-LUC students argued that their action was not targeting or disparaging anyone because of their religion, national origin or any other protected characteristic, but was an attempt to raise a political critique of the discriminatory treatment of Palestinians that Birthright stands for, and what it means for Palestinian students who are denied their “birthright” despite their direct ties to the land. One Jewish student and participant in the registration action, Wilbur Barab, wrote in a statement to the Hearing Board, “Taglit-Birthright Israel is undoubtedly a political, not a religious, organization. In fact, I find attempts to classify it as a Jewish organization offensive.” SJP also argued that as a group, it did not endorse or plan the action, and that individual students planned the action only the night before, so they did not consider it a “demonstration” that required registration with the administration.
Said Rima Kapitan, Chicago attorney and Advisor on behalf of SJP-LUC: “We are disappointed that despite evidence of a concerted campaign on the part of Hillel to shut SJP down in retaliation for its political speech, the administration only permits speech supporting Palestinian rights when it does not make Hillel students uncomfortable. To subject the students to interrogations, a four-hour hearing, probation, and InterGroup dialogue training when nothing was found to be wrong with SJP’s mode of dialogue is indefensible and discourages legitimate political speech about an important public issue.”
Dima Khalidi, Director of Palestine Solidarity Legal Support and Cooperating Counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights, stated: “This decision is an important affirmation that students’ activities were not in any way motivated by bias or discrimination, as Israel advocates around the country continue to claim. The sanctions that Loyola is imposing, however, reflect a disparate treatment of SJP, and forebode continued efforts to put SJP under unnecessary scrutiny, and chill speech promoting Palestinian rights at Loyola. These students’ activities deserve the highest degree of protection, especially at institutions of higher education that are supposed to nurture such open and difficult debates.”
SJP will have until the end of today, Monday, November 3, to appeal the decision.