October 20, 2019

National SJP Says Conference Will Be Held at University of Minnesota

Photo from Wikipedia.

National Students for Justice in Palestine (NSJP) announced on Sept. 16 that they will be holding their annual conference at the University of Minnesota (UMN) Twin Cities on Nov. 1-3.

NSJP’s website states that the conference, titled “Beyond Struggle: From Roots to Branches Towards Liberation,” will recognize that “support for the Palestinian cause is increasing within mainstream politics,” citing the elections of Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), both of whom support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. The conference will also provide information on Palestinian history.

“The history of Palestine, and the Palestinian struggle against Zionism, extends beyond the confines of 1967, and well before the Nakba (the Catastrophe) of 1947-1948,” the website states. “It is important that this be recognized by those who claim to act in solidarity with the Palestinian people, many of whom engage solely in anti-occupation advocacy– that is, advocacy which relies on a version of Palestinian history limited to the Green Line. In doing so, they forego the rights of those Palestinians in refugee camps, in diaspora, and in 1948 lands.”

The website proceeds to call for “the fullness of Palestinian liberation.”

SJP UMN chapter sponsored a pro-BDS resolution that passed as a student-wide referendum in March 2018; UMN President Benjie Kaplan denounced the resolution at the time as potentially having a “harmful impact to our campus climate” and condemned BDS for not delineating “between opposition to the policies of the government of Israel and opposition to the existence of Israel.” 

Additionally, in April 2018 SJP University of Minnesota hosted an event titled “Palestine 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Palestine.” Two students who attended the event, Maya Strohm and Shay Gilbert Burke, wrote in a letter to the Minnesota Daily campus newspaper at the time that the event featured a speaker who argued “that Jews have no connection to the land of Israel and that Zionism is antithetical to Judaism” and “Jews introduced terror to Palestine, not Christians and Muslims.” 

“This blatantly anti-Semitic rhetoric does not open discussion,” Strohm and Burke wrote. “Instead, it drives our communities further apart.”

The NSJP 2018 conference was held at UCLA in November 2018; the Los Angeles City Council and myriad Jewish groups called on UCLA to cancel the conference. UCLA Chancellor Gene Block wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed at the time that the university wouldn’t cancel the conference due to the First Amendment. City Councilman Paul Koretz was among those who protested the conference on Nov. 18.

StandWithUs Executive Director of Research and Strategy Max Samarov said in a statement to the Journal, “Last year, [the] National SJP openly called for silencing speakers who support Israel’s existence.  They also called for the destruction of Zionism, and violence against Israelis. While free speech laws may require UMN to allow the conference, this should not stop university leaders from unequivocally condemning SJP’s long record of hate. We also encourage UMN to use this as a teachable moment to educate the campus community about anti-Semitism and foster civil dialogue about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” 

AMCHA Initiative Director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin similarly said in a statement to the Journal, “At the heart of the national SJP organization and its campus chapters is an anti-Zionist ideology that incites its members to engage in activities designed to harm not only Israel, but Israel’s on-campus supporters, primarily Jewish students.  In the name of BDS, SJP students routinely disrupt and shut down events organized by Jewish and pro-Israel students; vandalize pro-Israel flyers, displays and student property; denigrate Jewish and pro-Israel student groups with spurious charges of racism, Islamophobia and white supremacy and engage in sustained campaigns of defamation, marginalization and harassment against presumed pro-Israel students. These behaviors time and again deprive Jewish and pro-Israel students of their freedom of speech, assembly and association, and deny them access to a campus safe from harassment.”

She continued: “SJP’s intolerant behaviors are often viewed by university administrators as politically-motivated and are often overlooked and unaddressed, leaving Jewish and pro-Israel students vulnerable and afraid. However, harassment is harassment, regardless of the motivation of the perpetrator or the identity of the victim.  We urge the University of Minnesota, and frankly all university leaders, to make clear to SJP and all its students that while anti-Zionist speech is protected under the First Amendment, the intolerant behavior such rhetoric often incites will not be tolerated. Jewish and pro-Israel students must be afforded the same protections as all other students.”

UPDATE 1: Students Supporting Israel (SSI) President Ilan Sinelnikov said in a statement to the Journal, “As members of Students Supporting Israel attended the NSJP last year at UCLA to find out how radical NSJP is with its Intifada chants and chants that call upon the destruction of Israel. We suggest that the University of Minnesota won’t let such an event take place as there is no reason for radical groups to be on our campuses. If the event will take place, SSI will make sure to act upon it again.”

UPDATE 2: A spokesperson for the University of Minnesota confirmed that the NSJP conference will be held on campus.

“Any registered student group is allowed to reserve space on campus, provided they comply with relevant policies,” the spokesperson said in an email to the Journal. “The University of Minnesota encourages students and student groups to exercise their freedom of expression and a broad spectrum of ideas. We do not make decisions based on content.”