In front of Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library, seven infant-sized bundles of white cloth rested on the steps, splattered with red paint. Behind the swaddles, plywood boards read “10,600 lives slaughtered,” “4,412 children,” and “let Gaza live,” alongside images of Palestinian flags and olive trees.
This was the scene where Columbia students gathered last Thursday for a “peaceful protest art installation” and demonstration organized by the campus chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine. Hundreds of students demanded that Columbia publicly call for a ceasefire in Gaza, divest its endowment from corporations complicit in Israeli apartheid, and end its academic programs in Tel Aviv.
The next day, Gerald Rosberg, chair of the Special Committee on Campus Safety, announced Columbia had suspended its chapters of JVP and SJP through the end of the semester, citing an “unauthorized event” that “included threatening rhetoric and intimidation.” The announcement quickly drew widespread criticism, including from hundreds of Jewish faculty who denounced the “vague allegations” that served as grounds for the suspensions.
But amid the backlash, StandWithUs, a self-described “non-partisan Israel education organization,” lauded Columbia’s decision. “StandWithUs sent several legal letters to universities like @Columbia, urging them to immediately hold these groups accountable for the hate, fear, and harassment they incite on campus,” the group wrote on social media. “We hope more universities will follow suit.”
Alongside Israel advocacy groups like the Brandeis Center, the International Legal Forum, and the David Horowitz Freedom Center, StandWithUs has spent years trying to shut down criticism of Israel on college campuses, often by weaponizing civil rights law. The groups allege that, while the political speech may be protected by the First Amendment, it fosters a campus climate of antisemitism in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits federally funded programs from discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin. As students have ramped up pro-Palestinian demonstrations over the past month, Israel advocacy groups have escalated a pressure campaign of their own. [Continue reading…]