Campus Shutdowns of Pro-Palestine Protests Rooted in Racism Says Activist
On Friday, Columbia University announced that it was suspending two student organizations for what they described as an “unauthorized event” that it alleges “included threatening rhetoric and intimidation.”
The groups, Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace held events on campus that called for a ceasefire in Gaza and included the Palestinian slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
The statement released by the University did not specify which rhetoric used during the event it considered threatening or what actions the protesters took that it considered to be intimidation.
Sputnik’s Political Misfits sat down with Sonya Epstein, an organizer for Jewish Voice for Peace. Hosts John Kiriakou and Michelle Witte asked her about the suspension and what she believes are its true motives.
Epstein said she believes the unauthorized event allegation is something that is selectively enforced by college administrators to combat views they do not like.
“They have an option to ignore it or to make a big scene about it,” Epstein told Political Misfits. “There are so many different school-affiliated organizations on every campus and there are also a lot of policies, so choosing to very publicly take action around one of these violations is a very active choice on the administration’s side.”
She cited her own experience while at UMass Amherst, when the administration went out of its way to distance itself from a pro-Palestine event, even though the campus hosts hundreds of events not affiliated with the college.
On the more serious accusation that the event included threatening rhetoric and intimidation, Epstein said she believes it was related to the slogans chanted at the events and written on signs.
“I think it is around ‘from the river to the sea’ or even just saying ‘free Palestine’ just anything. I think there has been an extreme focus on ‘from the river to the sea’ which isn’t necessarily new,” Epstein explained. “We’ve seen this for years now, where people claim it is a call for all Jewish people in so-called Israel to be wiped out when there is really nothing saying that in any way.”
“It is all based in really deep racism and islamophobia. It is this policy of saying it’s threatening that we don’t see with pretty much any other protest like this,” Epstein continued. “In my view, it is really disgusting to be labeling these protesters and groups as a threat to safety… These actions at Columbia are die-ins, walk-outs, sit-ins, these very clearly non-threatening activities are being labeled as such.”
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has been labeling Pro-Palestine protests as anti-Semitic activities, including those hosted or attended by the Jewish Voice for Peace. Epstein argued that this shows the organization is not actually focused on combating anti-semitism.
“It is about upholding empire, it’s about doing what is in the best interest of the US military, it is about upholding Israel as a state rather than really addressing these real risks and really horrific acts of real anti-semitism,” Epstein said.
Another protest is scheduled on the Columbia University campus on Tuesday, though it is not co-sponsored by the Students for Justice in Palestine or the Jewish Voice for Peace.