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Fordham’s Students for Justice in Palestine Did More Than Win Club Status

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In a major victory for the Palestine solidarity movement, a judge in New York annulled Fordham University’s decision to deny club status to Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) in a decision released last Monday, ordering the Jesuit school to formally recognize SJP as an official group on campus after a four-year battle.

As the first major legal victory for the free speech of Palestine activists on college campuses, the ruling strongly discourages private institutions—which by nature have greater latitude than public institutions to stifle activism—from suppressing speech simply because that speech criticizes Israel. Given the climate of rampant backlash against pro-Palestine politics, the ruling affirms activists’ all-too-often-violated right to criticize Israel and advocate for the basic rights of a dispossessed people.

Justice Bannon’s principled decision reasserts the judiciary’s role to ensure that voices of marginalized communities will be heard,” said the petitioners’ legal co-counsel, Alan Levine. “Nothing could be more important at this moment.”

In fall 2015, we—that is, Fordham SJP’s founding members, of which I was one before leaving the group in 2017—submitted application materials to form a chapter of SJP, among the 200 in the United States advocating on college campuses for the basic rights of Palestinians. As citizens of a country that financially, diplomatically, and militarily enables Israel’s settler colonialism and apartheid, we felt we had a unique responsibility to act in solidarity with Palestinians. “There was no other area where people could discuss this conflict on Fordham’s campus,” Ahmad Awad, Fordham SJP’s co-founder and then-president, said in an appearance on Democracy Now!.

After 364 days of delays and questions from the administration about our intentions, Fordham’s student government finally voted on our application in November 2016. Despite an attempt by a few professors and Fordham’s Jewish Student Organization to sway the vote against us, the student government approved SJP for club status. “This chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine at Fordham fulfills a need for open discussion and demonstrates that Fordham is a place that exemplifies diversity of thought,” its statement read. “[SJP’s] presence will help to create a space for academic discussion and promote intellectual rigor on campus. We do not believe that the presence of Students for Justice in Palestine will take away from efforts to promote a safe environment on our campus.”

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Thanks !

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