George Washington University (GWU) has suspended its Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter after the group projected pro-Palestinian slogans onto a building on campus during a protest in October. The university said the group violated its code of conduct and damaged university property.
The suspension came after a complaint from the GWU Hillel, a Jewish student organization, which claimed that SJP’s protest was inciting violence and anti-Semitism. The protest took place on October 24, when SJP projected phrases such as “Free Palestine”, “End the occupation”, and “Glory to our martyrs” onto the Marvin Center, a building that houses several student services and offices.
Hillel said that the phrase “Glory to our martyrs” was particularly offensive and dangerous, as it implied support for Palestinian terrorists who have killed Israeli civilians. Hillel also said that the protest was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was killed by a Jewish extremist in 1995 for pursuing peace with the Palestinians.
SJP denied that their protest was violent or anti-Semitic, and said that they were exercising their right to free speech and expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people. They said that the phrase “Glory to our martyrs” was a common expression of respect for those who have died in the struggle for Palestinian liberation, and that they did not endorse any specific acts of violence or terrorism.
SJP suspended for damaging university property
The university said that it suspended SJP not because of the content of their protest, but because of the method they used to project their messages. SJP used a device called a “guerrilla projector”, which is a portable projector that can be attached to a car battery and used to display images or text on any surface.
The university said that SJP did not have permission to use the projector on campus, and that they damaged the Marvin Center by using a sticky substance to attach the projector to the building. The university said that it cost $1,200 to remove the substance and repair the damage.
SJP said that they did not damage the building, and that they used a harmless substance called “wheatpaste”, which is made from flour and water. They said that they followed the instructions of the manufacturer of the projector, which advised them to use wheatpaste to secure the device. They also said that they removed the projector and the wheatpaste after the protest, and that they did not leave any trace of damage.
SJP also said that they were unfairly targeted by the university, and that other student groups have used similar methods of projection without facing any consequences. They cited an example of a pro-Israel group that projected a message of support for Israel on the same building in 2019, and did not receive any sanctions from the university.
SJP appeals the suspension and receives support from civil rights groups
SJP has appealed the suspension, and has received support from several civil rights groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and Palestine Legal. These groups have sent letters to the university, urging it to reverse the suspension and respect SJP’s right to free speech and protest.
The groups said that the suspension was disproportionate and discriminatory, and that it violated SJP’s academic freedom and due process rights. They said that the suspension was based on false allegations of property damage and anti-Semitism, and that it was motivated by political pressure from pro-Israel groups and donors.
The groups also said that the suspension was part of a broader pattern of censorship and repression of pro-Palestinian activism on college campuses across the country. They said that SJP and other pro-Palestinian groups have faced harassment, intimidation, and legal threats for expressing their views and challenging the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
The university has not responded to the letters from the civil rights groups, and has not announced a decision on SJP’s appeal. The suspension is effective until the end of the academic year, and prevents SJP from holding any events, meetings, or activities on campus or using any university resources.