“Student activists at Pitzer College in southern California are risking administration sanctions this week to bring attention to Israel’s violations of the rights of Palestinians.
Members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) had constructed a mock wall on campus on Tuesday as part of their actions marking Israeli Apartheid Week — a global series of events intended to spark discussions on campuses about Israel’s occupation in Palestine and the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
On 27 March, the Pitzer administration warned SJP that their plans to construct the mock wall would be “in blatant defiance” of college policy. The mock wall is a colorful, sixty-foot-long replica of Israel’s wall in the occupied West Bank, emblazoned with artwork, facts and statistics highlighting Israel’s violations of human rights.
By going forward with their creative direct action, Pitzer SJP could face punishment by the administration.
The administration seems to have come under pressure by on-campus Israel-aligned students who reportedly sent a letter of complaint in February to the Pitzer College Aesthetics Committee.
The group “anticipat[ed] SJP’s proposal to display the mock separation wall and claim[ed] that the wall is anti-Semitic and would make Jewish students on campus uncomfortable,” according to a letter to Pitzer’s administration sent by Palestine Solidarity Legal Support this week.
Noah Latkin, a member of SJP at Pitzer, told The Electronic Intifada on Tuesday that “it wasn’t necessarily surprising” that the group has been singled out for scrutiny by the university.
“There was opposition to us even becoming a club,” he said. “People in the student senate labeled us as inherently anti-Semitic. We had to meet with the president of the student senate who asked us ‘how can we make sure you don’t offend people on campus?’”
Smears and attacks against Palestinian students and members of SJP are not new to students of the Claremont College consortium, which includes Pitzer.
In 2013, a professor at Pitzer’s sister campus Claremont McKenna College called a Palestinian student “a cockroach” during a mock checkpoint action on campus as part of Israeli Apartheid Week. The student, Najib Hamideh, attended Pitzer College and was a member of Students for Justice in Palestine. The professor, Yaron Raviv, is an Israeli citizen.”
Read more at The Electronic Intifada
Below is a letter drafted by several SJPs around the State of California in support of Claremont SJP’s right to display their wall:
To the University Administration:
SJP West, a coalition of Students for Justice in Palestine chapters across the West Coast, wishes to express its deep concern regarding the recent decision of Pitzer College’s Campus Aesthetics Committee to prohibit the display of a pro-Palestinian exhibit on campus. As part of its annual Israeli Apartheid Week activities, Pitzer College’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine planned to display a mock apartheid wall, similar to the one illegally constructed by the Israeli occupation on Palestinian land. The display of the mock wall is intended to raise awareness of the plight of Palestinians who suffer a brutal occupation, which is partially funded by our American tax dollars. The students were not provided with any official justification for the college’s decision but there is ample evidence that the college prefers to suppress SJP’s message because it would make some students uncomfortable.
Banning the display is nothing short of censorship and constitutes a clear infringement on the First Amendment rights of Pitzer students, protected by California law and Pitzer’s own policies. In fact, the presence of a Campus Aesthetics Committee with an authority to disapprove certain forms of free speech on campus in itself raises serious questions about the openness of the campus to harboring a marketplace for the free exchange of ideas. Moreover, students have voiced concern that the display was possibly banned due to its content and after external political pressure. Such concerns are very alarming, providing further evidence for the presence of a chilling effect consequential to such actions, which can suppress the students’ legitimate, constitutionally protected exercise of free speech.
Similar mock walls are routinely displayed on campuses in California and across the nation without incident. We urge you to promptly resolve this matter and affirm the students’ right to display the mock wall. We will continue to work with Students for Justice in Palestine at Pitzer College to ensure that the rights of consciousness students advocating for human rights and social justice are not infringed upon on campus. We look forward to working with you to reach a remedy.
Sincerely the undersigned,
Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Riverside
Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Berkeley
Students for Justice in Palestine at LAVC
Students for Justice in Palestine at Occidental College
Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Santa Cruz
Students for Justice in Palestine at UC San Diego
Students for Justice in Palestine at Stanford University
Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Irvine