A sign marks the entrance of Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, on Aug. 7, 2018. (Photo by Kenneth C. Zirkel/Creative Commons)(RNS) — Brandeis University, a private school outside Boston, has banned a student chapter of National Students for Justice in Palestine, the latest sign that the Israel-Hamas war has become a scorching campus flashpoint.
The university notified the student group on Monday (Nov. 6) that it will no longer recognize the group “because it openly supports Hamas, which the United States has designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.”
Brandeis has been one of hundreds of universities roiled by demonstrations and counterdemonstrations in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel that killed 1,400 Israelis and the subsequent Israeli military strikes in Gaza that have killed an estimated 10,000 Palestinians. The tense atmosphere on many college campuses has led to spikes in both antisemitism and Islamophobia.
But Brandeis’ decision to ban SJP is highly symbolic coming from a 75-year-old institution founded by American Jews to combat discrimination in higher education.
Today, Brandeis’ Jewish student population is only about 35% — far less than at other schools such as the University of Florida or New Jersey’s Rutgers University.
In a sign of changing times and demographics, its student government senate voted Oct. 26 to reject a resolution condemning Hamas for its incursion — shocking the administration and the wider Jewish world. It immediately drew a series of strong statements from Jewish groups and individuals on campus who said the student government’s vote doesn’t represent the campus.
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On Monday, the SJP chapter had planned to hold a vigil in the Shapiro Campus Center to mourn Palestinians killed in Gaza. A flyer for the vigil posted on Instagram asked attendees to dress in black and bring Palestinian flags, kaffiyehs, photos and candles. After the chapter received a letter informing it that Brandeis was banning the chapter, the vigil was canceled.
The national SJP declined to comment to Religion News Service. The organization has 200 chapters at U.S. universities across the country, according to its website.
Last month, Florida officials ordered state universities and colleges there to disband SJP student chapters on their respective campuses.
The decision from Brandeis comes two weeks after the Anti-Defamation League, working in concert with the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, sent a letter to 200 universities asking them to investigate the activities of SJP chapters for potential violations of the prohibition against materially supporting a foreign terrorist organization.
The ADL, which tracks antisemitism and hate speech, has charged that several anti-Israel demonstrations have veered into antisemitism, and has turned its ire at SJP in particular.
“SJP chapters are not advocating for Palestinian rights; they are celebrating terrorism,” the ADL alleged in its letter.
As a result of Brandeis University’s decision, the SJP will no longer receive funding or be allowed to …