Brandeis University, an academic institution established by the American Jewish community in 1948 with the aim of combating antisemitism and prejudice in higher education, has implemented a campus-wide prohibition on a student organization associated with Palestine.
On November 6, the Waltham, Massachusetts-based university banned National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), citing the group’s alleged support for the terrorist group Hamas. The revocation made Brandeis the first private higher education institution in the country to enforce such a ban on an organization that has more than 200 chapters across the nation dedicated to Palestinian independence.
“Most urgently, in this twilight zone moment when students and faculty seem to be enjoying their freedom to express grotesque language about Jews, Jewish life, and the Jewish state, Brandeis will uphold free speech rightly understood,” Brandeis University President Ronald Liebowitz wrote in a November 6 Boston Globe oped.
“Universities cannot stop hate speech, but they can stop paying for it,” Liebowitz remarked, adding: “Brandeis will ensure that groups that receive privileges through their affiliations with the university, including using its name, will lose their affiliations and privileges when they spew hate.”
“This decision was not made lightly, as Brandeis is dedicated to upholding free speech principles, which have been codified in Brandeis’ Principles of Free Speech and Free Expression,” stated a letter sent to the SJP chapter on the college campus, informing the group it had been banned. (A copy of the letter was initially acquired by Jewish Insider, a publication focusing on national politics, philanthropy, and business with a Jewish perspective.)
“The National SJP has called on its chapters to engage in conduct that supports Hamas in its call for the violent elimination of Israel and the Jewish people,” the letter added. “These tactics are not protected by the University’s principles.”
The ban follows an October 26 letter written collaboratively by the Anti-Defamation League, a prominent Jewish advocacy organization, and the Louis D. Brandeis Center For Human Rights Under Law, addressed to nearly 200 university presidents amid an escalation in antisemitic incidents across U.S. campuses.
Written 19 days after the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, the letter claimed that SJP “provides vocal and potentially material support to Hamas,” which the U.S. Department of State designated as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997. The missive urged universities to “investigate the activities” of their SJP campus chapters “for potential violations of the prohibition against materially supporting a foreign terrorist organization.”
On October 24, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis directed Florida’s state university system to ban SJP chapters on its college campuses. The State University System of Florida announced that SJP chapters needed to be disbanded as a part of a broader effort to crack down on campus protests that were deemed to offer “harmful support for terrorist groups.”
Following the ban at Brandeis, the SJP chapter on campus canceled a “Vigil for Palestine” planned for the night of November 6. “With heavy hearts, we would like to announce that our chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine has been unjustly de-chartered,” the group said on its Instagram page, adding: “This comes as a part of Brandeis University, an institution that values social justice, trying to silence us from speaking our truth.”
Harvey Silverglate, co-founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, which styles itself as “the nation’s leading defender of fundamental rights on college campuses,” bemoaned Brandeis University’s ban on SJP.
“Universities should have no political positions whatsoever,” he told WBZ News, the Boston affiliate of CBS News. “Universities should be places where people of diverse political views can peacefully exchange their views and ideas.”
Furthermore, even though Brandeis holds the position of being a private liberal arts college, Silverglate pointed out that the university might face a potential infringement of the First Amendment right to free speech because it “accepts massive amounts of federal funds.” “It is not their job to keep the peace by shutting up one side,” Silverglate contended. “It is their job to keep the peace and allow a forum for free expression.”