The approval of SJP should not be just an ideological decision; it is a pragmatic one as well.
Michael Jack O’Brien Features & List Co-Editor
As the fight for the approval of Fordham’s Students for Justice in Palestine club (SJP) rages on, the amount of press the school receives continues to increase, and none of it is good. Palestine Legal has sent the university articles, claiming that Dean Eldredge is punishing a student unfairly for retaliation against him. Free speech advocacy groups have sent letters to the university, claiming censorship of students. Most recently, The Huffington Post published an article, listing Fordham as one of the Top 10 Worst Schools For Free Speech. Even so, all efforts by the administration to contain this issue have backfired spectacularly, leaving the university in a deeper hole than when it started. The students and faculty in favor of the approval of SJP have made it very clear that their only acceptable solution is the approval of the student organization; any reasoning or excuses used by the administration to justify its disapproval will only result in one thing: more pushback.
While I do agree that SJP should be approved, I understand the administration’s hesitation to go ahead with doing so. A report written up by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which I referenced in my last article on this matter, claims that the behaviors of students on other campuses (some of which could be considered “harassment” and intimidation) leads to a hostile and unsafe campus environment. A few of these behaviors are students holding die-ins, walkouts on Israeli speakers, and setting up “fake border checkpoints” on campus. As I mentioned in my last article, whether or not these actions count as harassment is up to the discretion of the reader. However, I personally believe that none of the tactics used by SJP have intimidation in mind and are relatively tame compared to other more destructive forms of protest, such as the happenings in Berkley this year.
But I digress, in my opinion, using the ADL report as grounds for disapproval of the club is shaky at best and blatantly biased at worst. Instead of disapproving the club altogether, the administration should have a level of trust and mutual agreement with the SJP on how they are permitted to convey their message. Besides, if the possibility of protest is the reason for banning a club, then what is the point of having a restrictive policy on demonstrations in the first place? Why not just approve the club and have them agree to follow your policies instead of disapproving the club and forcing them to break your rules? To me, it seems that the problems and bad press faced by the administration result from them shooting themselves in the foot too many times.
In addition to this, there is another aspect to the ADL report that at the very least must be addressed. Not to belabor the point, but I do not think it takes that many mental gymnastics to figure out why the ADL might be a bit biased in their claim that the SJP is “anti-Israel,” despite having the support of groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace on their side. The ADL is a Jewish advocacy group which fights anything that could be perceived as anti-Semitism. I will support this cause in full, especially as anti-Semitic crimes increase and bomb threats, such as the one at the ADL headquarters today, are occurring. However, I do not believe for a second that criticism of the Israeli government’s policies qualifies as anti-Semitism, a claim that could be perceived as rather insulting, seeing how real acts of anti-Semitism, such as the destruction of Jewish cemeteries, are occurring as we speak.
Okay, so where does that leave us? Well, there is no evidence that supporters of SJP are in any mood to give up, and the publications and groups watching this debacle have given us no evidence that they will stop giving the administration bad press. Like I said earlier, it seems that any move by the administration to contain this issue has resulted in them getting more bad looks. Moreover, if the school has disapproved the club out of fear that groups like the ADL will take legal action against them or tarnish their reputation, then the fact that groups like Palestine Legal are also taking legal action against the school should indicate that perhaps the administration’s strategy is not working. If the exact inverse of what you wanted to happen is happening, then why continue doing the same thing?
This is why in my “professional opinion” I say the best course of action for the administration is to simply approve the club and work on negotiations with the organization at a later date. The truth of the matter is that the administration is not some evil hegemony who takes pleasure from oppressing the voices of their students. Granted they have really shit the bed in this case, I do not see any reason they cannot make amends. The first step to any negotiation is to properly define each parties desires and goals. In this case, SJP has a singular goal that they will not budge from approval of their club. Therefore if the school wants to make any headway with finding a middle ground, they must first give SJP a message that they are willing to cooperate. This, in my opinion, will give SJP much more incentive to toe the line regarding the university’s rules on public demonstration compared to now in which SJP has no incentive to cooperate and is willing to break school policy. While approving SJP will not be a cure-all treatment to the administration’s problems, showing the ability to concede this particular issue to the club would be a pragmatic first step in improving the school’s reputation regarding free speech. Nobody likes bad press, and currently, the disapproval of SJP is doing much more harm than good in that department. I hope that with the approval of SJP the students and administration will be capable of having a civil dialogue that creates a solution pleasing to both parties.