The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

College rejects formation of Students for Justice in Palestine chapter

Lafayette’s would-be SJP chapter aimed to organize throughout the Lehigh Valley. (Graphic courtesy of Wikipedia)

Earlier this month, the college denied a group of students’ request to form a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) on campus. The Office of Student Life contends that the chapter’s events could violate college policy by targeting or disrupting other clubs and individuals on campus, a claim the student organizers say is baseless.

SJP is an international organization that “seeks to empower, unify, and support student organizers as they push forward demands for Palestinian liberation & self-determination on their campuses,” according to its website. Some chapters have faced controversy for their events, which have included spreading bogus eviction notices in dorms to protest the Israeli government’s practice of demolishing Palestinian homes and boycotting Hillel events. 

The organizers of the SJP chapter at Lafayette said educating the campus about Palestine is their main goal.

“We want to educate people … and we’re not trying to create that divisiveness that doesn’t allow that,” Ariel Haber-Fawcett ‘24 said. She added that her Jewish identity inspires her to speak up about alleged injustices perpetrated by the Israeli government.

“I think our main goal was kind of just to get awareness out about the issues going on in Palestine right now,” Aidan Choate ‘23, another one of the chapter’s organizers, said. “I feel like it’s kind of in the back of everybody’s mind, but it’s not really something that you see a lot of people talking about day to day.”

Preliminary ideas for events included bringing in speakers and organizing or participating in demonstrations, according to another organizer, Ari Ismail ‘26. 

The group’s application for SJP to become an official campus organization was denied after a meeting in December with Director of Student Life Vanessa Pearson, Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Alex Hendrickson and Dean of Students Brian Samble.

Pearson directed requests for comment to Samble, and Hendrickson was unavailable for comment. 

Samble wrote in an email that students seeking club approval typically submit an application that the Division of Student Life reviews. Student Life, according to Samble, takes into account “if a proposed club’s activities would violate campus policies, level of risk … and other reasonable considerations before permitting an organization to move forward to secure space and hold meetings.” Hendrickson and Samble were invited to the December meeting with the students because of concerns raised about the chapter, Haber-Fawcett said.

At the meeting, Samble took issue with events that SJP chapters have organized at other campuses, questioned the relationship SJP would have with Hillel on campus and brought up a photo sent to him of Post-it Notes that some prospective members of SJP had written ideas on during a brainstorming session for the chapter that was held in November, according to Haber-Fawcett.

Among the ideas on the sticky notes were to address government and law professor Ilan Peleg’s “propaganda class” and “walkouts from Zionist speakers that Hillel invites,” according to an email sent by Haber-Fawcett that was made available to The Lafayette.

Peleg teaches a course on the politics of the Middle East. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Briana Thomas ‘25, one of the chapter organizers, said that Hendrickson read an anonymous bias report about SJP at the meeting. The report referenced a study conducted by the Anti-Defamation League an organization that the chapter organizers say is biased – which claims that the presence of SJP chapters on campus leads to anti-Semitism.

Although noting that the chapter’s plans to uplift Palestinian voices through events like a culture night could be valuable, Samble ultimately rejected the proposal to form a chapter of SJP. 

“Other proposed activities raised alarm and aimed to target/disrupt other clubs or individuals on campus in ways that could be intimidating based on the religion or national origin of some members of our community,” he wrote in a Feb. 10 email to the SJP organizers that was made available to The Lafayette. 

The student organizers said they think the administration unfairly characterized SJP’s presence as a threat to the Jewish community on campus and felt that they were subject to stricter scrutiny than other political groups because of their beliefs. 

“We didn’t write these notes; they were just ideas,” Thomas said of the ideas written during the November brainstorming session. “It’s not like saying we agree with all these ideas, but we have the right to articulate them.”

Haber-Fawcett said that she thinks SJP’s anti-Zionism was conflated with anti-Semitism at the meeting. She said the chapter would not go after individuals but target “structures.”

“Sometimes [Hillel] fundraisers go to Israel or certain causes that we wouldn’t agree with, so if they did something specifically connected to Israel, we might say something. But we’re not like an anti-Hillel organization,” she said, adding that several Jewish students have supported the chapter. 

History professor Rachel Goshgarian, the faculty advisor for the SJP chapter, met with Samble after his meeting with the students to discuss what in her view seemed like miscommunications between the two parties. 

“You understand that some students may be sensitive to criticisms of Israel and you don’t want students’ feelings to be hurt … but I don’t think that the goal of this organization is to hurt people’s feelings,” she said. “The goal is to make people aware of certain great injustices that have befallen the Palestinian people over the course of the past century.”

In lieu of official club events, Samble encouraged the students to utilize other avenues to inform the campus about Palestine, according to his email to The Lafayette. While the chapter organizers will consider this, they are disappointed with not being recognized.

“[What’s happening and has happened to Palestinians] is a big issue in our world,” Goshgarian said. “And one of the things that we should be engaged in as a liberal arts college is offering people the tools that provide them with critical thinking skills so that they can try to solve or participate in solving some of the major issues in the world.”

View Comments (12)
About the Contributor
Nathan Kornfeind
Nathan Kornfeind, Editor-in-Chief
Nathan Kornfeind is a senior from the Lehigh Valley studying  Government & Law and German, with a minor in History. He has been writing for The Lafayette since his first semester on campus. In addition to his role with the newspaper, he is the president of German Club.

Comments (12)

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  • D

    DanielMar 6, 2023 at 2:34 pm

    If you look at Canary Mission’s research chapter on SJP you get the idea that SJP is an antisemitic Organization founded by antisemite Hatem Bazian.
    SJP is not a normal student organisation, but an Arab political action group which uses the cover of a student Organization to mobilise against Israel and all those who support Israel. That most SJP members are proven antisemites can also be read about at Canary Mission. They have compiled pages of open-source data on SJP members for year. The result is frightening.

  • B

    BrownstudentMar 6, 2023 at 1:26 pm

    Good decision by the college. If there was a national student group that all they did, all day long, for decades, was harass Muslim students or Black students, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Students for Just Us in Palestine’s reputation has long preceded them.

    And the best part is, since the international left (of which Palestine has long identified itself) has recently turned against the very notion of free speech, especially on campus, I guess you all have nothing to complain about.

  • A

    AnonymousMar 5, 2023 at 5:07 pm

    The Israel-Palestinian conflict is one that no one wishes to see continue, and as someone with family in Israel, I hope that it will end for all those involved.

    Bearing that in mind, I think organizations such as SJP do not contribute towards a peaceful solution, but instead are used to harass and bully Jewish students at universities, increasing antisemitism whilst using a shield of “anti-Zionism” to hide their bigotry.

    At various CUNY campuses in New York City, Jewish students were physically and verbally harassed by others on campus, allegedly being forced to say “free Palestine” or else be assaulted.

    (I cannot post the link per The Lafayette rules, but you can go to JNS’s website for the article dated July 26, 2022)

    At George Washington University, the college’s Hillel building was surrounded by “Free Palestine” protestors, resulting in Jewish students being harassed by a group of activists who claim to separate Israel from the Jewish people.

    (I cannot post the link per The Lafayette rules, but you can find a video of it on the StopAntisemitism’s Twitter account from October 11, 2022)

    I believe many steps are needed for peace between Israel and Palestine, such as removing the terrorist group Hamas from power in Gaza and having a new leader in Israel replace Netanyahu. However, it is my opinion that allowing the SJP to form a chapter of Lafayette College’s campus will implement an era of terror and fear for Jewish students without moving any closer toward a solution for violence in the Middle East.

  • H

    HarryMar 5, 2023 at 11:39 am

    Look at the antics of other campus SJP chapters. They’re not there to improve anyone’s life or educational experience. They’re all about demonizing the world’s one Jewish nation and bullying its Jewish supporters.

    • G

      Gilad EvansMar 6, 2023 at 12:33 pm

      YES. Thank you for not hating Jews, I feel like that seems to be popular among college students these days.

  • A

    AnonymousMar 4, 2023 at 2:13 pm

    Once again, Lafayette has demonstrated its lack of commitment to creating an environment that encourages conversations around topics that impact the lives of its students and the world they exist in.

    There are several organizations on campus that are allowed to continue operating without course correction that have a tradition of rampant racism, homophobia and sexism.

    However, clearly it was deemed intolerable to allow Palestinians who continue to suffer under Israeli oppression and occupation decade after decade to make their case and to tell their painful stories. There can be a debate about the proposed organization’s methods (having taken Professor Peleg’s Middle Eastern politics class, I found him to be balanced and respect him as a professional faculty member). However, denying the organization recognition is an extremely rare step (having served as Student Government President and being involved in the StuOrg recognition process for dozens of existing organizations) that amounts to de-platforming marginalized voices.

    Lafayette continues to fail its Middle Eastern and Muslim students, and should not be surprised by declining involvement by current students or Alumni from those communities.

    • A

      AlumMar 6, 2023 at 4:46 pm

      It’s time to Make America Great Again. As a nation that was built upon Judeo-Christian values, as the majority of Western values are, it’s time to start standing up for what’s right, not what’s on the cover of GQ that day. Palestine is held victim by a repressive, terrorist organization (Palestinian authority) that allow the honour killings of female virgins. The AP promotes an anti Israel bias, and causes like BDS, which said organization supports is anti semetic. Wherever I stand, I stand with Israel.

      • A

        Another AlumMar 8, 2023 at 11:36 pm

        Thanks for confirming what many know to be the truth. Anti-Palestinian sentiment is rooted in White supremacy just like the MAGA movement. Their lives matter less because they aren’t of Judeo-Christian, European, Western origin. The repressive, terrorist organization holding Palestinians and peace hostage is the IDF, which responds to children throwing stones by wiping out entire villages and families. Your racism here reflects the desperation of Zionists as they realize they continue to lose the narrative war to those who want Justice for Palestinians, and ultimately, peace.

      • S

        Selin Sinan UzMar 9, 2023 at 12:02 pm

        It’s all for the good of America. Unfortunately, history repeats itself. When Jews pleaded for help in 1938, America the great ignored their cries for the outcome of risky elections, and Millions of Jews died under Hitler.

        Today, Who could have imagined that thousands of innocent people would have been massacred by the grandchildren of Holocaust victims? My heart cries for the Holocaust survivors who have witnessed such crimes in current times.
        Today is Lafayette College’s founders day, and also it’s my biological birthday. In honor of Marquis De Lafayette, I wish Lafayette College freed itself from its bigotry, just like Marquis De Lafayette helped America free its enslaved people.

    • S

      Selin Sinan UzMar 7, 2023 at 10:51 pm

      I am not surprised that Lafayette College’s administrators did not favor it. Lafayette College does not trust its student’s intellectual capacity. All those false promises of education for the future quickly buckled down with simple suggestions that everyone has the right to express. Lafayette College’s severe Islamafobia victimized many Muslim students and their faculty, regardless of whether they were Palestinian. The first time I received discrimination as a Muslim student was when I took Prof Ilan Peleg’s class. His biases were so severe that it was enough to poison any miner’s canary. When I wanted to report him, Dean Gray told me I couldn’t. He said You would be risking the college against a Jewish Professor.
      One of the commenters mentions Judio’s Christian values. The Jesus I learned from my Quran told me we are all equals in his eyes!

    • M

      mr. potatoheadMar 9, 2023 at 9:43 am

      ur a potato

    • M

      Mara GoldOct 27, 2023 at 11:51 am

      This is excellent news. SJP is not an intellectually honest organization. They spew false information and hatred. They cause trouble on every campus that allows them. They’re a hate group. Glad Lafayette didn’t buckle under pressure to support them.