BOSTON — Chanting “Hey! Hey! President Aoun, why do you act like a Zionist dude?” several dozen people marched on Huntington Avenue Tuesday to protest Northeastern University’s suspension of a pro-Palestinian undergraduate student group.
The protesters included students from Northeastern, Tufts University and Boston University. They objected to Northeastern’s suspension of Students for Justice in Palestine, or SJP, after the group, without permission, passed out leaflets in dorms on campus denouncing the demolition of Palestinian homes by the Israeli Defense Forces.
Two spokeswomen for Northeastern were observing the protest. They would not comment on the record, but did hand out a statement. It said, in part, that SJP was suspended “for multiple violations of university policy over an extended period of time.”
Max Geller, one of the former leaders of the student group, accused the university of singling SJP out.
“They said that we needed to have permission or have our leaflets approved,” Geller said. “If that is actually the policy, nobody on campus knows about it. People are distributing leaflets without university approval or flyers or advertisements for whatever it is they are passionate about all the time. These rules only seem to be in force when it’s Students for Justice in Palestine who are exercising their speech rights.”
Northeastern’s statement said “the university is committed to a free and open exchange of ideas within an atmosphere of civility and mutual respect.” But Sarah Wunsch, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, disagrees.
“We’ve been working with Students for Justice in Palestine at Northeastern since last year because the university has chosen to focus on them and punish them for their speech,” Wunsch said. “Even though this is a private university, the principles of freedom of speech still apply, and this university seems to be violating those hand over foot, left and right.”
The university statement said that the “issue at hand is not one of free speech or the exchange of disparate ideas.” Northeastern pointed out that it has not suspended a separate graduate student SJP group based at its law school, and said the suspension of the undergraduate student group addresses solely the group’s “repeated non-compliance with university standards and policies, which are applied equally and fairly to all student groups.”
Northeastern suspended the group until January.
Tori Porell, the suspended student group’s president, said it is being targeted because of the issue it wants to raise.
“Palestine is really kind of a third-rail issue on campuses,” Porell said. “It’s something you’re not supposed to talk about.”
Porell said at Northeastern, her group has experienced pressure from outside organizations such as the nonprofit Americans for Peace and Tolerance, which has accused her and her fellow students of supporting terrorism. That group’s president did not respond to a request for comment.