The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

Should Students for Justice in Palestine Be a Recognized Student Organization?

SJP’s disruptive behavior and violation of University rules raises questions regarding the organization’s place on our campus.
Protestors+rallied+and+chanted+outside+of+Rosenwald+Hall+on+November+9%2C+2023.
Nikhil Jaiswal
Protestors rallied and chanted outside of Rosenwald Hall on November 9, 2023.

Has the time come to ask whether the activism of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) belongs on our campus? It’s not the morally reprehensible things they say that brings this question to the fore, as their speech is protected, but how they behave: in a way that violates campus rules and disrupts the University’s mission.

One thing I’ve absorbed in my 37 years at this University is that no matter how detestable speech can be, it should never be banned or suppressed.  Even if discourse tests one’s limits of tolerance, a university functions best when all ideas can be expressed. Take, for example, SJP’s long op-ed in The Maroon—updated from a piece written on October 11—justifying the butchery of Israelis by Hamas on October 7. In a breathtakingly obtuse and euphemistic statement, SJP claims that “the events of the past week have been historic and unprecedented by all measures. Last Saturday, for the first time in history, Palestinian resistance groups broke out of Gaza, reclaimed land from the Israeli occupation, and seized control of numerous Israeli military posts.” The “breaking out of Gaza,” as they call it, included a massive amount of violence and destruction. According to a tally of official Israeli statistics conducted by Al Jazeera, 1,139 people died, and there were mass rapes and other forms of sexual violence.  Additionally, 240 hostages were taken, most of them still in captivity. And, of course, no land was reclaimed. This statement alone, in line with the national organization’s similar pronouncement (complete with the logo of an armed Hamas paraglider), renders SJP morally reprehensible, odious, and hateful, seemingly promoting terrorism. But although I believe any moral person should be sickened by these words, they constitute protected free speech, don’t violate University regulations, and should be discussed openly—as I just did. What should make us question whether SJP belongs on campus is not because it says loathsome things like this, but because of the actions it takes.

At the end of last year, the organization and its umbrella group, UChicago United for Palestine (the latter not a recognized student organization), have repeatedly violated the University’s Protest and Demonstrations Policy, including by engaging in demonstrations during prohibited hours without permits, deplatforming a group of peacefully assembled Jewish students, sitting-in in campus buildings, disrupting classes using loud megaphones, and blocking access to buildings. While these actions have led to some arrests, the legal charges have been dropped. This still leaves the possibility of institutional punishment, but whether the University will pursue the charges, or what the punishments will be—if any—are never disclosed to the University community. Unless punishments for such violations become public (names need not be given), there is no deterrent to illegally disrupting University activities. Punishments for other prohibited behaviors, like sexual harassment and assault, are publicized in a yearly report, so why not trespassing?

SJP does not aim to further campus discourse about the Israel–Hamas war, but rather to bully the rest of us into accepting their ideological views through verbal intimidation and interference with our mission to teach, learn, and do research. Violation of university policies has led to SJP being banned on other campuses, including Columbia University and The George Washington University.

The continual disruption of our campus and violation of University regulations raises the question of whether SJP as a campus group is involved in these actions. If so, we should ponder whether that group should be a recognized student organization. At the very least, student organizations should enrich the mission of the University: promoting discourse and enriching our intellectual life. SJP does none of this, for their mission seems to be purely ideological: to promote Hamas and whitewash its terrorism—as well as to erase the state of Israel—all through disrupting campus activity. If it is to remain, it should at least desist from violating University regulations.

Finally, to deter organizations from such violations, it’s imperative that our administration not only warn and then punish violators, but also let us know that punishments have been levied. If University regulations of conduct aren’t enforced, they become toothless. And that simply encourages further disruption.

Jerry A. Coyne is professor emeritus in the Department of Ecology and Evolution.

 

Editor’s note, January 25, 2024: This piece was updated to more accurately reflect updated reporting on the casualty count of the October 7 attacks. This was done with the consent of and in collaboration with the piece’s author.

23
View Comments (23)
Donate to Chicago Maroon
$560
$2000
Contributed
Our Goal

Your donation makes the work of student journalists of University of Chicago possible and allows us to continue serving the UChicago and Hyde Park community.

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Nikhil Jaiswal, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Nikhil Jaiswal is a member of the Class of 2024 from Connecticut. He has worked for The Maroon since 2020, starting as a reporter  and then working as an editor in the News section; covering a range of topics but with a focus on breaking news, rallies, and labor movements. You can find his writing here on The Maroon’s website and live coverage written by him and other members of the News section on the @NewsMaroon twitter account. In his free time, Nikhil enjoys getting free merch on campus. Send tips to nikhildjaiswal@protonmail.com
Donate to Chicago Maroon
$560
$2000
Contributed
Our Goal

Comments (23)

All Chicago Maroon Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • R

    rich / Jan 28, 2024 at 7:13 am

    SJP is no different than the KKK in their racism

    Reply
  • C

    Christopher Iacovetti / Jan 25, 2024 at 2:11 pm

    I am at a loss to understand how this article passed Viewpoints’ fact-checking process. Editorial corrections and apologies should be issued at once for the following claims:

    1) Coyne alleges that SJP’s latest op-ed “justif[ies] the butchery of Hamas against Israelis.” This is an outright lie. SJP has never, either in their recent op-ed or in previous statements, made any attempt to “justify” violence against Israeli civilians. On the contrary, SJP devotes an entire paragraph of their op-ed to distinguishing between legitimate war *aims* and illegitimate war *conduct*. In that paragraph, they explicitly speak of “Palestinian war crimes” committed on October 7 and analogize them to “atrocities” committed by Nat Turner’s men, the ANC, and the French Resistance. It is true that SJP argues against “emphasizing” Hamas’ war crimes as a means of diverting attention from the “structural causes of violence” (e.g., the context of Israel’s military occupation), but it is simply slanderous to call this a justification of acts that SJP’s own statement describes as war crimes and atrocities.

    2) Coyne alleges that Palestinian groups engaged in “the slaughter and torture of around 1,200 civilians” on October 7. Putting aside the rapidly growing body of evidence that a considerable percentage of that day’s deaths were inflicted by the Israeli military itself, there is no basis whatsoever for Coyne’s claim that 1,200 civilians died at anyone’s hands on October 7. In fact, not even the outdated article cited by Coyne backs up this claim: it reports that Israel’s mid-November estimate of the day’s total deaths hovered around 1,200, but says nothing about the number of civilian deaths in particular. It is alarming that Viewpoints fact-checkers failed to spot an omission as key as this. In reality, according to Israel’s latest social security data, “The final death toll from the attack is now thought to be *695 Israeli civilians*, including 36 children, as well as 373 security forces and 71 foreigners, giving a total of 1,139.” So, Coyne’s civilian death figure is off-base by a margin of almost 2:1, and he provides no source at all to support his claim that *all* such deaths were inflicted by Palestinian militants – a claim that not even Israeli police concur with. Given the diligence with which I have personally seen Viewpoints fact-checkers scrutinize other articles, and the kinds of factually uncontroversial claims I have seen them require sources for, I am puzzled as to why these same individuals gave a pass to Coyne.

    3) Coyne accuses SJP of “deplatforming a group of peacefully assembled Jewish students” during an October rally. SJP did nothing of the sort. Having personally been there, I can attest that what happened is this: Maroons for Israel and other groups decided to hold a rally immediately adjacent to the area where they knew SJP and UCUP would be mobilizing/chanting, as the latter had been doing every day since October 12. Before the pro-Israel rally began, an SJP leader spoke with a pro-Israel student leader, exchanged phone numbers with her, and agreed to monitor the situation in order to ensure that no physical confrontation ensued. He then spoke in a megaphone (twice) imploring pro-Palestinian students to refraining from confronting, antagonizing, or interacting with pro-Israel students during the rally. While it is true that SJP/UCUP engaged in chants during high-traffic periods – as they had been doing every day, and as they told the pro-Israel student leader they would continue to do on that day – they did nothing to specifically *target,* much less “deplatform,” the group of counter-protestors who had chosen to position themselves directly beside them. Moreover, the only physical confrontation that ensued on that day was when a pro-Israel student approached the SJP/UCUP rally, called one of its nonwhite participants a “terrorist,” and attempted to swat a megaphone out of her hand. SJP members intervened at once to deescalate the situation and establish a clear divide between the two rallies.

    (4) Coyne declares that “SJP does not aim to further campus discourse about the Israel–Hamas war, but rather to bully the rest of us into accepting their ideological views.” This is yet another lie, not only lacking in evidence but completely opposed to it. As anyone who has spent time on the quad can attest, SJP members have devoted countless hours to speaking with students of differing ideological backgrounds, answering questions posed by those who approach their table, organizing educational events and initiatives, and even engaging in respectful conversation with counter-protestors willing to do the same. What evidence exists to justify Coyne’s claim that SJP’s aim is to “bully” rather than educate the UChicago community? And more importantly, why didn’t Viewpoints see fit to require any?

    (5) Finally, Coyne declares that SJP’s mission is “to promote Hamas.” He cites no source to support this claim, presumably because none exists. SJP UChicago has a long and accessible track record of published statements, recorded talks, and social media posts. Were SJP’s mission really to “promote Hamas,” surely some scintilla of evidence could be dug up indicating support for the group to which they are so “ideological[ly]” devoted. But again, none exists. Look all you want. This claim is a concoction of Professor Coyne’s imagination. The question is why Viewpoints fact-checkers saw no reason to challenge it, or even to request supporting evidence.

    It’s important to underscore that these are factual objections, not ideological ones. I understand that Viewpoints is committed to publishing a range of perspectives – including, apparently, those supportive of an ongoing genocide. That isn’t my concern here. My concern is that, just one year after Viewpoints issued a formal apology for publishing slanderous lies about SJP, it is doing the same thing all over again. This would be unacceptable under any circumstance, but it is especially disgraceful in a political moment such as this. As it is, Palestinian solidarity movements are being slandered and suppressed by US lawmakers, Palestinian Americans are being murdered, pro-Palestinian demonstrators are facing violent attacks – all against the backdrop of a horrific US-backed genocide in Gaza. That Viewpoints would choose to publish an article as openly slanderous and factually baseless as Coyne’s in this moment reflects something worse than journalistic sloppiness: it reflects indifference to the very real threats such defamation poses to already bereaved and fearful Palestinians in the UChicago community.

    Reply
    • J

      Jacob Myrene / Jan 25, 2024 at 4:09 pm

      CHECK and MATE. But we’re meant to believe the Israeli SHILLS in the comments that this article—cough cough, propaganda piece—was written in good faith? We’re really at the point where the DINOSAURS of this place—past and present—are weaponizing this University’s culture of free speech to suppress ideas they disagree with. RSOs must meet Coyne’s arbitrary standards to be legitimate.

      The Israeli SHILLS have really lost the plot. Go away. As obnoxious as the pro-Palestinians were months ago, the zealots are nowhere in site. Not that the armchair intellectualist DINOSAURS who graduated 50 years ago in this comment section would know, given their shriveling minds gobble up whatever fodder Fox News presents to them as they gaze mindlessly at the television in their retirement home clutching to the fading memory of their halcyon years. 🙂

      I mean, seriously y’all: the shills are out in full force. Either bots or bought out. At least make your whining believable.

      Reply
    • N

      Not an antisemite / Jan 25, 2024 at 5:48 pm

      Literal Holocaust denier claiming factual errors, that’s rich. Antisemites like you are a blight upon our campus, and we are grateful for the free speech we all enjoy here so you can expose your ugly personalities.

      You’re either aware of the complete falsehoods you’re writing here and are acting in bad faith, or are so blissfully uninformed that you have no business engaging in any intellectual work.

      The Maroon’s apology for the previous piece was shameful – it was completely truthful, and it was the apoligy itself that was slanderous against the writer of the piece.

      SJP are the modern-day Klan.

      Reply
    • H

      Henry / Jan 25, 2024 at 8:01 pm

      There’s something poetic about demanding that someone “apolog[ize] at once” for saying “SJP [intends to] bully the rest of us into accepting their ideological views through verbal intimidation.”

      Reply
    • H

      Have you no shame? / Jan 29, 2024 at 4:40 pm

      Literal Holocaust denier claiming factual errors, that’s rich. Antisemites like you are a blight upon our campus, and we are grateful for the free speech we all enjoy here so you can expose your ugly personalities.

      You’re either aware of the complete falsehoods you’re writing here and are acting in bad faith, or are so blissfully uninformed that you have no business engaging in any intellectual work.

      The Maroon’s apology for the previous piece was shameful – it was completely truthful, and it was the apoligy itself that was slanderous against the writer of the piece.

      SJP are the modern-day Klan.

      Reply
  • E

    Elliot S. Gershon / Jan 25, 2024 at 11:40 am

    Thank you, Jerry Coyne, for voicing what is a widespread opinion among the silent majority of faculty and students. The chaos and intimidation spread by SJP and others demonstrating for Hamas is intolerable and deserves firm punitive actions in response. Here at UChicago this would include active responses by our campus Deans and police, who have so far been largely passive. Nationally, it would include arrests and clearing the demonstrators disrupting airports and highways around the United States.

    Reply
    • J

      Jacob Myrene / Jan 25, 2024 at 4:27 pm

      What on earth are you rambling on about? You’re practically frothing at the mouth. The only place the “silent majority” exists is in your imagination. Begone.

      Reply
  • J

    Jing Chen / Jan 25, 2024 at 9:37 am

    Well said Jerry!! Thanks for this great piece on free speech.

    Reply
  • R

    Richard A. Shweder / Jan 25, 2024 at 9:26 am

    Jerry Coyne’s timely opinion piece makes a factual claim and raises a normative question. The factual claim is that Students for Justice in Palestine (the student organization known as SJP) has repeatedly violated the University of Chicago’s Protest and Demonstration policy. His normative question is this one: How should an academic community such as our own react when a recognized student organization repeatedly violates our norms, rules, and procedures for free expression? For example, should they no longer be officially recognized as a student organization? In the spirit of the type of dialogue and debate we value at our university, why not read Professor Coyne’s Op-Ed as an invitation to actually engage the factual claim and the normative question? Is the factual claim refutable? If not, do you have good reasons for arguing that the violations are justified? What is the proper administrative or faculty response (if any) to repeated violations of the sort described? Dear Reader: What are your views?

    Reply
  • H

    Harald Uhlig / Jan 24, 2024 at 8:38 pm

    Well said, Jerry! Free speech can only work if granted to those one disagrees with, without bullying or intimidation. Free speech is a two-way street. SJP needs to stand up and make clear that they disavow the disruptions and bullying that have happened and that all students and faculty, regardless of their faith and beliefs, are welcome on campus. Their actions so far speak a different language. Clear boundaries must be set and are set as part of University regulations. Violations must be met with consequences. SJP should be banned if they keep this up.

    Reply
  • G

    George Glauberman / Jan 24, 2024 at 2:56 pm

    As a mathematician, I try very hard to avoid errors in my published work. Similarly, I am very embarrassed when the university engages in false advertising. I think many students, possibly a majority, chose to come here partly because we advertise our commitment to the Chicago Principles of free speech. If I were a student who came here expecting free speech, I would appreciate the good aspects of the university, but I would feel cheated by its allowing blatant violations of its advertised free speech policy by students and professors who try to bully me into keeping my mouth shut unless I agree with them.

    Reply
  • J

    John Reinitz / Jan 24, 2024 at 11:29 am

    Jerry makes an excellent point. We’ve already seen the University fail to recognize organizations as RSOs for (thinly disguised) political reasons, although you’ll have to go to the Thinker, rather than the Maroon, to read about it. Violation of University rules against disruption of other people’s speech is sufficient reason to derecognize an RSO.

    Reply
  • M

    Manyuan Long / Jan 24, 2024 at 10:12 am

    Jerry, your comment is reasonable!

    Reply
  • C

    Craig McLaughlin / Jan 24, 2024 at 9:31 am

    Brilliant Jerry. Very well said.

    Your points, to any rational mind, should be obvious and applauded.

    You defend SJP’s right to speech, even given the abhorrent nature of their speech, and then simply state that they should obey the university’s code of conduct and allow others that same right.

    Disruptive behaviour and de-platforming are absolutely antithetical to a university’s mission, especially when that mission is as enshrined as it is at UoC, and cannot be tolerated.

    If SJP cannot abide by that very simple mission then they have to go. I suspect at no great loss.

    Reply
  • P

    Paul Holloway / Jan 24, 2024 at 9:10 am

    Spot on, Jerry. I am a UC alum (PhD 1998) and I think you have threaded the needle here.

    Reply
  • J

    Jacob Myrene / Jan 23, 2024 at 3:20 pm

    Stay in your lane, Jerry! Your job is to teach ecology to the few remaining warm bodies that exist in that department, not to advance pro-Israel dogma under the guise of wanting to “enrich” our community. All you’ve accomplished with this piece is to alienate yourself from your colleagues. Faculty should refrain from speaking about politics at all costs. Now begone!

    Reply
    • M

      Michael / Jan 24, 2024 at 11:13 am

      Did you actually read the article??? Please give examples of this pro-Israel dogma you speak of.

      Reply
    • R

      Ralph Canisbay / Jan 24, 2024 at 4:00 pm

      Aaaaaaand, he completely misses the point of the letter; should the sometimes violent suppression of free speech by SJP be tolerated on the university campus? The answer, of course, is no. They can say whatever they want, within reason, but must also allow voices disagreeing with them to be heard.

      Reply
    • L

      Leslie MacMillan / Jan 24, 2024 at 6:14 pm

      But Prof. Coyne did not advance pro-Israel dogma or contest the right of others to advance anti-Israel propaganda. He spoke against those who try to suppress speech through intimidation and other actions that violate the University’s code of conduct. That is not a political position but a position that ought to be at the heart of a community of scholars.

      Reply
    • J

      Jeff Wetherssen / Jan 24, 2024 at 7:52 pm

      Ah, ’Stay in your lane’. Synonymous with ‘Stop reading now’ to sensible people. I should have stopped, but masochism dictated otherwise, and now I feel somewhat intimidated, as given your opening remark, you are obviously a certified professional website commenter.

      At the risk of straying from my own lane, I must say your snark about ’the few remaining warm bodies’ is not particularly charming. But as a lane-hogging professional website commenter, you already know that. Also, emeritus professors do not teach, damn confusing these lanes, aren’t they?

      Moving to the one empirical claim you made, that Prof Coyne wishes to ‘advance pro-Israel dogma’. It’s amusingly easy to dismiss as it’s completely devoid of evidence.

      Your comment added nothing to this debate, offering only that you are annoyed and affronted.

      Reply
    • J

      Jacob Myrene / Jan 25, 2024 at 6:40 am

      Oh no, they’re out in full force! RUN! RUN! RUN before they doxx you like they did to those students at Harvard! How these mouthpieces reconcile their support of free expression with their advocacy of censorship is beyond me. Is the irony lost on them? Also, have any of you DINOSAURS stepped foot on campus in the past three months? Where are those “genocidal chants” you speak of?”

      ANND before you accuse me of being pro-Palestine: spare me the crocodile tears. You lot (Israelis and Palestinians alike) are equally insufferable to me. I find it hilarious when you incessantly whine and cry foul when you feel slighted, and corrupt UChicago’s ethos to vindicate your weird ideological agendas. This comment section is a testament to such idiocy. Get a grip, folks!

      Also, I will never understand why the DINOSAURS of UChicago shill for Israel. Must have been bought out. 🙂 Fixed as ever.

      Reply
  • P

    Peggy Mason / Jan 23, 2024 at 12:54 pm

    Well said, Jerry.

    Reply