By Jordan Valinsky, CNN
New York — The Anti-Defamation League sent an open letter to more 200 colleges and universities Wednesday, urging administrators to investigate campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine for allegedly supporting Hamas.
The letter, written in conjunction Brandeis Center, a Jewish human rights legal advocacy group, said that many SJP chapters have endorsed Hamas’ attack on Israel that left more than 1,400 dead. The United States has designated Hamas as a foreign terrorist organization.
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The ADL said any financial support the chapters may have made to bolster Hamas’ cause could violate federal and state laws that prevent Americans from materially supporting terror groups. The letter, which called for universities to “investigate” individual chapters of SJP, provided no evidence to indicate that SJP had provided material or financial support for Hamas.
SJP denied the ADL’s claims. In a response, SJP directed CNN to a letter Palestine Legal sent to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Wednesday. Citing similar opposition to DeSantis’ call for state universities to “deactivate” SJP chapters because of their “material support for terrorism,” the national SJP chapter disputed the organization and its local chapters support terror groups.
“Independent protests and organizing in support of Palestinian rights do not constitute ‘material support for terrorism,’” the pro-Palestine legal defense group said in its letter to DeSantis.
Columbia’s SJP chapter said in a statement to CNN that it refused to engage with the ADL, arguing it “demonizes nonviolent tactics by Palestinian activists.”
The ADL said that the SJP chapters are “not advocating for Palestinian rights; they are celebrating terrorism.”
The ADL said “rhetoric and activity” from SJP chapters on campuses across the country has “escalated significantly” in recent weeks, accusing some SJP chapters of “explicitly” endorsing the actions of Hamas and their “armed attacks on Israeli civilians.”
One example, provided by the ADL was a statement issued by the national SJP chapter on October 12, less than a week after Hamas’ attack, celebrating a “historic win for the Palestinian resistance: across land, air, and sea, our people have broken down the artificial barriers of the Zionist entity, taking with it the façade of an impenetrable settler colony and reminding each of us that total return and liberation to Palestine is near.”
In another example cited by the ADL, the University of Virginia chapter of SJP released a statement on October 8, proclaiming “a step towards a free Palestine…. freedom is not a matter of it but when. We stand in solidarity with Palestinian resistance fighters….” The chapter did not respond to a request for comment.
The ADL’s letter called on campuses to update their codes of conduct to forbid students from supporting terrorism. The ADL warned that if colleges don’t act on the issue, they could foster an environment of discrimination against Jewish students.
“By investigating these concerns, you can uphold your University’s responsibility to maintain a safe learning environment on campus for its Jewish students,” the ADL and Brandeis said in the letter.
The national SJP chapter says on its website it organizes support for students to “push forward demands for Palestinian liberation and self-determination on their campuses.” The group does not mention any support for Hamas.
Controversy on campus
Since the October 7 attacks in Israel, US college campuses have become a flashpoint for the war between Hamas and Israel.
For example, influential donors to Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania said they would cut ties to the schools in protest of college administrators’ response to alleged anti-Israel speech and antisemitism on campuses in the wake of Hamas’ terror attacks.
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Some pro-Palestinian student groups have blamed Israel for Hamas’ attack. Most notably, a joint statement released by the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Groups, a coalition of Harvard student groups, following the attacks by Hamas led to a massive donor exodus and created a wave of tension on campus. The letter, which many signatories later distanced themselves from, said, “We, the undersigned student organizations, hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.”
In some instances, instructors have been removed from the classroom. At Stanford University, officials are investigating reports that during a discussion on the conflict between Israel and Hamas, an instructor downplayed the Holocaust and singled out students “based on their backgrounds and identities.”
Further, a conservative nonprofit organized a “doxxing truck” – a billboard truck that drove near college campuses and displayed the names and photos of students whose organizations signed the statement blaming Israel.
On Wednesday, a mobile billboard truck drove outside the entrance of Columbia University displaying the names and faces of students that the conservative nonprofit responsible for the truck says were linked to a statement blaming Israel for the Hamas terror attack.
The mobile billboard arrived just as a pro-Palestinian protest was taking place on campus.
The group said the students whose names and faces were displayed on the Columbia truck were linked to a statement published earlier this month by Palestinian solidarity groups at that university.
That statement called the loss of life in the war “deeply painful and heartbreaking” for Palestinians and Israelis. It also called for Columbia to “end its ties” with “apartheid Israel.”
“The weight of responsibility for the war and casualties undeniably lies with the Israeli extremist government and other Western governments, including the U.S. government, which fund and staunchly support Israeli aggression, apartheid and settler-colonization,” the statement said.
Columbia did not comment on the truck and referred CNN to an earlier statement by the school’s president, Minouche Shafik .
“Some students, including at Columbia, have been victims of doxing,” Shafik said last week. “This form of online harassment, involving the public posting of names and personal information, has been used by extremists to target communities and individuals. This kind of behavior also will not be tolerated and should be reported through appropriate school channels. When applicable, we will refer these cases to external authorities.”
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