| CounterSpin interview with Sam on Students for Justice in Palestine | MR Online

‘This weaponization is meant to shift focus away from Gaza’

Originally published: FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) on April 29, 2024 (more by FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting))  | (Posted May 02, 2024)

Janine Jackson interviewed Sam, representative from National Students for Justice in Palestine, for the April 26, 2024, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

Janine Jackson: There is a long and growing list of U.S. college campuses where encampments and other forms of protests are going on, in efforts to get college administrations to divest their deep and powerful resources from weapons manufacturers, and other ways and means of enabling Israel’s war on Palestinians, assaults that have killed some 34,000 people just since the Hamas attack of October 7.

One key group on campuses has been SJP, Students for Justice in Palestine. It’s not a new, hastily formed group; they’ve been around and on the ground for decades.

We’re joined now by Sam, a representative of National Students for Justice in Palestine. Welcome to CounterSpin.

Sam: Thank you for having me.

| Middle East Eye 4824 | MR Online

Middle East Eye (4/8/24)

JJ: I can only imagine what a time this is for you, but certainly a time when the need for your group is crystal clear. Individuals who want to speak up about the genocide in Palestine are helped by the knowledge that there are other people with them, behind them, but also that there are organizations that exist to support them and their right to speak out. I wonder, is that maybe especially true for students, whose rights exist on paper, but are not always acknowledged in reality?

S: Yes and no. I think a lot of people definitely want to support students, because what we’re doing is very visible, and also I think people are more willing to assume good faith from 20-year-olds. At the same time, also, free speech on college campuses, especially private campuses, the First Amendment doesn’t apply. So if you’re on a campus, that means that it is sometimes harder to speak out, especially because we’re seeing students getting suspended, and when they get suspended, they get banned from campus, they get evicted from their student housing, sometimes they lose access to healthcare. And, basically, the schools control a lot more of students’ lives than any institution does for adults in the workforce, for example.

JJ: Right. So what are you doing day to day? You’re at National SJP, and folks should know that there are hundreds of entities on campuses, but what are you doing? How do you see your job right now?

S: SJP is a network of chapters that work together. It’s not like they’re branches, where we are giving them orders; they have full autonomy to do what they want within this network.

So what we’re doing is what we’ve been trying to do for our entire existence, which is act as a hub, act as a resource center, provide resources to students, connect them with each other, offer advice, offer financial support when we can. One thing we’re really trying to do is pull everything together, basically present a consistent narrative to the public around this movement.

| New York Times 42924 | MR Online

New York Times (4/29/24)

JJ: Speaking of narrative, the claim that anyone voicing anti-genocide or pro-Palestinian ideas is antisemitic is apparently convincing for some people whose view of the world comes through the TV or the newspaper. But it’s an idea that is blown apart by any visit to a student protest. It’s just not a true thing to say. And I wonder what you would say about narratives. It’s obviously about work, supporting people, but on the narrative space, what are you trying to shift?

S: I mean, I’m Jewish. I’m fairly observant. I was at a Seder last night. When people say the pro-Palestinian movement is antisemitic, they’re lying. I’m just flat-out saying I think a lot of people, on some level, know that this isn’t about Jews. This isn’t about Judaism. It’s about the fact that Israel is committing a genocide in our people’s name. And if you support it, that is going to lead people to make a bunch of bad inferences about you, because you’re vocally supporting a genocide.

This weaponization is meant to shift focus away from Gaza, away from Palestine, the people who are being massacred, the people whose bodies they found in a mass grave at a hospital yesterday. The point is to distract from the fact that there is no moral case to defend what Israel was doing. So the only thing that Zionists have going for them is just smears, attacking the movement, tone-policing, demanding we take stances that they’re never asked to take. No one ever asks pro-Israel protestors, “Do you condemn the Israeli government,” because Israel is seen as a legitimate entity.

First of all, I want to clarify, this is about Palestine. I don’t want to get too far into talking about how the genocide, the Zionist backlash to the movement, affects me as a Jewish person, because I have a roof over my head. There’s not going to be a bomb dropping into my home.

The narrative that we’re really trying to put out is this, what we’re calling the Popular University for Gaza, and it’s an overarching campaign narrative over this. Basically, the idea is that everything that’s happening is laying bare the fact that universities do not care about their students, or their staff, or their faculty, who are the people who make the university a university, and not just an investment firm. They care about their investments and profit and their reputation and, essentially, managing social change.

| Columbia University Press Blog 22719 | MR Online

Columbia University Press Blog (2/27/19)

So what we’re doing is, as students, making encampments, taking up space on their campuses. And a crucial part of these encampments is the programming in them. It’s drawing on the traditions of Freedom Schools in the ’60s and in the South, and also the Popular University for Palestine, which was a movement, I think it’s still ongoing, in Palestine, basically educators teaching for liberation, teaching about the history of Palestinian figures, about resistance, about colonialism.

But the idea is that students are inserting themselves, forcibly disrupting the university’s normal business; and threatening the university’s reputation is a big part of it, and just rejecting their legitimacy, establishing the Popular University for teaching, where scholarship is done for the benefit of the people, not for preserving hegemony.

With this whole thing, we’re trying to emphasize, basically, that our universities, they have built all these reputations and all these super great things about them, but they don’t care about the people in them. So we’re going to take the structures that make up them, which are the people within them, and essentially turn them toward liberation, and against imperialism, against the ruling class.

JJ: Well, thank you very much. I want to say it’s very refreshing, and refreshing is not enough. A lot of folks are drawing inspiration from hearing people say, “The New York Times is saying I’m antisemitic. Maybe I should shut up, you know? Media are saying I’m disruptive. Oh, maybe I should quiet down.” I don’t see any evidence of shutting up or quieting down, despite, really, the full narrative power, along with other kinds of power, being brought against protesters. It doesn’t seem to be shutting people up.

| Reuters 42924 | MR Online

Reuters (4/29/24)

S: No, because that’s the thing, is students have had enough, students are perfectly willing now to risk suspension, risk expulsion, because they know that, essentially, the university’s prestige has been shattered. Even me, I’m currently in school, I’m a grad student. I’ve realized, so far I’ve been OK, but even if I did get expelled, or forced to drop out of my program, that’s a risk I’m willing to take. That’s a tiny sacrifice compared to what people in Palestine are going through. We are willing to sacrifice our futures in a system that increasingly doesn’t give us a future anyway. I think that’s another big part of it, is the feeling that, basically, even if you get a degree, you’re still going to be living precariously for a decade.

And another thing is, also, that today’s college seniors graduated from high school in the spring of 2020. They never really had a normal college experience. Their freshman year was online, so they never developed the bonds with that university, traditional attachment to the university. And also, the universities, the way they handled Covid generally has been terrible, and just seeing them completely disregard their students during the pandemic, I think, has really radicalized a lot of students. Basically, they’re willing to defy the institution.

This is first and foremost about Gaza. It’s about the genocide, it’s about Palestine. It’s not about standing with Columbia students. They have repeatedly asked: Don’t center them; center Gaza. And, basically, we reject the university system as the arbiter of our futures, the arbiter of right and wrong. And we’re going to make our own learning spaces until they listen to us and stop investing our tuition dollars in genocide.

So yeah, free Palestine.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Sam from Students for Justice in Palestine, NationalSJP.org. Thank you so much, Sam, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

S: Yeah, thanks for having me.

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