The battle over college speech will outlive the encampments

Early on the afternoon of Nov. 10, Jameel Jaffer, the director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, was on his way into a meeting in Low Library, the domed neoclassical building at the center of campus, when an administrator pulled him aside. The school, the administrator said, was about to announce the suspensions of the campus chapters of the organizations Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace, an allied anti-Zionist organization — a move that alarmed Jaffer given the fraught politics of the moment.

The day after Hamas’s brazen Oct. 7 attack on military and civilian targets in Israel, the S.J.P. and J.V.P. chapters co-signed an open letter declaring “full solidarity with Palestinian resistance.” The letter described the attacks as “an unprecedented historic moment for the Palestinians of Gaza” and a “counteroffensive against their settler-colonial oppressor.” It would be tantamount to “asking for quiet submission to systemic violence” for anyone to call for peace now, after years of Israeli violence and military campaigns against Palestinians. The groups issued a list of demands to the university — divestment from companies doing business with the Israeli government, the end of Columbia’s affiliation with Tel Aviv University and a recognition of Palestinian “existence and humanity” — and announced a demonstration on Oct. 12 on the steps of Low Library. They signed off: “See you Thursday.”

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