SJPs on the East Coast have had a very successful year and have employed a variety of different tactics appropriate to each of their political terrains. In NYC, SJPs have grown a significant influence on campuses through their alliances with other student groups. In the public CUNY system, many of these student groups have come together to fight for free tuition and accessible admission practices, while making material connections between national oppression in the US and in Palestine. The Zionist Organization of America began its smear campaign of these SJPs in particular, but was defeated when the CUNY investigation uncovered no ties to anti-Semitism. SJPs in NYC have also been at the forefront of resisting New York State efforts to pass anti-BDS legislation by interrupting city council meetings and engaging in other forms of civil disobedience. UMass Amherst’s Graduate Employee Organization (GEO/UAW2322) passed a divestment resolution last April with an overwhelming majority, and Vassar College attempted the same in a valiant push to bring the cause of Palestinian liberation to the forefront of campus discourse and dismantle Israeli apartheid. George Mason University, in Fairfax, VA, was the host for this year’s National SJP conference, which brought together hundreds of students from around the country (and world, thanks largely to student organizers from Boston!) for political development and strategizing. Nearby in DC, Georgetown’s SJP has been pivotal in forming GU F.R.E.E. (Georgetown Forming a Radically Ethical Endowment), a group of students, faculty, and organizations that have rallied together to hold their University accountable for its role in perpetuating state violence, with the specific goal of eliminating its financial support of the private prison industry and the Israeli occupation. Other SJPs, such as Bi-Co SJP at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges in greater Philadelphia, have started boycott initiatives against brands like Sabra on their campuses as a strategic way to incite condemnation of Zionism. Neighboring Temple SJP, the host of our regional conference, played a significant role in the Stadium Stompers anti-gentrification campaign as well as founding an offshoot group, SJP Ona MOVE, in solidarity with Philly’s MOVE 9 and to fight for the freedom of political prisoners here, in Occupied Palestine, and beyond. Most recently, SJPs across the East region were critical in organizing Palestine contingents in the Women’s March in multiple cities and worked tirelessly to push the issue of Palestine in Marches that were largely devoid of intersectionality.
SJPs in the South face unique challenges given the political terrain and geographic isolation that serves as the backdrop for progressive work in the South. However, South SJPs continue to work against the grain to bring attention to the Palestinian question. The tactics used by SJPs in the South vary as much as those in any other region in the country. In Georgia, SJP at UGA produces great work in its struggle to forward the Palestinian cause. SJP at UGA has organized walk-outs, confronted Zionist organizations on campus, and has produced content in response various issues concerning the Palestinian cause. Emory SJP in Atlanta graciously hosted NSJP organizers for a retreat in September. In Texas, the Palestine Solidarity Committee has staged disruptions of public whitewashing campaigns, organized protests, hosted teach-ins, supported the struggles of communities of color, and led the charge against fascism in its current manifestation. The number of SJPs across the South continues to grow and SJPs in Florida, Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee, Virginia, etc. continue to demonstrate their resilience even in the face of conservative political atmosphere. We look forward to developing our work in the South and better connecting ourselves with the rest of the region, as well as the rest of the country.
This past April, SJP Midwest held its third annual regional conference at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Students from across the region gathered for a weekend full of political development and the beginnings of important conversations about the Midwest’s role in the national body of SJP.
At this conference, the Midwest established an election committee and an electoral process for five representatives. Besides that, a lot of important groundwork was laid at this conference. Despite a lot of Zionist backlash and intimidation, SJPers went back to their campuses from this gathering inspired to organize and do work on campus.
While that was one major highlight, SJP Midwest’s year started with a major win at University of Illinois at Chicago, which passed divestment unanimously through student government. The resolution demanded that the university divest Caterpillar, G4S, Hewlett Packard (HP), Boeing, and Lockheed Martin.
University of Indianapolis passed divestment a month after the SJP Midwest conference. The final vote for divestment was overwhelmingly in favor of SJP’s resolution, with 49 votes for, 12 against, and 11 abstentions.
SJP at the University of Chicago, in partnership with other organizations, launched UofC Divest in late March 2016 and successfully passed a historic divestment resolution in April. In May they held their annual Nakba Week which ended with a Palestinian Culture Night. During Fall Quarter, DocFilms, a theater on campus, featured a Palestine Film Series created by SJP. SJP at UofC also had a series of informational events on Gaza in December in commemoration of the 10th year of the blockade.
In November, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor’s Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE) pushed a divestment resolution through their student government for the third year in a row. While the student government voted the resolution down –– 34 votes against, 13 in favor, and 3 abstentions –– SAFE built powerful relationships on campus with other student organizers and has inspired chapters across the nation in their divestment campaigns.
Divestment is not the only type of action chapters in the Midwest have pursued this past year. Students at DePaul University mobilized against their administration’s attempts to faith-wash the occupation of Palestine with an exhibit titled “Building Bridges of Faith: Photographs of Papal Visits to the Holy Land, 1964-2012.” The exhibit featured photographs of key religious figures on occupied Palestinian land. SJP DePaul held signs with facts and photos exposing the colonial nature of the exhibit. In a press release published by SJP DePaul, they state, “We find fault in this art exhibit that depicts the Pope’s visit to Israel as one of acceptance and community because it turns a blind eye to the violence and racism prevalent in the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people... This exhibit contributes to the erasure of not only Palestinian history but also the voices of Palestinian students on this campus."
Amidst the inauguration of Trump, SJPs on the West Coast have taken action against the new administration. Students for Justice in Palestine at University of Washington took part in the national mobilizations against Trump, organizing within the broader community at University of Washington on Inauguration Day and protesting against white supremacist Milo Yiannopoulos, who came to their campus. UC Santa Cruz recently hosted a Know Your Rights workshop with the Muslim Student Association to prepare the larger UCSC community for the anticipated forms of repression under a Trump administration and to equip the community with the necessary knowledge for engaging in direct action. In Southern California, USC has also engaged in mobilizations against Trump this past week. Pushing the question of Palestine into the anti-Trump actions that have emerged across the nation is essential –– and fundamentally challenges the liberalism which would otherwise be content with a Democratic war hawk in office.
Other than the recent participation in anti-Trump organizing, SJPs on the West Coast have been organizing educational events, strategizing to fight anti-BDS legislation, and collaborating with people across struggle. For example, in early October, Stanford SJP and Berkeley SJP hosted Shirley Gunn, South African anti-Apartheid activist and current director of the Human Rights Media Centre in Cape Town. Shirley discussed her past experiences organizing with the African National Congress and her current work with survivors of Apartheid violence. Students gained a deeper understanding of the nature of South African resistance and the ongoing student movements in Cape Town, such as Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall.
The Annual National SJP Conference in November, hosted by George Mason University Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA), was an opportunity for SJP West chapters, new and old, to connect with each other and their regional representatives. The conference provided a space for SJP chapters that otherwise felt out of the loop to plug into the national network. SJPs on the West Coast look forward to meeting up for an annual retreat in the spring to check in and discuss strategy. Moving forward, SJPs will continue the work they have been doing in building coalitions and intersectional organizing. The way forward lies in further cross-movement solidarity towards collective liberation.