Updated: October 11, 2011
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a student organization with more than 75 chapters at American universities, has campaigned for boycott and divestment against corporations that deal with Israel, and organized various Palestine Awareness Week events that accuse Israel of war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide.
As one of the primary organizers of anti-Israel events on campus since its founding in 2001, SJP has consistently demonized Israel, describing its policies toward the Palestinians as racist and apartheid-like, and comparing Israelis to Nazis.
SJP's chapters, which have largely operated independently of each other, recently indicated that they plan to collaborate more closely and unite under a national umbrella organization. To this end, representatives from more than 40 SJP chapters across the country plan to attend the first national SJP conference taking place from October 14-16, 2011. The conference, titled, "Students Confronting Apartheid," will be held at Columbia University in New York.
SJP's "unification" efforts are a result of the influence and coordination of a national organization called American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), a group that promotes extreme anti-Israel views. In 2010, AMP decided to focus specifically on Palestinian advocacy on college campuses and targeted SJP for this effort. AMP organized various panels and conferences on the topic of Palestinian advocacy on campus and invited SJP students to both lead and participate in these discussions. AMP further indicated that it hoped to facilitate the re-establishment of a national SJP organization to increase the coordination and effectiveness of the dozens of disparate SJP chapters.
When the first SJP formed at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2001, the group organized a Palestine Solidarity Movement (PSM) conference to coordinate divestment efforts among anti-Israel groups around the country. (SJP alleged that UC Berkeley's investment in companies that do business with Israel amounts to "benefiting from the exploitation of Palestinians.") In the years that followed, PSM served as a national umbrella organization for various chapters of SJP and other anti-Israel groups around the country.
When PSM dissolved in 2006, however, SJP chapters ceased to collaborate with one another and were no longer officially connected through any national coalition.
In the past few years, SJP has been successful at expanding its reach and visibility, which can be somewhat attributed to the organization's use of online social media. There are more than 70 SJP groups and fan pages on Facebook, at least 55 of which are active groups from different American universities. There are several SJP Twitter profiles as well. The use of these networks enables SJP leaders to interact with other like-minded groups on and off campus, promote events to a larger number of recipients and learn about new campaigns or initiatives. Many of the SJP Facebook groups have several hundred members.
SJP chapters often work with other anti-Israel or Muslim and Arab groups on campus, and are involved in a wide range of programming, including:
§ Divestment Campaigns: Largely because of their pro-divestment roots, SJP chapters have been responsible for initiating divestment campaigns against Israel on various college campuses. Most recently, the SJP chapters at Hampshire College and the University of California, Berkeley, led well-organized efforts to get their universities to divest from companies that SJP alleges profit from the Israeli occupation. SJP chapters at at least five other universities have also tried to launch divestment campaigns on their campuses. To date, none of these efforts has been successful.
§ Palestine Awareness Week and Israeli Apartheid Week: Many SJP chapters designate one week every year as "Palestine Awareness Week" and hold a variety of events, including lectures, panel discussions, film screenings and demonstrations that criticize Israel and its policies toward the Palestinians.
The University of California, San Diego's SJP chapter is scheduled to host Amir Abdul Malik Ali, an anti-Semitic imam based on Oakland, California, for a speak-out during Palestine Awareness Week in May 2010. Malik Ali was also invited to an SJP-organized Palestine Awareness Week at UCLA in 2006.
Some SJP chapters designate this week to coincide with Israeli Apartheid Week, a series of events dedicated to demonizing Israel that has taken place in dozens of U.S. cities since 2005. Events are often held that compare Israel to apartheid South Africa and call for boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns to counter "Israeli apartheid" in a manner similar to what was used to end apartheid in South Africa.
§ Year-Round Programming: SJP groups also plan anti-Israel events throughout the school year. These events often seek to draw attention to Israel's alleged wrongdoings in a sensationalistic way. For example, several SJP groups have displayed props like mock "apartheid walls" and Israeli checkpoints on main areas of campus to demonize Israeli soldiers and attempt to demonstrate the travel difficulties Palestinians face in Israel and the territories. These events sometimes have the effect of intimidating or silencing Jewish students on campus.
At UCLA, the SJP and Muslim Student Association erected a mock wall in May 2008 that contained an American flag that had the 50 stars replaced by a Star of David to demonstrate Israel's alleged "control" over the U.S. At Arizona State University, SJP set up a mock checkpoint in March 2010 and some of its members wore yarmulkes when simulating how Israeli soldiers conduct searches.
§ Viva Palestina: Several SJP chapters recently assisted and participated in Viva Palestina, a pro-Hamas campaign that has sent three convoys to Gaza since February 2009. Between March and August 2009, the SJP chapters at Pennsylvania State University, the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, and the University of California, San Diego, sponsored appearances by the convoy's leader, British parliamentarian George Galloway, and other participants in Viva Palestina convoys. The SJP at PSU also raised money for and participated in the second convoy, which traveled to Gaza in July 2009.
§ Protests of Pro-Israel Events on Campus: SJP chapters sometimes protest or hand out anti-Israel fliers at pro-Israel events on campus. In May 2008, for example, SJP at the University of Washington protested an Israel at 60 celebration by marching around the celebration with coffins and a sign that read, "60 Years too Long."
While much of SJP's programming takes place on campus, various SJP chapters regularly co-sponsor off-campus events with other national anti-Israel groups. SJP chapters helped various anti-Israel groups organize many of the protests against the winter 2008-2009 Gaza war and the events and demonstrations that took place to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Palestinian "Nakba" in 2008.