The following is a guest column written and fully endorsed by the campus organization Students for Justice in Palestine.
Student activism is an integral part of the Northwestern campus. All activism groups aim to engage the student population and affect change, and Students for Justice in Palestine is no different. SJP is a student organization that works in solidarity with the Palestinian people and supports their right to self-determination and full equality. Yet unlike many other student groups, we face significant resistance on campus.
Those that disagree with our mission – which is to work for justice and equal rights for Palestinians – have accused us of anti-Semitism, hate speech and promoting violence. This baseless criticism attempts to distract from SJP’s real message about the systemic oppression of Palestinians by the state of Israel. Furthermore, SJP is accused of bias when advocating for human rights. SJP is explicitly an anti-discriminatory organization that stands against occupation and oppression everywhere it occurs. We are primarily a Palestinian solidarity organization that responds to the call from Palestine for international support, but we actively support other struggles as well.
There is a clear discrepancy in the treatment of SJP in comparison to pro-Israel groups in campus media, which serves to marginalize SJP’s voice and the voices of Palestinians. When campus journalism covers issues related to SJP or Palestine, it creates a false dichotomy between pro-Palestine and pro-Israel voices when it mandates that they must always appear together, a dichotomy that erases the experiences of Palestinians and further marginalizes Palestinian voices.
Moreover, this “balanced” approach to reporting is enforced for stories covering pro-Palestine events, but not stories that uphold support for Israel. Last month, SJP, in partnership with MEChA, constructed an apartheid wall to help students understand the experience of occupation. Coverage of this event featured two paragraphs quoting a representative from Wildcats for Israel and four quoting a representative from J Street U. No SJP members or Palestinians were quoted. Last week, SJP’s banner at the Arch was stolen overnight. The coverage of the theft allowed Wildcats for Israel to twist the article into a debate over facts and politics, distracting from the violation of free speech that occurred.
This “balance” is lacking from coverage of pro-Israel events: when Chabad sponsored a talk by former Israeli ambassador Danny Ayalon, both The Daily Northwestern and North by Northwestern quoted members of pro-Israel groups but did not provide a space for SJP or Palestinians to comment on the political events of our opponents.
The voices of SJP members are deemed “radical” and omitted from coverage of both pro-Palestine and pro-Israel events while publications defer to quoting the same pro-Israel organizations time after time. In addition to this asymmetry, campus media’s juxtaposing of SJP, Wildcats for Israel and J Street sets up a false political spectrum where SJP is represented as radical, Wildcats for Israel as the valid voice of dissent, and J Street steps in as a mediator. This is a false construction, and each group should be considered not by their positioning by the media but by their actual purpose: Wildcats for Israel exists to promote the state of Israel, J Street exists to promote an American-brokered two-state solution and SJP exists to secure justice and equal rights for Palestinians.
This discrepancy in coverage permeates every piece that speaks to the plight of Palestinians. Campus media twists the personal experiences of Palestinians into political narratives by publishing opposing opinions. When Palestinians share their personal stories campus media publishes political responses from pro-Israel groups. This denies Palestinians a platform on which to share their personal experiences, while disrespecting and marginalizing Palestinian narratives. This insinuates that even expressing a Palestinian identity necessitates some kind of “balanced” perspective. However, when Israeli students share their experiences, like basketball player Nof Kedem, they are presented as a personal narrative divorced from political debate.
As one of many groups on campus that fight oppression, we demand equal treatment for SJP and any other group that faces discrimination in the news. We invite you to question, and even demand fair coverage in campus media.