OFFICIAL STATEMENT ISSUED BY JOHN JAY’S STUDENT COUNCIL AND STUDENTS FOR JUSTICE IN PALESTINE
In a statement made in collaboration between Student Council and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), we formally condemn the cancellation of the Palestinian Lives Conference, scheduled to take place on May 14th, 2022, in commemoration of Nakba Day. The event that included two Palestinian liberation organizations, Within Our Lifetime and Existence is Resitance, began the planning months in advance to educate students and others about the ethnic cleansing behind the establishement of Israeli settler colonial rule in 1948.
May 15th is a significant day because it is the Palestinian day to commemorate the Nakba, the day in which nearly 800,000 Indigenous Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their land in 1948. This is only the recorded number, the real amount is assumed to be over one million.
To commemorate this travesty, the Student Council, in collaboration with John Jay’s SJP, organized a day-long conference to educate on Palestinian culture and speak to the issues of colonialism, imperialism, and Palestinian liberation. The event included multiple speakers who planned to speak on a range of issues, including on the Palestinian culture as well as the different forms of state sanctioned violence Palestinians face across the West Bank, Gaza, and within the 48’ borders.
In response, the John Jay administration abruptly canceled the event, claiming the students failed to meet all of the necessary requirements for planning an event on campus. However, the organizers of the conference have met all of the administrative deadlines and requirements, and John Jay is instead using procedure as a pretext for censorship and discrimination.
Approvals for eligible CUNY vendors were sent on April 1st. The organizers then waited until they were allowed to submit the contractual paperwork on April 26th, ahead of the May 2nd due date. Organizers formally submitted the space planning forms on April 29th which were reserved.
On May 5th, the John Jay administration allegedly heard for the first time of the Palestinian Lives Conference from John Jay’s Townhall meeting. Since then, the event has been surveilled, interrogated, and squashed. The John Jay administration used administrative and bureaucratic barriers as a defense for their reasoning that the event could not go on. In actuality, the excuse that the students did not follow the proper procedures was clearly pretextual given the fact that procedural requirements initially given for any event were already met as mentioned prior.
President Berezhansky had subsequently been invited to a meeting on May 6th to discuss all of the logistics with the spacing, student life and public safety departments. He was told at that meeting that the organizers did not meet the additional standards of the different parties present at that meeting and so they agreed to reconvene on May 9th to have all of the final details for final approval. Later that evening, at close of business, the Student Council received word in a closed door meeting that the event was canceled with no follow up meeting.
The impression given to the organizers over the course of May 6th to May 9th was that if they were able to submit additional materials and make some accommodations they would be able to move ahead with the conference on the planned date.
On May 8th, the Student Council subsequently drafted a corrected, detailed and condensed event proposal for the administrators to approve. This proposal captured all of the necessary information required for student-organized events. Ultimately, the event continued to be blocked with no adequate reasons provided by administrators, and it became apparent they had already made up their minds before any discussions with the organizers.
In meetings with John Jay College’s Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs and administrators from the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership (CSIL), Public Safety and Theater and Spacing, between May 6th and May 9th, the students stressed the significance of May 15th and importance that the event go on as scheduled the day before to commemorate Nakba Day. Additionally the organizers had emphasized that some of the speakers had made their travel arrangements to attend. They were repeatedly dismissed by administrators and were told postponing the event was the only option.
In one meeting on May 12th with John Jay President Karol Mason, the students and organizers were met with excessive hostility. Mason, who just returned from her trip to Israel a few days before, repeated the same vague wording about failing to meet event planning “protocols.” The students and organizers insisted that she clearly identify which forms they failed to provide, or what protocols they failed to follow, but President Mason was unable to give a sufficient response. This kind of vague wording has been a repeated phenomenon throughout multiple meetings with administration.
CUNY, and John Jay in particular, has a long history of enabling and paritipcaing in the surveillance, harassment, and censorship of Palestinian students and their allies, particularly Arab and Muslim students. The John Jay administration has shown no interest in advocating or supporting these students as demonstrated in President Mason’s recent trip to Israel, directly normalizing a violent settler colonial regime at the expense of Palestinian students.
Chancellor Rodriguez promoted this trip as a “weeklong tour of the country’s cities, historic sites, and higher education institutions” in conjunction with “educational leaders” while boasting about visiting, “…East and West Jerusalem and its holy sites for three of the world’s major religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; Tel Aviv-Jaffa and some communities bordering the Gaza Strip; and Ramallah in the West Bank.”
This language normalizes relations with a settler colonial and apartheid state that has committed mass amounts of violence against Palestinians for over seven decades and extends its brutality towards the Palestinian diaspora and their allies; the very Palestinians and allies that walk the halls of CUNY, and more specifically, John Jay college.
Further, Chancellor Rodriguez claimed this “tour” would include a “diverse experience” and help CUNY “find common ground in a climate of complex political and religious significance” to “enrich perspectives” at CUNY. Using the term “complex” implies that there is equal footing between Israel and Palestinians. Framing it in this light significantly undermines the Palestinian struggle against a nuclear powered, highly militarized, and imperial backed settler colonial state.
This is not an issue of religion. Israel is a colonizing entity which exploits the land, culture, and history of Palestine and Palestinians, the colonized people. Palestinians, regardless of their religion, are targeted by the occupation forces as we saw with the raid on the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Palestinians in every inch of the occupied land of Palestine, in refugee camps, in our colleges, are targeted for being Palestinian. Framing it as anything else is dishonest at best.
This narrative is an intentional one curated by Zionists who seek to whitewash the extent of brutality that Israel commits and the severe trauma it continues to cause for generations of Palestinians. The Chancellor along with 10 other high ranking CUNY officials, including John Jay’s President Karol Mason, internalized this set of falsehoods.
In return, they will regurgiatate this false information to disenfranchise and create obstacles to any means of pro-Palestinian events and further target clubs such as SJP under the guise of the occupation of Palestine being “too complicated” or “complex.” However, there was nothing complicated when accepting a trip to Israel at the expense of their own students, further exemplifying CUNYs deep institutional ties to Israel.
It must be highlighted that this is a privilege that these officials enjoyed. Merely existing as Palestinian can get one barred from ever returning to their homeland, and those who dedicate their lives to the cause for liberation take on an added risk of heightened government surveillance. This is a sacrifice that these CUNY officials do not take on nor do they consider. They instead, continue to reap the benefits by collaborating with organizations and companies that fund the occupation of Palestine.
In 2021, off the back of an unprecedented civil rights and anti racist movement in US, Palestinians and their allies in the US took to the streets and social media to call for justice and human rights in Palestine – a summer of demonstrations and public events hitherto not seen in this country blossomed throughout New York City. CUNY Professors and students can attest to the growing thirst for knowledge on Palestine throughout the CUNY system, and the desire of CUNY students, faculty and staff to stand by the Palestinian people.
We would like to conclude that John Jay College must live up to its mission to “engage in transformative teaching and learning, both inside and outside the classroom.” John Jay’s administration must live up to fostering an “inclusive environment” by paying attention to the growing concerns of Palestinian students and their allies. The administration must heed to their intellectual needs and cultural rights are being stymied by what appears to be a callous and indifferent bureaucracy.
John Jay College, and CUNY at large, must commit to policies that promote Palestinian liberation as defined by Palestinians.
John Jay Student Council
John Jay Students for Justice in Palestine
John Jay Student Council Chief of Staff to the President
John Jay Student Council Chief of Staff to the Vice President
John Jay Student Council Executive Marketer
John Jay Student Council LGBTQ+ Liaison