Revolution Interview:

Max Geller, Students for Justice in Palestine, Northeastern University

March 17, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |



Revolution Interview
A special feature of Revolution to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theater, music and literature, science, sports and politics. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere in our paper.


Editors' note: In a letter dated March 7, the administration at Northeastern University in Boston banned the student group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). The banning was in response to actions by activists in SJP exposing Israel’s policy of random, brutal, traumatic evictions of Palestinian people from their homes. (For background on Israel’s apartheid-like oppression of the Palestinian people, see “Israel and Apartheid: It's not a ‘Branding’ Problem—It's Reality,” at Max Geller, a member of SJP at Northeastern, spoke with Alan Goodman from Revolution. The following is a slightly edited transcript of that conversation.


Alan Goodman: Max, can you explain the situation that led to suspension of SJP at Northeastern?

Max Geller: Sure. Ahead of Israeli Apartheid Week, which is a national coordinated week of solidarity with Palestinian people in an effort to raise awareness on college campuses—in order to kick things off—we planned and did a door to door flyering campaign where we simulated and mimicked the Israeli practice of giving a very brief notice—four days—before demolishing homes. According to ICAHD [Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions] such evictions have occurred 27,000 times since the occupation. The mock eviction notice had basic facts based on ICAHD statistics, basic facts.

Alan Goodman: The mock eviction notices gave students a feel for what this means to people. Can you talk about the significance of that? And they were not actual eviction notices. Right?

Max Geller: You would have to have a pretty poor command of the English language to think this was a real eviction notice. But this home demolition practice, I think, crystallizes the ethnic cleansing, the changing of the ethnic dynamic of the West Bank and East Jerusalem by uprooting the homes of people you’re also uprooting their connection to the land.

And this is perfectly in line with this sort of narrative Americans just don’t get. We decided to do this direct action because prior to being suspended we were suspended in everything but name. The university constantly put up roadblocks. They would move our events around, delay approval until the window for booking Palestinian speakers and cultural figures passed. So we were suspended in everything but name. And the only recourse was direct action to bring our educational message to our fellow students. We were left with very few options, and direct action was one. It’s a pretty good tactic, I think.

Alan Goodman: What impact did this have on students?

Max Geller: There was not a singular response. Some students thought it was interesting, some did not find it interesting. But no students that I’ve heard of thought they were being singled out because of their religion. That was precisely the complaint the Hillel organization on campus claimed, and they put pressure on the administration. The administration responded by deploying the police force to the homes of people who participated in our flyering. This is a crazy, inappropriate, outlandish response to political speech. The regulations we are charged with violating are so petty as to never ever have required a police investigation in the past. They are reserved for Palestinian students on campus.

Alan Goodman: It seems the state of things on campuses is that there is severe repression of not only criticism of Israel, but of any fact-based discussion of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people.

Max Geller: American campuses in particular. If you go to a campus anywhere else in the world, the views expressed in this flyer that Palestinians have a right to stay in their homes is not a controversial one. It’s only controversial on American campuses. And the obvious question is why. I think the answer is because of Zionist activist organizations, whether it be more mainstream ones like Hillel or the Anti-Defamation League or more far right ones like the Zionist Organization of America and Stand With Us, all are united in stifling criticism of Israel. Their attempts are to demonize this point of view so as not to have to debate them. It’s been a clear tactic. And an effective one. The best way to maintain the status quo in Israel and the U.S. relationship to it is to demonize all people who suggest another path.

Alan Goodman: Specifically, in the form of conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Right?

Max Geller: Exactly right. I am a proud Jewish person, and I find the view that Jews must be monolithic anti-Semitic. Jews are not all alike. While many Jews support Israel, many do not. To suggest that criticizing Israel is criticizing Jewish people is offensive to me and patently false.

Alan Goodman: Do you think that when Jewish people like yourself speak out against the oppression of the Palestinian people, that tends to undercut that whole attack?

Max Geller: I think the Zionists and those who would like to see the status quo in American-Israeli relations are really threatened by Jews like me, and the bile with which Jews like me are greeted is symptomatic. When one can’t debate us in fact, when they can’t just charge anti-Semitism, they have to resort to overt attacks. I have been individually targeted in the Boston community. They want to play a Jewish “identity card,” so when I play my Jewish identity card I can inoculate myself from charges of anti-Semitism. So I have been on the receiving end of violent threats from these groups because they can’t charge me with anti-Semitism.

Alan Goodman: What is the status of repression against SJP at Northeastern, and other campuses, and what is the state of the battle against that?

Max Geller: This Tuesday the administration announced a meeting to bring disciplinary charges against two students. These were serious charges that could bring suspension and expulsion.

Alan Goodman: Did the university back off from that?

Max Geller: They did but only after 3,500 people within 24 hours signed our petition and flooded the university with phone calls. The outpouring of support for our group has the administration backtracking.

Alan Goodman: What is the state of the invitation SJP extended to the activist and scholar Ali Abunimah to speak at Northeastern?

Max Geller: If this level of support keeps up, I have every confidence we will be able to accommodate Ali Abunimah on April 1. If we are still suspended, Ali has agreed to engage in a more guerrilla-style lecture, and we’re very happy to hear that. But we don’t intend to remain suspended; we intend to fight this by any means possible.

Alan Goodman: Do you have anything else you think is important to add?

Max Geller: I would add that the experience of our SJP, based on statements we’ve been getting from university campuses across the country, is not unique. This campaign to suppress pro-Palestinian speech is a pervasive one. There were over 100 incidents of pro-Palestinian campus speech being suppressed in 2013. I think that’s why we’ve attracted support from SJP chapters across the country. Everyone has their own experience with university administrators. People see this injury to our chapter as an injury to all of them. And a victory for us would be a victory for all of us. And we have been emboldened by the outpouring of support.


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