The University Senate Open Expression Committee, whose mission is to interpret and uphold the University’s free speech policies, issued an opinion on Monday concluding that the content of the mock eviction notices posted by Emory Students for Justice in Palestine (ESJP) was not anti-Semitic.
The committee used the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism of “applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” to determine if the flyers’ content was anti-Semitic.
Although the flyers referenced “Judaization” in their critique of the Israeli government, the Open Expression Committee defined the issue of housing and eviction as a contemporary political issue. Dissent and protest about political issues is allowed under Emory’s Open Expression Policy which aims to “promote and protect … speech, debate, open expression, protest, and other related matters.”
However, the committee acknowledged that ESJP violated posting policies by placing the flyers on students’ doors without their permission. Placing the flyers on residential doors violated the students’ substantial interest in expressing their own political views and their privacy, according to the committee.
The committee also said the notices could potentially confuse students with limited English skills, who might not initially realize they were fake.
“A possible future rule against flyers that cause substantial confusion, if narrowly crafted, could be consistent with the Open Expression Policy,” the committee wrote.
The Committee for Open Expression further found no evidence that the flyers threatened violence, which would have been a violation of Emory’s free speech guidelines.
“A flyer that was intentionally meant to make residents believe their apartments would be destroyed could be thought to threaten violence or force,” the committee wrote. “But it is exceedingly unlikely that the members of ESJP who posted the flyers intended to make anyone believe that their apartments would actually be destroyed: not only is there the disclaimer at the bottom, but the effectiveness of their political message depends on people realizing that the message is really about Palestine.”
University President Claire E. Sterk also sent a second email to the Emory community on Friday addressing the posting of mock eviction notices.
Though there is no evidence that Jewish students’ doors were deliberately targeted, many in the Jewish community “justifiably” construed the posters as threatening, Sterk wrote.
“What happens on the Emory campus does not happen in isolation. All of us are aware that anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise on college campuses and throughout American society today,” Sterk wrote. “It is in that context of escalating intolerance that our Jewish students found the mock-eviction notices.”
Sterk acknowledged students’ right to open expression but noted the importance of recognizing the impact that controversial speech can have on others.
“As we defend our shared right to express controversial views, we must recognize that words and actions have consequences,” Sterk said. “Freedom of expression has costs.”
ESJP released a statement on its Facebook page on April 15 defending the mock eviction notices and calling for the boycott, disinvestment and sanctioning of Israel. In their first statement released on April 5, ESJP urged community members to avoid endorsing some Jewish student groups.
“The notices initiated a conversation that has been overwhelmingly generative,” ESJP wrote. “The recent elections in Israel mark a terrifying era for the future of, and end to, Palestine.”
Both Sterk and the Open Expression Committee acknowledged that Emory’s approval of a flyer or protest does not equate to the University’s endorsement of the flyer or protest’s message. The University tries not to favor specific political or social content, according to the Committee for Open Expression.
“The content-neutrality that allows ESJP to sharply criticize Israeli government policy is the same content-neutrality that allows Emory’s pro-Israel organizations to sharply criticize the Palestinian Authority and Hamas,” the Open Expression Committee wrote.
Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies Deborah Lipstadt disapproved of the posting of mock eviction notices and said she was disturbed by ESJP’s first statement, which called for the boycott of Jewish organizations on campus.