Palestinian students at George Washington University (GW) were denied trauma support services following a complaint by a pro-Israel group that it is anti-Sematic to attend to the Palestinian students' mental and physiological pain.
The anti-Semitism allegation was made after GW's Office of Advocacy and Support (OAS), which is tasked with providing mental and phycological care to members of the GW community experiencing trauma, offered its service to Palestinian students in June.
OAS staff offered trauma support when they noticed that Palestinian students appeared to be impacted by Israel's forced¬†expulsion of Palestinians in Jerusalem¬†and its brutal¬†11-day attack on Gaza Strip in May. They believed that offering a processing space for Palestinians would help them overcome their trauma, as it had when other communities were impacted by violence.
It is routine for OAS to offer its support to different groups. It provided healing spaces for Jewish, black, brown and Asian community members experiencing trauma resulting from racism and/or state violence.
OAS came under fire and was prevented from serving its regular functions following its decision to provide support for Palestinian students. It's reported that within 24 hours of advertising a virtual processing space on Instagram, high-level GW officials, including a representative from the Board of Trustees and the President's Office, held an emergency meeting with OAS and directed the office to cancel the event and remove the post.
Furthermore, GW administrators ordered OAS to publish an apology stating that the previous post "did not create a safe space for all members of our community." GW has also since initiated an "audit" of OAS, which is no longer allowed to post to social media or communicate with professors on behalf of students.
A complaint was filed with Palestine Legal by OAS staff member Nada Elbasha. The group provides advocacy and litigation support to college students, grassroots activists and affected communities who stand for justice in Palestine.
"Palestinians at GW deserve to access the same services as any other student here," said Nada Elbasha. "To have high-level administrators cancel our support programming and threaten to close our office was a shocking declaration that GW does not care about its Palestinian students."
Elbasha later learned that the GW student group Students Against Sexual Assault (SASA), which had similarly offered trauma support for Palestinian students on Instagram, was also directed to remove their post. Both SASA and OAS were told that supporting Palestinian human rights and providing support to Palestinians were harmful to Jewish students.
Palestine Legal and co-counsel Benjamin Douglas have initiated a civil rights complaint against GW with the District of Columbia's Office for Human Rights, challenging what they have said is its "selective and discriminatory cancelation of trauma support services for Palestinian students."
The complaint details how GW's denial of services to Palestinians constitutes national origin discrimination in violation of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (DCHRA). The act prohibits educational institutions from denying or restricting its services or programmes to any person on the basis of 21 protected categories, including race, colour and national origin.
To deny Palestinians support because their pain is politically inconvenient is not just wrong, it's illegal
said Palestine Legal senior staff attorney Radhika Sainath. The group said that work it carried out in conjunction with the Centre for Constitutional Rights has shown that there is a "Palestine Exception" to free speech and human rights advocacy, which became even more apparent last spring when people across the US protested Israel's colonial and military violence.