George Washington University is threatening to sanction one of its students for hanging a Palestinian flag from his dormitory window.
Palestine Legal, a civil-rights group which represents US citizens of Palestinian descent, said this action “threaten[s] to chill student speech on campus” and that it could be a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Following “many complaints” to the campus police department, a campus police officer went to pre-med student Ramie Abounaja’s dorm room on 26 October and ordered him to remove the Palestinian flag he had up at his window. After Abounaja complied with the officer’s demand, the officer filed a police report.
A week later, Abounaja received a warning letter from the Office of Student Rights & Responsibilities saying he had violated the university’s code of student conduct.
In a letter to the university last month, Abounaja wrote: “I felt victimised and criminalised in front of my roommates… I was told I had to remove the flag because it broke university policy – but I have checked the Housing Agreement, the University Code of Conduct, and the Residential Community Conduct Guidelines and I couldn’t find language with respect to hanging flags and banners on bedroom windows.”
Abounaja demanded GW retract the warning letter, issue a public apology and clarify its policy “in writing” on flags and banners, because other students are hanging them outside their residences with no consequences.
An attorney for Palestine Legal, Radhika Sainath, told MEMO that by censoring Ramie’s Palestinian flag, while plainly allowing other flags to hang out of windows, “GW has enacted a de facto policy of banning Palestinian flags on campus. The fact that police were brought in over what should’ve been a routine residential matter is all the more troubling, especially at a time when Donald Trump is calling for the banning of Muslims.”
Without reference to Abounaja’s claims, GWU issued a “statement regarding flags on campus” on Monday, saying that it has “not banned any flags from its campus” but its residential community conduct guidelines ban the “hanging of any object outside of a residence hall window.”
Students for Justice in Palestine at GWU launched an online petition yesterday demanding the university apologise for what they described as the selective “disciplining” of a Palestinian-American student.