Right-wing news outlets and Israel lobby groups have mounted a concerted campaign over the past few days to attack students leading the call for divestment at the University of Michigan (UM). The vote on a resolution to divest from corporations complicit in the Israeli occupation failed two nights ago, but the smears have kept up.
Yesterday, Kredo published a report claiming to have uncovered evidence that backers of divestment at the University of Michigan are prone to violence. He uncovered a Facebook photo showing Yazan Kherallah, a member of the UM Palestine solidarity group Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, standing with a keffiyeh over his face and holding a knife jammed into a pineapple.
Kredo’s report, which claimed that the image raised concern among “civil rights leaders,” was picked up by the lobby group The Israel Project. The organization, run by former American Israel Public Affairs Committee spokesman Josh Block, encouraged Facebook users to share their post in an effort to show “the hate and violence of the Israel divestment movement.”
The “civil rights leader” Kredo quotes is Kenneth Marcus, a pro-Israel activist who runs an outfit dedicated to filing Title VI claims against universities where pro-Palestine activism occurs. Kredo quotes Marcus’ explanation of why the pineapple is significant:
“The knife is held in an overtly threatening way [and] coupled with a keffiyeh, it appears to be a gesture of warning or a threat towards Zionists.”
Marcus said that the use of a pineapple could have significant meaning as it has been used in recent months by the anti-Semitic French comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala.
“The use of a pineapple may be arbitrary. But in recent months, in France, the comedian Dieudonne has associated the pineapple with Zionists and Holocaust denial, especially with his use of the term ‘quenelle,’” a gesture similar to the Nazi salute, Marcus said.
“The pineapple may also be the closest one can get in a Michigan grocery store to a sabra,” a fruit associated with Israel and Jewish people, Marcus said. “Rather than speculating on who exactly this student was threatening, the university should find out as soon possible.”
While posting the photo arguably showed poor judgement, Kredo did not wait for Kherallah’s explanation of what it meant.
In response to the report, Kherallah said on Facebook (quoted below the Israel Project post) that the photo had nothing to do with Israel and was posted in January–well before the divestment debate at his school. He said it was a joke between friends who played basketball. The opposing team he was facing was called Ananas–the Arabic word for pineapple. In an e-mail, Kherallah told me that “this was a photo shared between friends, who were all Arabs and Muslims, [and] the photo was a clear satire of the stereotypes of Arabs as terrorists. The image of a violent Arab man was juxtaposed with a pineapple to express the ridiculousness of the categorizations that people like Adam Kredo engage in.”
Facebook users who opposed divestment slammed The Israel Project’s attack on Kherallah. “As a CSG representative at the University of Michigan and a proud supporter of Israel who voted NO to last night’s resolution(a resolution to boycott companies that do business in Israel), I can attest that the accusations made in this article are untrue,” wrote Jacob Abudaram. “This article is blatant bigotry and does not speak to who Yazan is and what he stands for.”
Earlier in the week, Kredo authored another report claiming that pro-Israel students have “allegedly been called ‘kikes’ and ‘dirty Jews'” and had received “death threats” by backers of divestment. But the allegation did not come from a student. Kredo’s source was Marcus, who claimed he had “been informed” of the threats. Kredo also quoted a “senior pro-Israel leader” in Washington, D.C. who claimed, with no evidence, that “the University of Michigan has allowed known pro-Hamas activists to openly organize riots on their campus.” NBC education reporter Nona Willis Aronowitz had this to say about that report:
— Nona WillisAronowitz (@nona) March 24, 2014