Defend Our Dissent: Preserving Palestinian rights activism on campus

Activism
on 19 Comments

On the walls of a central building on my university campus, displayed prominently and with pride, is a historic image of student activists boldly confronting university administration over the school’s complicity in the larger project of U.S. support for the violence and injustice of apartheid South Africa. Those admirable students, likely reprimanded in their own time, today  benefit a school that builds its image on the incredible idealism and activism of its students, and a society that has built a better future on the blood, sweat, and tears of ordinary people surviving, thriving, and agitating against an unjust status quo.

Over the last decade, the movement for Palestinian freedom and equality in opposition to continuing illegal settlement and military occupation, devastating assaults on Gaza, and a profoundly unequal political system has increasingly become the focus of coalitional social justice work, especially on college campuses. Like prior movements fighting a status quo of structural violence, this movement faces heavy-handed repression designed to silence marginalized voices and stifle progressive ideas that might chart the path to a better tomorrow. Two recently released reports, one by Jewish Voice for Peace and the other by Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights, document this widespread and systematic suppression.

(Image: CCR)

(Image: Palestine Legal/CCR)

These carefully calculated silencing campaigns deploy unconstitutional ideas like a “civility” exception to the first amendment, backed by a $300 million budget, to silence political speech and eradicate peaceful protest when it challenges a narrowly defined vision of a right-wing, heavily militarized Israel. As a diverse coalition of Palestinian Americans, Muslim Americans, Black Americans, Jewish Americans, labor activists, academics, church groups and many more challenge U.S. complicity in that project, efforts to suppress Palestinian rights advocacy have intensified..

Palestine Legal documented over 300 incidents in just 18 months of universities, governments, and other institutions censoring and punishing advocacy in support of Palestinian rights. An anonymous website reeking of modern day McCarthyism compiles information on progressive student activists while denigrating them, often with Islamophobic language, as “haters of the USA, Israel, and Jews” in an attempt to harm their reputations and job prospects. A Students for Justice in Palestine chapter faces suspension and police inquiry for distributing fliers to raise awareness about Israel’s home demolitions, and two women of color in the organization, rather than the leadership, face disciplinary sanctions. A major university fires a Palestinian American tenured faculty member for personal tweets on Gaza deemed “uncivil” following complaints from major donors.

(Image: JVP)

(Image: JVP)

These are everyday scenes of the silencing campaign against defenders of Palestinian human rights being waged by a coalition of organizations including StandWithUs, the  Zionist Organization of America, Hillel International, Jewish Federations of North America, and the Anti-Defamation League. Their financial and political backing traces back to high-level Israeli government figures and to Republican mega-donors like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers.

A coordinated peaceful protest movement is not a military campaign; a flier is not a real demolition notice; a pacifist public intellectual is not a war criminal. Yet when Palestinian human rights activists use grassroots organizing and civil disobedience to call attention to Israeli government and military abuses, they are branded as a threat. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The opposition depicts Palestinian rights activists as threats by falsely conflating Judaism and Zionism, positing that criticism of Israel is akin to anti-Semitism. A statistical portrait of American Jews painted by the Pew Research Center demonstrates that many American Jews dissent from the politics of the pro-Israel right wing. A full one-quarter of 18 to 29 year old American Jews surveyed said the U.S. is “too supportive” of the Israeli government, and 19 percent said that “caring about Israel” is not an important part of being Jewish. During last summer’s violence in Gaza, a Gallup poll demonstrated that among young Americans ages 18-29, only one-quarter said Israel’s military actions in Gaza were justified. The skeptical three-quarters of young Americans were questioning the necessity of an extremely asymmetric war that claimed 2,127 Palestinian lives, by the Israeli military’s count, and sent 66 Israeli soldiers to die in Gaza.

It should be no wonder, then, that the movement for Palestinian human rights has attracted tens of thousands of young Jewish activists, like myself, to groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and Open Hillel, within which we are rejecting discriminatory Israeli government policies and re-articulating our own Jewishness for justice. Americans are growing critical of unquestioned U.S. backing for a regime that claims to stand on the side of peace and the Jews, but ultimately represents neither.

Opposition tactics that seek to delegitimize the voices of progressive Jewish students and demonize the voices of progressive Muslim, Arab, Palestinian, and other students of color exact a high cost. When universities cave to outside pressures and restrict the free speech of students arguing legitimate solutions for a more just tomorrow, we lose out on the possibility of real, progressive change. Universities must defend students as we advance solutions to the crucial human rights issues of our time.

About Leah Muskin-Pierret

Leah Muskin-Pierret is a junior at Tufts University majoring in American Studies and International Relations as well as an advocate with Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine.

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19 Responses

  1. Emory Riddle
    October 20, 2015, 3:30 pm

    I think it tells us all we need to know about how legitimate Zionists think their arguments are that they are so desperate to shut down free speech.

    This is not only a battle for the Palestinians, or the Arabs, or the Muslims.

    This is a life and death struggle of Fascism vs. all of us and we must win it.

  2. hophmi
    October 21, 2015, 1:22 pm

    “These carefully calculated silencing campaigns deploy unconstitutional ideas like a “civility” exception ”

    First of all, students at private colleges are not entitled to say whatever they want whenever they want under the First Amendment.

    Second of all, civility is not “unconstitutional.” LOL.

    Third of all, most students on liberal campuses like Tufts today will tell you that SJP has no trouble speaking, putting up flyers, and doing what they want, and they will also tell you that most Jews on these campuses feel targeted and silenced by their tactics, which mimic those of the greater BDS movement, and which often trade on antisemitic stereotypes.

    • Annie Robbins
      October 21, 2015, 1:28 pm

      Second of all, civility is not “unconstitutional.” LOL.

      but a “”civility” exception” to the constitution would be.

      • hophmi
        October 22, 2015, 11:34 am

        “but a “”civility” exception” to the constitution would be.”

        Who has argued for a civility exception to the Constitution?

        “Uh? The 1st amendment says otherwise”

        I don’t think you have a clue. The First Amendment entitles people to certain protections for expressing their viewpoints. It does not entitle them to disrupt the rights of others to assemble. It does not entitle people to incite others to violence. It does not entitle people to create a hostile atmosphere for people of a specific religion or national origin.

        “Example please …. verbatim”

        Every single claim about a powerful lobby controlling American foreign policy trades on antisemitic stereotypes of Jews having too much power.

        “Having grown up in Israel, I know that Israeli Jews were indoctrinated to be racist even if I no longer consider myself either Israeli or Jewish.”

        Yes, Yoni, I’m sure you’re the type of Jew and Israeli that the anti-Israel movement loves – one that has renounced both – just like Pablo Christiani was the type of Jew that the Catholic Church loved in the Middle Ages.

      • Annie Robbins
        October 22, 2015, 11:40 am

        The First Amendment entitles people to certain protections for expressing their viewpoints. It does not entitle them to disrupt the rights of others to assemble. It does not entitle people to incite others to violence. It does not entitle people to create a hostile atmosphere for people of a specific religion or national origin.

        the first amendment does not “entitle” anything, it prohibits:

        Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

      • echinococcus
        October 22, 2015, 12:38 pm

        “…even if I no longer consider myself either Israeli or Jewish.”

        Yes, Yoni, I’m sure you’re the type of Jew and Israeli…

        Yeah, there is dumb, dumber and dumbest, and there are some Zionist special models because Zionists do it better than anybody. Read again, Hophmi, above.

        The guy unmistakably, pointedly, refuses to be identified as Jewish as so many of us do. Stop using personal insults or I’ll call the censor. Or I’ll call you a Khazar…

      • Mooser
        October 22, 2015, 4:24 pm

        “Yes, Yoni, I’m sure you’re the type of Jew and Israeli that the anti-Israel movement loves – one that has renounced both – just like Pablo Christiani was the type of Jew that the Catholic Church loved in the Middle Ages.

        Ah, so criticizing Israel is the same as finagling Jews away from their religion? In the Middle Ages (I’m not knocking it “Hophmi”. It’s a nice relief from always being 1939) no less?
        Now, there’s an intelligent comparison, “Hophmi”.
        Is it supposed to strike Yoni down with the guilts?

      • Mooser
        October 22, 2015, 4:38 pm

        “Who has argued for a civility exception…”

        Oh, I see, you were talking about a “civility exception” when you made that crack about Pablo Christiani. You are right, you may need one.

      • talknic
        October 22, 2015, 5:35 pm

        @ hophmi

        //“Uh? The 1st amendment says otherwise”//

        “I don’t think you have a clue. The First Amendment entitles people to certain protections for expressing their viewpoints”

        It restricts Congress. [ Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. ]

        //“Example please …. verbatim”//

        “Every single claim about a powerful lobby controlling American foreign policy trades on antisemitic stereotypes of Jews having too much power.”

        = you have no verbatim examples… thx for showing folk there’s nothing under the shell. You do your cause a complete dis-service every time you post … bravo!

      • YoniFalic
        October 23, 2015, 10:06 am

        Neither is hophmi not going to make me feel guilty for abandoning secular or ethnic Jewish identity, which I consider to be total crap and nonsense, nor is he going to make me suddenly repent and become a loyal Israeli by comparing me to Pablo Christiani.

        I know enough history to be aware that Germans that rejected German identity and the German state as defined by the German Nazis are generally considered heroic while those Germans loyal to German identity and the German state as defined by German Nazis are usually considered otherwise.

        I have no doubt that within the next generation or so people like me will similarly be considered honorable while those like hophmi will be scorned.

        As for Pablo Christiani (Petrus Alphonsi might have been a better example for Hophmi’s obscure purposes), I am not sure of the relevance.

        (1) I agree with the Dominicans that Christiani won the disputation. I find the RAMBAN’s arguments dishonest and disingenuous.

        (2) I was not raised in the religion, which I consider either silly or repugnant. I have only rejected the ridiculous idea of a secular or ethnic Jew.

        We don’t understand the internal politics of the Jewish communities from the 11th-13th centuries that lead to apostasy, vocal rejection of the Talmud by many Jews, and the burning of the RAMBAM’s works.

        Such behaviors may have related to an internal communal struggle for authority in association with the Talmudization of European Jewry.

        http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/14852.html

        It is hard to take someone seriously who misinterprets the present-day through the broken lens of the past, which he completely misunderstands.

      • Mooser
        October 23, 2015, 1:56 pm

        “(1) I agree with the Dominicans that Christiani won the disputation. I find the RAMBAN’s arguments dishonest and disingenuous. “

        I will have to look this up, and rewrite it as a religious Middle Ages ‘Rap Battle’.

    • talknic
      October 21, 2015, 1:36 pm

      @ hophmi “First of all, students at private colleges are not entitled to say whatever they want whenever they want under the First Amendment”

      Uh? The 1st amendment says otherwise

      “… mimic those of the greater BDS movement, and which often trade on antisemitic stereotypes”

      Example please …. verbatim

    • Mooser
      October 21, 2015, 1:42 pm

      “Third of all, most students on liberal campuses like Tufts today will tell you that SJP has no trouble speaking, putting up flyers, and doing what they want, and they will also tell you that most Jews on these campuses feel targeted and silenced by their tactics,”

      And those are the people you are depending on to support Israel in the future? They better toughen up. Don’t look like they will be much help if they are that easily cowed.

    • YoniFalic
      October 21, 2015, 2:06 pm

      “Third of all, most students on liberal campuses like Tufts today will tell you that SJP has no trouble speaking, putting up flyers, and doing what they want, and they will also tell you that most Jews on these campuses feel targeted and silenced by their tactics, which mimic those of the greater BDS movement, and which often trade on antisemitic stereotypes.”

      So? I suspect white racists feel silenced by general support for civil rights. Having grown up in Israel, I know that Israeli Jews were indoctrinated to be racist even if I no longer consider myself either Israeli or Jewish. Zionism is racist. The State of Israel is racist. American Jewish Zionists feel silenced because they are embarrassed that they are considered racists or because they are intimidated by concepts of equal rights.

      I have as much sympathy for US Zionist racists on college campus as I do for white racists on a college campus.

      Personally, I feel dirty that I ever considered myself an Israeli Jew and that I ever wore an IDF uniform.

    • RoHa
      October 21, 2015, 8:13 pm

      “tactics, which mimic those of the greater BDS movement, and which often trade on antisemitic stereotypes.”

      Examples?

      • Mooser
        October 22, 2015, 4:32 pm

        “Examples?”

        You want “examples” RoHa? “Hophmi” gave them, remember:

        “SJP has no trouble speaking, putting up flyers, and doing what they want

        Well? Maybe the first two aren’t so bad, but that last one could be anything! Do I have to tell you what happened when they let “some people” and “others” “do what they want” in the Middle Ages?

      • RoHa
        October 22, 2015, 7:26 pm

        “Do I have to tell you what happened when they let “some people” and “others” “do what they want” in the Middle Ages?”

        Some girls got pregnant, didn’t they?

      • Mooser
        October 22, 2015, 11:37 pm

        “Some girls got pregnant, didn’t they?”

        Some maintain (nobody I know) that the big move to the contemplative and hermetic vocations meant the Middle Ages was one big cloister-f–k. (Sorry, sorry)

        At any rate, we already know what happens when college students do what they want.

  3. JWalters
    October 21, 2015, 6:27 pm

    “Like prior movements fighting a status quo of structural violence”

    The role of war profits in the “Zionist project” is discussed in this article.
    http://mondoweiss.net/2015/10/because-global-supplier

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