Character assassination as a tool to silence a Palestinian activist

Middle East
on 22 Comments

The past month has been an incredibly difficult time as I have had to endure an apparent organised campaign against me, a 26-year-old student. The campaign hinges around a false belief that I am a racist and is designed to silence and punish me for my Palestinian activism. Not only have I been smeared, but my work in anti-racism, including recently co-organising a march against anti-Semitism, has been completely ignored as clearly it does not fit the narrative used to discredit me and my activism for Palestine.

Signs posted around Exeter campus announcing Anti-Facist March, co-organized by Malaka Shwaikh, in response to racist vandalism on campus including a swastika carved into a door. Photo Credit: The Tab

I have been subjected to bullying, harassment, threats, and serious defamation of character. There have been multiple articles written about me including one by an Exeter student for the Times of Israel in which I am called a terrorist supporter. I do not need to explain how serious this is in the current global atmosphere of Islamophobia.

These attempts at character assassination are part and parcel against those involved in the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality. As I will show below, there is no truth in them whatsoever.

Malaka Shwaikh addressing the Lammeh Conference, Istanbul Feb. 25, 2017.

However the point of these attacks is not to determine the truth, but rather to bully those who speak up for Palestinian rights, in order to scare others away from Palestinian activism.

The ‘evidence’ used to smear me is largely based on my tweets, taken entirely out of context and manipulated to create the worst possible picture of me. Most of these tweets were posted back in 2012–2015 and have previously been brought to discredit me in other institutions.

For example, my tweet on Holocaust Memorial Day:

“The shadow of the Holocaust continues to fall over us from the continuous Israeli occupation of Palestine to the election of Trump”

was a follow-up to a tweet where I said:

“the Holocaust was one of the bleakest chapters in the history of the 20th century”

Both tweets are inter-linked and cannot be separated. I have never denied the horrific crime of the Holocaust that was inflicted upon the Jewish people and others, neither have I ever made light of it. The tweet in question was referring to how following this genocide in Europe, and in an attempt at making amends, European powers supported a settler colonial project which would see Palestine wiped off the map. The message of the tweet was that Palestinians have been made to pay for a genocide that was committed in Europe. The tweet prior to that recognized undoubtedly the horrors of the Holocaust. 140-character tweets are not enough to elaborate on the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but my social media audience usually has a strong contextual background. Conveniently the first tweet was ignored by these media outlets that have been attacking me.

Three tweets from the 8th February 2013 were inserted by a hack. The tweets follow the same format and content, and they were all tweeted in a short space of time. I also had other social media accounts hacked at some other time. As soon as I saw these tweets, I removed them, changed all of my passwords and took further security measures for my social media accounts. It is very common for social media accounts of Palestine solidarity activists to be hacked in this way and the false content used to smear.

Without understanding the wider context, the ‘terrorist’ tweet:

“If terrorism means protecting and defending my land, I am so proud to be called terrorist”

Posted in January 2015, it may appear as a radical statement that could raise serious concerns at both the University of Exeter and its Students’ Guild. However, it is my honest belief, and as I will attempt to explain, these kind of statements by Palestinians in general, and me in this instance, are most commonly in response to efforts by Israel advocacy groups and the Israeli government to demonize and dehumanize Palestinians. This is done by using the emotive dog whistle by Israeli descriptors of ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’ whenever referring to the ‘Arab’ population. Palestinians who throw stones in response to Israeli soldiers invading their villages are labelled violent thugs, rioters and terrorists. Palestinians who nonviolently protest the illegal occupation are portrayed as violent individuals who terrorize Israeli Jews. Practically any Palestinian who resists the Israeli occupation and its plethora of human rights violations, war crimes and serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law is stigmatized in this way. It is absolutely vital to understand the wider issues before making a judgement on that particular tweet. So far the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism (CAA) has not demonstrated anywhere that I condone or support violence against civilians in any way — nor for that matter have they produced any evidence that I have incited violence towards anybody, since clearly I have not. How this particular tweet has anything to do with anti-Semitism is beyond me — this connection also wasn’t explained by the CAA in any of their publications or communications.

Other social media posts that have been brought up by individuals attempting to discredit me were written between 2012–2015. During these years, the Gaza Strip was still devastated by heavy Israeli bombing campaigns, as well as subjected to a heinous Israeli military attack in 2014 in which over 2000 Palestinian civilians were killed. As a Palestinian from Gaza, during these years I experienced trauma and devastation that I would not wish on anyone. Many family members, friends and neighbours of mine were killed by the Israeli Army. My posts were written in an incredibly emotional state when my very existence and that of my loved ones were in danger.

Like most people, as I gain more life experience, I express myself differently and all these posts if written today would reflect this.

Attacks published against Malaka Shwaikh accusing her of anti-Semitism directly prior to Exeter University Students’ Guild elections did not deter the student body from electing her to various positions, including member of the trustee board (for the 2nd year), as well as National Union Student delegate.

I believe the attacks against me have been an attempt to defame my character, particularly as a Palestine activist and as a Muslim woman. It is no coincidence that they coincide with my election to various positions in Exeter University Students’ Guild.

Current NUS president Malia Bouattia faced similar, if not worse, attacks when she ran for and won her position. This pattern of attacks against Muslim women of colour who are elected into positions of power serves to silence and exclude us and demonstrates that racism is not a thing of the past, it continues to infiltrate our institutions at all levels.

Richard Brook, Vice President of the UK’s National Union of Students (NUS) was filmed covertly by Al Jazeera admitting to conspiring to oust NUS President Malia Bouattia, as part of a sting operation involving the Israeli embassy. Working in “secret” with Michael Rubin, Parliamentary Officer for the Labour Friends of Israel(LFI) and Russell Langer, campaign director for Union of Jewish Students (UJS). (Screenshot: MEMO)

I should also point out that these unfounded charges against me will certainly have an effect on my freedom of movement. Countries do not need much of an excuse to refuse visas to Muslims and a simple google search of me reveals many of these inflammatory and abusive articles calling me an anti-Semite and a terrorist. The fact that mainstream media has, in an extremely one-sided way to date, reiterated these untruths gives further weight to the slurs and defamation. It will also have serious implications when I return to Gaza — threats have already been sent to my family back home. Gaza is under siege by Israel and all movement in and out is controlled by the Israeli military occupation making it highly likely that they will not let me out again, that is if I ever manage to get back in.

One of several signs posted around Exeter campus announcing the Anti-Facist March, in response to racist vandalism on campus including a swastika carved into a door. Photo Credit: The Tab

Even this current horrendous attack will not stop me continuing fighting against all forms of racism, including antisemitism and Islamophobia. My activism for Palestine is not contradictory to, but indeed is totally compatible with fighting against all forms of racism. In fact the struggle for Palestinian human rights is part of a struggle against racism and for all human rights globally. My commitment to equality will guide me in my newly elected positions as Trustee, NUS delegate and VP Postgraduate Research. I will represent all students equally regardless of their faith, or none, race, gender and sexual orientation.

“Rights for Whites” (Photo Credit: Susannah Keogh/ Exeposé)

Just last week, I co-organised a march with my friends in Exeter University against fascism in response to a swastika and a “Rights for Whites” notice that were found in halls of residence earlier in February. The march was an attempt to send a clear message to all those whom these racist attacks were intended to incite against, including all my Jewish colleagues and friends, that you will never be alone. We stand in solidarity with you and we will defend you. A few weeks earlier, I co-organised the largest protest in Exeter in twenty years against the USA Muslim travel ban (My name is Malaka Mohammed in both articles — I have not used my family name ‘Shwaikh’ previously since this can have serious consequences to the safety of my family back home in Gaza because they are under Israeli military occupation and siege). However, conveniently, my role in organising these protests has never been mentioned by the Campaign Against Antisemitism. I have been attacked, threatened, and bullied throughout without a single attempt to clarify with me the true facts. After I changed my Twitter username @MalakaMohammed, it was hijacked in an attempt to discredit me even more (my current Twitter username is @MalakaShwaikh).

The attacking media defamed me without even seeking my response, denying me the right to reply. While in Gaza Israel used its military arsenal and now in the UK I’m targeted by the media. Every tweet, post and comment I ever said is sifted through in search for ammunition to tarnish my reputation and silence me. With all these resources going into what I said, or didn’t, the attacking media showed no appetite to find out my thoughts and beliefs. For example, as a campaigner for justice and equality I believe in a One-State Solution, a state that is based on equality and justice for all regardless of their ethnicity, political identity, religious beliefs or none. But this is really what Israel fears, a solution with equal rights for all the people, without apartheid. The reality is that Israel imposes apartheid even against the Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.

Why are the CAA and so much media dedicated to attacking me? Is it because I’m a Palestinian woman from Gaza daring to speak out and enjoying the respect of many? It’s natural that we Palestinians resist the Israeli occupation and oppression, like in all struggles for freedom. This is why I support the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), which is modeled on the boycott campaign against apartheid South Africa. BDS is a human rights based campaign, to bring non-violent international pressure on Israel to abide by international law. As governments have failed to push for justice, people of conscience are supporting BDS, including Israelis and people across the world.

On the other hand, the media has shown little interest in scrutinizing the Campaign against Antisemitism (CAA) — an organization with a large credibility gap, which is currently facing serious complaints. There is also a national petition against the Campaign. It is a great pity that the CAA act in this way, because at this time especially, we need a proper campaign against anti-Semitism, rather than a group which seeks to defend Israel by attacking its critics by falsely accusing them of anti-Semitism.

I’m inspired by the letter of support signed by over 130 students’ leaders and PhD researchers at Exeter University in solidarity with me:

“Following the recent defamation, attacks, and threats that our new VP research postgrad has received based on 140-character tweets posted some four years ago, mistranslated and taken out of context, we, the postgraduate and wider student community in Exeter, wish to show our support and solidarity with Malaka.”

Shwaikh is a popular inspirational Palestinian human rights speaker who has addressed international audiences in close to 100 cities about her experiences in activism, anti-racism, BDS, and the power and influence of women and youth.

This article was originally posted on Medium.

About Malaka Mohammed

Malaka Mohammed is a Palestinian student from Gaza doing a PhD in Palestine Studies at Exeter University. Follow her on Twitter @MalakaShwaikh.

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22 Responses

  1. Annie Robbins
    March 4, 2017, 2:26 pm

    Why are the CAA and so much media dedicated to attacking me? Is it because I’m a Palestinian woman from Gaza daring to speak out and enjoying the respect of many?

    it is because you are a highly effective charismatic activist, loved, respected and sought out by many as a speaker and representative not just for Palestine, but for humanity. you are effective as a person and it’s likely you will become famous, or more famous i should say, and their slander against you is an attempt to cut you off at the nearest pass.

    And they are doing it in the most effective way they know how, as demonstrated in the AJ investigation “anti-Semitism claims are prime weapon for UK Israel lobby” – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2017/01/accusations-semitism-primary/#sthash.LiUyfaap.dpuf

    • Susan A
      March 5, 2017, 7:39 am

      I agree with everything you say Annie. I too have met Malaka and find her to be all those beautiful things you have mentioned. Not only that, I was at a meeting where she spoke recently and she spoke to/about the wonderful work of a Jewish Israeli activist who I also know and who was also in the audience. Another Israeli friend of mine, who met Malaka at Exeter a few months ago, had nothing but praise for her, saying that she’s so talented that she could do anything, but spent all her time trying to help her people. He’s so right. It’s not often, if ever before, that you hear a Jewish Israeli call a Muslim Palestinian from Gaza “perfect”. So there you have it; The more lucid, sincere and effective a human rights advocate for the people of Palestine is, the more they’ll be attacked, smeared and intimidated. We must continue to support one another no matter what. Thanks Annie for your fine words. Malala deserves nothing less.

  2. Tom Suarez
    March 4, 2017, 2:44 pm

    Brava, and thank you, Malaka.
    Here in the UK we are in the terrifying situation in which (most visibly) two organisations, the self-proclaimed International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and equally self-proclaimed Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, exploit and betray their professed missions, instead wielding the smear of anti-Semitism on behalf of a foreign pariah state — and with the collusion of our own government. Many of us, myself included, are waking up to find speaking engagements or other events cancelled in deference to that foreign pariah state, and even a women’s day event by the human rights organisation CADFA, scheduled for tomorrow, has twice within the past three days had their public community centre booking revoked because of a … “complaint”. Hopefully it will proceed at the third venue, a church, without further sabotage.
    It is long past time to stand up to this and challenge it, as Malaka has so eloquently done.

    • Talkback
      March 11, 2017, 4:40 am

      Hi Tom,

      just wanted to tell you that I’m reading your book. I have read tons of book about the conflict but it amazes me how much new (and horryfing) information you could compile (not only about Jewish terrorism). Great work and a must read!

  3. Annie Robbins
    March 4, 2017, 2:45 pm

    i urge everyone unfamiliar with malaka, or those of you who may recall her past mondoweiss articles but have forgotten them, to review some of them (available here http://mondoweiss.net/author/malaka-mohammed/ ) for a greater understanding of malaka’s spirit and why she is so effective — beginning with her 2013 article

    Being pessimistic is not a solution

    http://mondoweiss.net/2013/12/being-pessimistic-solution/

    recall, it was Malaka at a very young age who spearheaded and ran the campaign to release Samer Issawi, the longest hunger striker in history. you can read Issawi’s letter to her in that amazing article, but i will post it here in case people are too lazy.

    To my sister, Malaka:

    Thank you for your great efforts and for your boundless spirit. I have the honour to know you as a sister through the campaigns of solidarity which you have arranged. I also congratulate your parents for having you; you are not just an activist but also a warrior beside the prisoners who are in hunger strikes and God willing, we will all obtain the imminent freedom, to meet in Jerusalem, and pray in the Al-Aqsa Mosque. What you are doing to support the prisoners shows that you are a true Muslim and a leader and that you will be able to assume strong leadership position possibly in the future. God willing, we will see you as a deputy in the Legislative Council to help your people who are in need of noble-minded people like you. Send my regards to all of the supporters, the Arabs and people from all over the world.

    Samer Issawi,
    Al- Ramla prison hospital

    and this was very early in her activism. knowing her and following her growth from gaza through to her experiences at sheffield (and beyond) her travels, (available) speeches, seeking her masters and phd against quite uncertain and dangerous circumstances, — i posit her path into the future has a silver lining. her optimism and determination are contagious and heroic. and she is a genuinely gracious, efficient and beautiful person to work with.

    this slander against her is disgusting and all too predictable from the pro israel crowd who’ve demonstrated clearly nothing is beneath them.

  4. bintbiba
    March 4, 2017, 4:51 pm

    “….
    this slander against her is disgusting and all too predictable from the pro israel crowd who’ve demonstrated clearly nothing is beneath them. ”

    I very humbly quote our dear Annie ,as she says it like I can never do… and Malaka , you make us proud by keeping on with your head held high , your bravery and commitment to the struggle for Justice, Freedom and Equality will always be honoured by all people who hold on to International Human Values !

    We thank you !

  5. oldgeezer
    March 4, 2017, 9:16 pm

    When the political system in a country, supported by a majority of it’s citizens is willing to condone the imprisonment and torture of children then it’s a no brainer to destroy you or your character. Zionists have huge form for attacking children and young people. From canary mission to the occupation itself.

    It would be reasonable to say they have an unreasonable and unhealthy focus on children.

    • oldgeezer
      March 4, 2017, 9:31 pm

      Oh silly me. Apart from typos I left out the fact that they murder children.

  6. Ossinev
    March 5, 2017, 7:22 am

    Keep your head held high Malaka and continue to fight the good fight. Remember you and those all those others here in the UK and elsewhere who loathe Racist Zionism are in the right just as much as those Jews and Non-Jews throughout Europe who spoke out against the evils of Nazism and fought against those evils as Resistance Fighters.

  7. btbLondon
    March 6, 2017, 8:40 am

    Malaka, of course, deserves our full support and solidarity but her treatment should not be seen in isolation. It is another episode in a growing tide of desperate attempts by Israel and its apologists to silence criticism of Israel in the UK (itself, of course, a part of a wider global initiative).

    The Government has urged all Universities to clamp down on criticism of Israel and to use the flawed IHRA definition of antisemitism. A few university managements have capitulated and banned or harassed Israel Apartheid Week events. Fortunately most have resisted and placed traditional values of Free Speech and Academic Freedom above placating a government bent on censorship. For more detail see wwwDOTfreespeechonIsrael.org.uk

  8. DrBrianRobinson
    March 6, 2017, 9:55 am

    For sure Malaka Shwaikh is not an antisemite, nor any other kind of racist, nor is she advocating violence. When I first came across this saga, the account I read was all about this tweet, ‘If terrorism means protecting and defending my land, I am so proud to be called terrorist’, with the further quotes about the Holocaust. I’m not 100% clear that these particular tweets were Malaka’s or the work of the hacker, but I think it’s the former case, and I note that she also states that her posts ‘were written in an incredibly emotional state when my very existence and that of my loved ones were in danger’. All perfectly understandable.

    As everyone knows, we live in extremely fraught times in which political rhetoric has reached extraordinary levels of acrimony and bitter hostility. People find it difficult simply to express disagreement, even justifiably sharp disagreement, but have to impugn the character and motivation of opponents to the point of slander. There’s little goodwill and less capacity for empathy — or even tolerance for what might be mistakes in the use of words.

    And certainly rhetorical devices such as irony are totally out, being far too dangerously open to being miscontrued, if not sometimes actively misrepresented.

    A possible analogy occurred to me. If someone said I was being an antisemite for criticising Israel harshly, I wouldn’t reply, OK if that makes me an antisemite, so be it, I’m proud to be an antisemite. I’d say, no, I’m criticising Israel for its criminality and I totally reject the false categorisation.

    If I try to imagine empathetically what it’s like to be a Palestinian whose loved ones, family or friends were uprooted or killed by Israeli forces, I can easily feel the inspiration to protect and defend my land, and do so without any intention or desire to use violent methods, indeed I might oppose them perhaps on moral grounds, or perhaps out of consideration for the sheer disparity in power (remembering that, as Chomsky once put it, terrorism is the weapon of the strong).

    But what I would not do, having seen what can happen to the most careful of writers whose words have been decontextualised and warped into meanings the polar opposites of those originally intended, what I wouldn’t do is accept my enemy’s definition of the word ‘terrorist’, even to use it ironically, or in an attempt to redefine it. Terrorism as commonly used and understood really does include the idea that uncommitted, peaceful civilians, perhaps far from the scene of the original state violence and injustice that provoked it, will be injured and killed. Our enemies may try to label us as terrorists, but to accept and wear the label in an attempt to turn obloquy into triumph, is to further lay ourselves open to further misrepresentation, and worse.

    But in the end I’m not a Palestinian, I’m a Jew who doesn’t believe there are any gods or ever have been, who understands, I hope, the original reasons that some had for supporting Zionism as an answer to (mainly) European Christian antisemitism but who now believes the entire enterprise was a tragic mistaken answer. I even go further and claim that although true antisemites never needed any peg on which to hang their antisemitic hats, Israeli crimes and brutalities do offer, however unintentionally, such pegs. As definitions of antisemitism broaden and become so elastically stretched as to become not just misleading but categorically erroneous in dangerous ways, it becomes increasingly difficult to talk about Israel, and difficult too to avoid finding oneself having crossed blurred boundaries, wandering into overlapping circles.

    Spokespersons, religious and secular, talking and writing as diaspora Jews in support of Israel, in opposition to BDS, give the impression — wrongly — that all Jews are associated with and complicit in Israel’s crimes. Israeli politicians say that Israel is acting in the name not only of Israeli Jews, but of all Jews everywhere.

    If as a result of those sentences, someone were to accuse me of antisemitism, or of being a self-hating Jew, I wouldn’t accept the accusation, not even ironically. I would say to the contrary, I’m with those who are trying to rescue the good name of Judaism, of the Jewish people, who want to see Israel become what it was always supposed to have been, ‘A Light unto the Nations’. If Israel and Israel-apologists want to accuse us of antisemitism, they should instead look in the mirror.

    • eljay
      March 6, 2017, 11:02 am

      || DrBrianRobinson @ March 6, 2017, 9:55 am ||

      Excellent post. Thank you. :-)

    • Mooser
      March 6, 2017, 11:45 am

      “I’m with those who are trying to rescue the good name of Judaism, of the Jewish people, who want to see Israel become what it was always supposed to have been, ‘A Light unto the Nations’.”

      (Wow, that’s some harsh criticism)

      And I would say that a “good name” can always be made (besides, who cares what anybody else thinks of us Jews?) but Holy Land, where we can be the Light Among the Nations they ain’t making any more of that!
      Let’s get the land, and think about the “good name” after that job is done.

      • MHughes976
        March 6, 2017, 1:15 pm

        There was never any way for a polity founded on rights claimed exclusively for those who are of a certain religion or are of sufficiently close descent from some who were of that religion – a criterion totally and obviously unrelated to any normal or rational idea of human right – could have been an enlightening force. That is not to mention the cruelty that there was never any chance of avoiding when putting the claim into effect.
        If terrorism is actually defined as, simply means, defence of one’s country then it would indeed generally be admired, though some acts of national defence might be regarded as excessive.
        If anti-Semitism is defined as opposition to something strongly supported amongst people who are Jewish then anti-Zionists are anti-Semites. No one owns words or can stop others from using words as they wish.

      • RoHa
        March 7, 2017, 1:01 am

        The importance of definitions again.

        “No one owns words or can stop others from using words as they wish.”

        And we all know how this sad state of affairs can be rectified. The ownership and enforcement powers should be vested in me.

      • RoHa
        March 7, 2017, 1:10 am

        “Holy Land … they ain’t making any more of that!”

        But they could. First build an artificial island or peninsula. (This is the hard part, but the Monégasques and the Chinese know how it is done. ) Then get an Irish priest, give him ten quid and a bottle of Jameson’s, and he’ll bless the new land for you. Bingo! New Holy Land.

      • Mooser
        March 7, 2017, 12:32 pm

        .” The ownership and enforcement powers should be vested in me.”

        Being the chief orthographic arbiter isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The job entails constant verb-watching.

  9. Qualtrough
    March 12, 2017, 11:37 pm

    One of the most disgusting features of Zionists, of many, is their constant unrelenting effort to persuade others that Palestinians are a uniquely evil people who do not share our values.

  10. talknic
    March 13, 2017, 6:22 pm

    The fact that supporters of the Zionist colonization of Palestine readily resort to false accusations completely against the basic common sense tenets of Judaism shows us just how low they’re willing to stoop. They will stop at nothing, not even the murder of one of their own, the first native born Prime minister of Israel!

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