What rhymes with intifada and is reportedly offensive to Jews?
The answer, of course, is “Dintifada.”
Last Sunday, UC Berkeley student Sumayyah Din announced her candidacy for her campus’s student senate. By the next day, the Muslim-American sophomore was under attack for using an imaginary word that was deemed offensive by one of the campus’s pro-Israel groups.
Din had posted the following candidacy statement on her Facebook wall:
I am honored to have the opportunity to run for ASUC Senate as an independent candidate. I believe it is tremendously important for ALL students at Cal to have a voice in our student government and I want to represent my communities in this space. My vision encompasses a collaborative force on campus that utilizes our collective identities for an inclusive campus climate. I hope to move forward with the utmost transparency, compassion, and vigor. Vote the Independent Voice for an Independent Choice! #DIN4THEWIN #DINASTY #DINTIFADA #DOIT4THEDIN
At the end of her statement, she inserted four made-up hashtags, all of which were riffs on her surname—inserted as puns, near-rhymes, and alliteration. But one hashtag was singled out by the campus pro-Israel crowd as offensive: “#DINTIFADA.”
Bears for Israel, a new student group at UC Berkeley designed “to form a unified front against anti-Israel activity and crises on our campus,” published a screenshot of Din’s post and responded to the hashtag on its own Facebook wall:
On a campus that prides itself on the power of free speech, it is so disappointing to see that power being used in such a destructive, triggering way.
For many, this word seems innocent enough. But for the Jewish community, it immediately sparks memories of death, destruction, and some of the bloodiest scenes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Last night, a UC Berkeley student announced her candidacy for ASUC Senate using the hashtag #DINTIFADA. #DINTIFADA does not create an “inclusive campus climate”—it ruins it. #DINTIFADA does not “utilize collective identities”—it marginalizes a minority group. Jewish students have the right to feel safe at all times on this campus, and election season is no exception.
In the wake of the pasage of the UC system’s first anti-Semitism bill, it is critical for the student body, its leaders, and its administrators to recognize how damaging and terrifying rhetoric such as #DINTIFADA really is.
UC Berkeley is a place of learning, not of hatred. Its Senate candidates should promote dialogue between groups, not violence.
Bears for Israel is appalled by this candidate’s words. We have a responsibility to hold our elected officials and those running for office accountable, and we ask that Sumayyah Din publicly apologize for and denounce her offensive language.
This post was reproduced by Daniel Mael on the right-wing attack site, Truth Revolt. Mael, who is notorious for creating news reports based on out-of-context quotes from Twitter and Facebook posts of college students, claimed that Din was “making reference to the murder of innocent men, women and children as part of her campaign platform” and implied that the hashtag was anti-Semitic.
StandWithUs Facebook post results in calls for Din’s death
Other Israel advocacy groups shared the Bears for Israel Facebook post. Claremont Students for Israel, which is sponsored by the pro-Israel group CAMERA, called the hashtag “unacceptable beyond all recognition.” Hasbara Fellowships, which flies US college students to Israel to train them in Israeli PR, accused Din of “ irreverence for human life exhibited by bringing the Intifada to campus.”
Yet it was a StandWithUs Facebook post that elicited the most responses, garnering over 1,100 likes and 375 shares within eight hours.
How was it done? Simple: Instead of actually quoting Din or providing context, StandWithUs simply published a picture of the aftermath of a suicide bombing and then attached Din’s name to it, with a vague explanation of her alleged offense.
The rest was left to the readers’ imaginations. Consequently, the StandWithUs post led to comments that were far more offensive than anything Din had actually said:
Karma is coming for this ignorant brainwashed little girl, definitely not peaceful.
I would like to be able to comment on her page. This girl is a POS [piece of shit]
I thought Muslims were peaceful. [Response from another commenter:] Yup the dead ones !
These terrorists must be eradicated
SOMEONE SHOULD ELIMINATE HER FROM THE EARTH.
a frustated ,sexually repressed woman
It’s time to ship the islamic migrants back to their deserts!
She is a terrorist.
wanna bet she’s muslim
Obama promotes this kind of anti Semitism.
[I]ts all from the moslems going to the school and spewing their hate at which the stupid liberals feel sorry for the moslems. And since Moslems are allowed to lie, the libs eat it up and not doing there own research..
All Jewish benefactors should stop giving money to these schools.
Maybe the Mossad should send her a greeting card.
It seems to me that are immigration quotas should be looked at for others NOT just Hispanics
Sumayya Din? Sounds like a good American name. Her folks must have come over on the Mayflower then.
So can this dingo, Sumayya Din do the same in her country and not get penalized if not something worse?
Islamic oil money………………
These savages don’t qualify as human therefore they don’t deserve a trial, just a speedy execution.
time to fucking deport these shitbags
Among these many calls for her death or deportation were a couple of unanswered comments from people inquiring about what Din actually said.
NSFJ (“Not Safe for Jews”): Dintifada and J Street
To illustrate just how low the anti-Semitism bar is at Berkeley, we can take the following example.
Bears for Israel is part of the UC Berkeley Jewish Student Union, whose claimed purpose is “to unify Jewish student groups” and which “is committed to a pluralistic vision of Judaism.”
Yet the Jewish Student Union has twice turned down the campus’s J Street U chapter for admission on the grounds that the liberal Zionist organization was insufficiently pro-Israel.
In 2013, Jewish Student Union President Daphna Torbati explained that other Jews would find their safe space violated if J Street U were to be admitted:
For a lot of members … the [Jewish Student Union is] the only place where they can express their love for Israel because of such an anti-Israel campus climate … A lot of people have said that they want the [Jewish Student Union] to stay a place they feel comfortable saying they love Israel.”
Thus, for some Jewish students at Berkeley, a “safe space” for Jews is one that is devoid of words that rhyme with “intifada,” devoid of criticism of Israel, and devoid of liberal Zionist Jews.
The “Jewish intifada”
And what of Bears for Israel’s claims that “for the Jewish community, [intifada] immediately sparks memories of death, destruction, and some of the bloodiest scenes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”—that it is a “destructive, triggering” word for Jews, and that it “promote[s] … violence”?
On March 10, 2013, the Hebrew edition of Haaretz quoted Likud party members in its headline as threatening an “intifadah neged Netanyahu akheri hakamah ha-memshalah.” That is, they were threatening an “intifada” against Netanyahu over the formation of a new coalition government.
The article did not bother defining “intifada” for its Hebrew readers, no doubt confident that they would understand the meaning and not freak out. However, the English version of the same Haaretz article did define “intifada” for its readers, but without the connotations expressed by Bears for Israel, Daniel Mael, and StandWithUs:
Party officials on Sunday threatened an “intifada”, or uprising, over what they call “Netanyahu’s failure to give out positions” to members of Likud and other formerly close coalition partners.
The same article was reprinted in the Jewish Daily Forward—this time with a headline referring to a “Jewish intifada”:
At no point was it suggested that these Likud members were calling for “death, destruction, and some of the bloodiest scenes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Nor did the report claim that Netanyahu burst into tears or feared for his safety at the mention of the word “intifada” by his fellow Likudniks, despite being Jewish. There was no accusation of incitement to violence, and Netanyahu was never quoted as responding, “I feel unsafe.” And though Haaretz and the Forward’s primary audience is Jewish, neither publication offered a trigger warning before dropping the “i”-bomb.
It was clear in all three articles that the meaning of intifada conveyed not the spilling of Jewish blood, but a revolt against the establishment.
#Dintifada “ruins” the campus climate
In contrast, and quite amusingly, Bears for Israel complains that “#DINTIFADA does not create an ‘inclusive campus climate’—it ruins it.” Campus. Ruined. Forever.
I asked Sumayyah Din what she meant by the hashtag “#DINTIFADA”:
Breaking it down, my last name Din means faith, and intifada (literally) means “shaking off”, though it is popularly translated into English as uprising, resistance, and/or rebellion. It is often used as a term for popular resistance to oppression. When put together, the inspiration I draw from #dintifada is a representation of a faith-filled resistance; a compassionate and resilient means of survival. In relation to my role as a student, this translates into challenging institutions, thinking, and other potential obstructions to the highest standard of social justice.
Furthermore, the word intifada is a representation of the Palestinian struggle, a struggle I have and always will stand in solidarity with. The use of this word gives the Palestinian people hope and I find it extremely disturbing that anyone would delegitimize the reality Palestinians go through on a day to day basis by saying this word is triggering. This word is uplifting, it is beautiful, and it represents the struggle of all oppressed peoples.
Other uses of the term “intifada”
Indeed, when Iranians took to the streets to protest Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory in the 2009 presidential election, many Western observers praised the movement as an “Iranian intifada.” One such observer was Israeli analyst Meir Javendanfar, who enjoys legitimacy within the Israeli establishment and is even listed in the Jewish National Fund speakers bureau. At the start of the Iranian “Green Movement” protests, Javendanfar wrote that
An Iranian-style intifada seems to be in the making … The protests now seem to carry the potential to turn into a full-scale civil disobedience campaign, not unlike the first intifada the Palestinians initiated against Israel in 1987.
In 1987, to Palestinians, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the deteriorating political and economic situations there formed the nucleus of the political ideology that legitimized the first intifada.
Khamenei’s increasing attacks against the Iranian public … are creating the nucleus of an ideology that is legitimizing opposition, not just in cities, but throughout Iran.
Here, Javendanfar evoked the term “intifada” not to suggest “death, destruction,” and “the bloodiest scenes,” but rather to suggest “a full-scale civil disobedience campaign, not unlike the first intifada the Palestinians initiated against Israel.”
Another example: In Lebanon in 2005, a movement emerged protesting Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs. The West supported these protests, which the Bush administration dubbed the “Cedar Revolution.” Within Lebanon, however, it was known as Intifaadat al-Istiqlaal, the “Intifada of Independence.”
The Washington Post explained the naming discrepancy:
To speak of Lebanon’s “intifada” places this month’s events in the tradition of the Palestinians’ struggle against Israeli occupation. And it implies that Syria, a decaying Arab autocracy, and Israel, a favorite U.S. ally, have something in common as occupying powers … Given this history, the “Cedar Revolution” brand is more congenial to the Bush administration.
Nevertheless the Jerusalem Post in 2005 praised the Lebanese “civilian intifada” for having “done what years of civil war and internecine fighting failed to achieve. It brought the citizens of Lebanon together as Lebanese.”
That same year, another “Intifada of Independence” emerged in Western Sahara in protest of the continued Moroccan occupation. It was in fact the second Sahrawi intifada, the first one having begun in 1999.
There have been other uprisings that have come to be known as intifadas, such as the 1970 Sahrawi “Zemla Intifada” against Spanish rule and the 1965 Bahraini “March Intifada” against British colonialism.
Banning the word “intifada” as a form of cultural appropriation
Such examples illustrate the wide range of usage and context for the term intifada. All of these contexts are wiped out by Bears for Israel, Daniel Mael in Truth Revolt, and StandWithUs, which seek to lay exclusive claim to the term “intifada” and to redefine it as “dead Jews.”
They will accept only one meaning for the word—that which they imbue in it, with all their willful ignorance, their fear-mongering, and their racist and Islamophobic stereotypes. And they claim this right specifically as Jews, though the word was never their own.
Thus, by rejecting any other definition of the term, and by denying the word’s wide usage, they are appropriating the cultures of others and, by censorship, preventing others from using their own language.
This is the context in which we must read the claim that “intifada” is offensive to the “Jewish community”—in the same manner that J Street is offensive to this “Jewish community”—and that the made-up word Dintifada “ruins” the “campus climate,” that it “marginalizes a minority group,” and that it is “damaging and terrifying rhetoric.”
Thus, for the “safe[ty]” of Jewish students, the word initifada and anything that rhymes with it must be banned, “the student body, its leaders, and its administrators” must incorporate this viewpoint, and Sumayyah Din must “publicly apologize and denounce her” own positive values—not for the sake of all Jews, but for a preselected set of right-wing, Israel-apologist, Islamophobic, and race-baiting Jews.
Sumayyah Din’s campaign platform
Following up on Daniel Mael’s claim that Sumayyah Din promoted “the murder of innocent men, women and children as part of her campaign platform,” I asked Din if she had any plans to inflict violence on campus.
Haha, no. I can confidently say I have no plans to inflict any violence towards any groups on campus. I would never want to carry or condone any message of violence or hatred. In fact, my campaign is themed with a central dogma of love, solidarity, and unity.
In fact, Din’s campaign platform calls for a reduction of violence by enacting campus police reforms. As the Daily Californian reported,
[Din] has also been speaking to Councilmember Jesse Arreguin and others on the issue of police militarization. She noted the campus police department’s possession of military-grade weapons and said she would ultimately like to see money go instead to restorative justice training.
“These baby steps are definitely necessary,” Din said. “It’s an issue nationwide, but it’s an issue on campus as well.”
Din is also “adamantly focused on ensuring that my community’s voice will be heard in the ASUC space for next year and years to come.” She has already garnered the support of the Middle Eastern Muslim Sikh and South Asian Coalition (MEMSSA)—and though she is running as an independent, she is endorsing a slate of women of color candidates who are running under CalSERVE (Cal Students for Equal Rights and a Valid Education).
In light of the vicious attacks against her, has Din received support from fellow students and from faculty and the administration?
To be honest, I feel so blessed to have had an outpouring of love and support from family, fellow peers, and community members. However, I’m not surprised that I have not seen any support from faculty and administration; traditionally, they have constantly chosen to remain silent on issues that affect my community. But I am more than willing and hopeful in welcoming any support from them.
A common retort by Israel advocates is that the actions of Israel critics curb “dialogue.” Bears for Israel claims that it “promotes open dialogue on campus,” and its president, Becca Berman, has criticized the campus SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) for allegedly “not engag[ing] in any kind of dialogue to address the issues that they are saying they wish to discuss on campus.”
However this call is often a disingenuous rhetorical device used to discredit any protest of Israeli actions as antithetical to “dialogue.” Underscoring the disingenuous nature of this rhetoric, Din told me that none of her critics—not even Bears for Israel, which is demanding an apology from her and suggesting that the school should take action against her—ever approached her before publicly leveling their ridiculous claims against her:
One of the many things that I find extremely disappointing about these attacks is that no one has directly contacted me about it at all. I would have actually loved to discuss this issue with the people that have been taking actions against me.
The right-wing “PC police”
Unfortunately this manufactured controversy over the word “intifada” is not new. In 2007, Debbie Almontaser was forced to resign as founding principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, an English–Arabic public school in Brooklyn, after explaining the meaning of the word “intifada” to a New York Post reporter who asked.
Her explanation, that it literally meant “shaking off” in Arabic, and that it did not have an inherently violent context, was considered insufficient for the New York Post, which subsequently accused Almontaser of “glorify[ing] Palestinian terror.” The Post article, which contained several factual errors, was later found by a federal appellate court to have quoted Almontaser “incorrectly and misleadingly.”
By then, however, the damage had been done. Islamophobic groups, led in part by the neocon Daniel Pipes (who also popularized the European “Muslim No-Go Zone” myth), capitalized on the hysteria, leading to Almontaser’s forced resignation. In 2010, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, siding with Almontaser, found that the NYC Department of Education
succumbed to the very bias that creation of the school was intended to dispel and a small segment of the public succeeded in imposing its prejudices on D.O.E. as an employer.
According to the New York Times,
The commission said that the department had discriminated against Ms. Almontaser, a Muslim of Yemeni descent, “on account of her race, religion and national origin.”
Today, right-wing attack sites such as Truth Revolt, Washington Free Beacon, Breitbart.com, Legal Insurrection, and the Daily Caller, scour social media posts searching for comments that can be twisted into something seemingly offensive to their conservative and Zionist sensibilities. Such was the case against Steven Salaita. More frequently now, the focus has been directed at college students of color.
Prior to going after Sumayyah Din, Daniel Mael led an attack against Khadija Lynch, an African-American Brandeis student who—at the height of the “Black Lives Matter” protests and the publicized killings of African Americans by police officers—had tweeted that she had no sympathy for two murdered police officers and that she “hate[d] this racist fucking country.” Lynch had also called for an American intifada, which Mael claimed was a call for “innocents [to be] murdered.”
The attack against Lynch led to death threats against her and her removal from the African and Afro-American Studies Department at Brandeis. Nevertheless Lynch explained that
Not having sympathy is not the same as rejoicing or saying that they deserved to die. I think all human life is valuable; I’m not a violent person; and I don’t condone violence.
As Lynch’s only crime was not expressing sympathy for murdered police officers whom she did not know—indeed, one Alan Dershowitz article on the “controversy” was headlined “A Brandeis Student Refuses to Show Sympathy for Assassinated Policemen,” as if sympathy were an obligation—one can safely assume that such a controversy would not have ensued had the same sentiments been tweeted by a random white person whose respect for police officers is not automatically called into question.
More recently, Mael has gone after a UC Davis student senator, Azka Fayyaz, who, in satirizing anti-BDS and Islamophobic alarmists, joked on her Facebook wall that the recent passage of a divestment resolution signaled the imposition of Hamas and Sharia law on campus. As Fayyaz explained,
I figured that everyone would be able to discern between satire and fact … In 2013 and 2014, the anti-divestment community said that Hamas supports our divestment resolution.
There is of course no interpretation of Sharia law that necessitates divestment from Caterpillar Inc., but that was of no concern to Mael, who capitalized on the words and ignored the meaning.
And among the most ridiculous manufactured controversies was a case last year in which the Washington Free Beacon used a picture posted on Facebook—stripped of its accompanying text—to accuse an Arab student at the University of Michigan of engaging in anti-Semitic acts with a pineapple.
Sumayyah Din is only the latest target of an ongoing campaign to attack students on the flimsiest rationales—but which exploit Islamophobic, xenophobic, anti-Arab, and anti-black fears. But Din herself won’t let the attacks keep her down. When I asked her about the backlash she has experienced over her candidacy, she replied:
I wouldn’t define the unfounded responses as of recently as “backlash.” Backlash carries a negative connotation in regards to my actions and candidacy. Rather I choose to view these responses as groundless defenses that have arisen due to a highly polarized campus climate that is rooted far beyond my candidacy in this year’s election.
Din has also issued a dignified response to the attacks in a letter to the school newspaper.
Din deserves apologies from Bears for Israel, Daniel Mael, and StandWithUs for their ridiculous smears—though such acts of decency are unlikely to materialize.
In that absence, we should offer our solidarity with Sumayyah Din by proudly tweeting out her hashtag, #DINTIFADA.