Activism

Open Letter: Against the blacklisting of activists and writers

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The cancellation of a lecture by journalist Rania Khalek, who was invited to speak on the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill campus by Students for Justice in Palestine on February 27, 2017, raises important issues of tactics and strategy within movements for social change.

The whole statement, posted on Facebook the night before, reads:

“After receiving much feedback and after careful consideration, we have decided to cancel tomorrow’s event with Rania Khalek. We do not endorse nor reject her views on the Syrian civil war as they remain relatively unclear according to our members’ diverse opinions of Rania’s analyses. Although Rania was not going to speak about Syria, we understand the Syrian conflict is a contentious issue and the invitation was met with a lot of anger. We appreciate the concerns of those who have reached out to us, especially our Syrian supporters and believe her invitation would mistakenly imply SJP to hold such views. SJP supports liberation movements for all oppressed people and recognizes their right to self-determination.”

We note: the UNC-SJP event organizers cancelled the event (which was to be on the intersection of Palestinian rights organizing and the Black Lives Matter movement) based on the speaker’s views on Syria, a topic the speaker was “not going to speak about”, that “remain relatively unclear” to them, out of concern that “her invitation would mistakenly imply SJP to hold such views”. This means that:

  • No one was prepared to state what disqualified Khalek from speaking.
  • The event was canceled based on assertions about her views made by others.
  • The cancellation was based on the notion that there is a political litmus test of views on Syria that are requisites to have a public voice in the Palestinian rights movement.

We also note that some of those who lobbied UNC-SJP to cancel the event have stated publicly that they want to destroy Khalek’s reputation and livelihood. This is a coordinated smear campaign, using many of the same tactics that Palestine solidarity activists have faced from pro-Israel organizations, and with many of the same targets.

The signers of this statement hold a range of views on Syria. Some agree with Khalek; others disagree – in some cases quite vehemently. But we feel that when a group seeking justice in Palestine subjects speakers or members to a political litmus test related to their views on Syria, it inevitably leads to splits, silencing, confusion, and a serious erosion of trust. It runs contrary to the possibility of people learning from one another, changing their minds, and educating one another through their activism. Disagreements about political issues exist inside every movement coalition. They must not be made fodder for targeted vilification of activists in the movement.

Signed,

Nahla Abdo

Rabab Abdulhadi

As`ad AbuKhalil

Ali Abunimah

Suzanne Adely

Max Ajl

Sami AlBanna

Michael Albert

Louis Allday

Mark Ames

Said Arikat

Reza Aslan

Carl Beijer

Medea Benjamin

Keane Bhatt

Max Blumenthal

Audrey Bomse

James W. Carden

Joe Catron

Noam Chomsky

George Ciccariello-Maher

Helena Cobban

Andrew Cockburn

Dan Cohen

Elliot Colla

Jonathan Cook

David Cromwell

Omar Dahi

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

David Edwards

Karim Eid-Sabbagh

Rami El-Amine

Zein El-Amine

Joe Emersberger

Lee Fang

Nina Farnia

Liza Featherstone

Glen Ford

Drew Franklin

Peter Gose

Kevin Gosztola

Greg Grandin

Glenn Greenwald

Bassam Haddad

David Heap

Doug Henwood

Edward Herman

Brad Hoff

Adam Horowitz

Abdeen Jabara

Bruno Jännti

Rula Jebreal

Zaid Jilani

Adam Johnson

Charlotte Kates

Sameera Khan

Jerome Klassen

Ken Klippenstein

Kyle Kulinski

Paul Larudee

Carlos Latuff

Daniel Lazare

Michael Levin

Antony Loewenstein

Mairead Maguire

Abby Martin

Mario Martone

Rania Masri

Todd Miller

Amina Mire

David Mizner

Mnar A. Muhawesh

Corinna Mullin

Elizabeth Murray

Robert Naiman

Jana Nakhal

Jim Naureckas

Ayman Nijim

Ben Norton

Anya Parampil

John Pilger

Adrienne Pine

Justin Podur

Gareth Porter

Vijay Prashad

Syksy Räsänen

Afshin Rattansi

Corey Robin

Brahim Rouabah

Al Awda SF

Gregory Shupak

Bill Skidmore

Norman Solomon

Rick Sterling

David Swanson

Linda Tabar

Dahlia Wasfi

Mark Weisbrot

Asa Winstanley

Col. Ann Wright

For more information, visit here or email [email protected]

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Having been blacklisted on Alternet (some of whose contributors signed here, e.g. Max Blumenthal) I have little sympathy for this plea. I find Khalek’s views as a Soviet/Assad apologist reprehensible and I think they did the right thing to disinvite her. And I say that as an advocate for free speech – I personally would have loved to hear her speak but I think a group has every right to decide whom to invite as… Read more »

“using many of the same tactics that Palestine solidarity activists have faced from pro-Israel organizations”

True and this is a GOOD thing – it forces people to take sides when their brothers are getting killed. A few months ago Oz Katerji was begging Khalek to defend the rebels and refugees. It was pathetic! If not for splits like this he’d probably still be doing it.

No one has a duty to listen to any opinion. That is not silencing the person you choose not to hear. But disinvitation is silencing – and indeed insulting – the disinvited person. It should happen only if something really unexpected comes to light after the invitation has been issued and rarely even then. It is particularly important not to back down just because news of the invitation rouses people who disagree with the speaker… Read more »

Very disappointed in Mondoweiss’s decision to publish this tract. First, as Mondoweiss should know, being blacklisted is what happens to academics and students who speak out on Palestine and are then denied jobs. This is *not* the same as having an SJP group cancel your talk after learning that the speaker has violated core solidarity principle through her anti-refugee, anti-Muslim, pro-“War on Terror,” and pro-Assad rhetoric. Second, it is disgraceful that you’ve chosen to side… Read more »

It seems to me the solution to these controversial talk predicaments is to have speakers from both sides on the same platform together, debating. This is what the debate format is for. The people who don’t want to share a platform with their opponents are trying to hide something and mislead their audience. The debate format gives the audience the best opportunity to compare the two positions, side by side, and approximately simultaneous.