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Over 350 faculty members have declared that they refuse to be intimidated by the Trump administration over Palestine

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Over 350 faculty members have signed a petition supporting Palestinian rights and declaring that they won’t be intimidated by the Trump administration’s recent targeting of Middle East studies programs on campus. The petition was circulated by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) in response to the Department of Education (DOE) carrying out an investigation over a campus conference on Gaza that occurred last year.

This past March, the Consortium for Middle East Studies (a joint program between the University of North Carolina and Duke University) held a conference called “Conflict over Gaza: People, Politics, and Possibilities.” At the event, a Palestinian performed a satirical song about an Arab developing feelings for an IDF solider. A pro-Israel blogger posted about the song online without context, which prompted a local Republican Congressman to call for the DOE to investigate the program for potential antisemitism.

Last month the DOE released the results of its investigation in the form of a letter, which read as a direct threat to program and others like it. It demanded a specific breakdown of potential spending and effectively implied that any Title VI funding would be cut unless the program became more pro-Israel and less complimentary of Islam.  “A considerable emphasis placed on the understanding the positive aspects of Islam, while there is an absolute absence of any similar focus on the positive aspects of Christianity, Judaism or any other religion or belief system in the Middle East,” explains the letter.

While the brazenness of this move might have surprised some, it certainly didn’t shock JVP or other organizations that fight for the rights of Palestinians. After Trump nominated the rabidly pro-Israel Kenneth Marcus as assistant secretary for civil rights last year, groups like JVP and Palestine Legal warned that Marcus would push the DOE to crack down on pro-Palestine advocacy on campus.

The JVP petition is titled “Trump Can’t Silence Us.” It reads:

As academics from across disciplines and universities, we are horrified and disturbed by the Trump administration’s attempt to promote a narrow, neoconservative view of Middle East studies. 

We recognize the investigation into Duke/UNC Chapel Hill for what it is – a warning that, if campuses allow the open discussion of Palestinian human rights, they risk being federally investigated, publicly chastised, and de-funded. 

We say no. Palestinian human rights are one of the most urgent and important issues of our time. Curtailing the academic discussion of this issue to appease the Trump administration goes against every principle of free speech and academic freedom. 

We pledge to keep talking about Palestine — teaching Palestinian history, citing Palestinian scholarship, sponsoring Palestinian events, and inviting Palesintian speakers, cultural workers, and activists to our classrooms and campuses. 

We won’t be intimidated. 

Tallie Ben Daniel is the Research and Education Manager for Jewish Voice for Peace. She told Mondoweiss that the government’s issue isn’t with this specific conference, but rather finding a catalyst to pushing its agenda. “They were always waiting for something like this to happen,” she said “The longterm goal is to create a culture of fear and Kenneth Marcus has been working on this for decades. The situation on campus is already scary and now it’s worse.”

Daniel pointed out that the issue of campus free speech has been hijacked by the right-wing under Trump, but said she was also hopeful that debate about these issues had opened more space for pro-Palestine voices. “Palestine has become a central issue of progressive politics under Trump,” she said, “It’s become normalized, so in this sense I’m hopeful.”

Michael Arria

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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  1. bcg on October 17, 2019, 12:37 pm

    Relevant: ” Revealed: rightwing push to ban criticism of Israel on US campuses
    Documents seen by Guardian show fresh attack on university debate under the guise of prohibiting antisemitism…Rightwing activists are attempting to spread new laws across Republican-controlled states that would ban criticism on public university campuses of Israel and its occupation of Palestinian territory.”

  2. Misterioso on October 18, 2019, 10:11 am

    Regarding the banner in the photo reading “End the war on Gaza,” i.e., the world’s largest concentration camp:

    “Uninhabitable: Gaza faces the moment of truth” by Jonathan Cook, 13 October 2019

    “Israel has ignored warnings by the United Nations that Gaza is about to become uninhabitable, acting as if Palestinians there can be caged, starved and abused indefinitely. Now crises are unfolding on all fronts – social, economic, political and humanitarian – and Israel is running out of time to find solutions.”

    “The only way Israelis can be made to sit up and take note of the disaster unfolding next door in Gaza, it seems, is when they fear the fallout may spill out of the tiny coastal enclave and engulf them too. Environmental experts from two Israeli universities issued a report in June warning that the imminent collapse of Gaza’s water, sewage and electricity infrastructure would soon rebound on Israel.

    “Gideon Bromberg, the Israeli director of EcoPeace Middle East, which commissioned the report, told journalists: ‘Without urgent, vigorous action, plagues and infections will break out that could cost a great many lives, both in Israel and in Gaza, and no fence or Iron Dome [Israel’s missile interception system] can thwart them.’ Israel’s liberal Haaretz newspaper paraphrased another of Bromberg’s comments: ‘If something isn’t done, the upshot could be political horror in the form of hundreds of thousands of Gazans fleeing for their lives toward Israel – for fear of catching disease.’

    “Bromberg and others on Israel’s left are well aware that Gaza’s 2 million Palestinians were long ago dehumanized in the eyes of most Israeli Jews, who think of them as nothing more than terrorists or terrorist sympathizers who deserve their sorry fate. Stories of Gaza’s endless suffering a short distance from Israelis’ homes are unlikely to shame them into action. They can be roused only out of self-interest – a fear for their own safety and the wellbeing of their loved ones.

    “Gaza’s problems, however – the fact that it is one of the most densely populated, poorest and polluted places on the planet – are not an accident, or the consequences of some natural cataclysm. The crisis there is entirely man-made – and one that has been engineered over decades by Israel.

    “Israel effectively treated the Strip as a dumping ground – a holding pen – for the mass of refugees it created by dispossessing the Palestinians of their homeland in 1948. Nearly three-quarters of Gaza’s inhabitants are descended from the refugees of that war, Palestinians who were forced off their lands in what is now Israel and denied the right ever to return to their homes.

    “Having exiled them, Israel was nonetheless prepared to use the Palestinians of Gaza as a cheap labor force – for a time. It was possible until the 1990s for Palestinians to exit Gaza relatively easily to work in Israel’s dirtiest and lowest-paying jobs. But as the occupation entrenched, Israel was forced into a rethink by two developments.

    “First, Palestinians under occupation, including in Gaza, launched a lengthy campaign of mass civil disobedience against their occupiers in the late 1980s, known as the first intifada, that included general strikes, a refusal to pay taxes, boycotts of Israeli goods and stone-throwing. And second, Gaza’s population has grown exponentially, at a pace that outstripped the capacity of this tiny territory – measuring just 25 miles in length and some 5 miles across – to accommodate them.

    “In response, Israeli leaders pushed for a more clear-cut physical separation from Gaza. The rallying cry of politicians of the time was: ‘Us here, them over there.’

    “Israel’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach was soon given diplomatic sanction in the Oslo Accords of the mid-1990s. Israel surrounded Gaza with high-security fences and armed watchtowers, established an exclusion zone along its sea coast, and revoked the general exit policy.

    “Ariel Sharon’s disengagement of 2005, when the last remaining Jewish settlers were pulled out of the enclave, marked the completion of Israel’s separation policy. The occupation did not end, however. Israel still controlled Gaza’s airspace, its land perimeters and coastal waters. Israel soon imposed a blockade, preventing goods as well as people from entering or leaving, a blockade it tightened dramatically when the Palestinian faction Hamas won elections in the occupied territories in 2006.

    “Since then, Israel has transformed the holding center into a super-max prison. This year it finished a submarine barrier with sophisticated sensor systems along the coast. Israel is currently enlarging the perimeter fence to make it 20 feet high and fortifying it with remotely controlled gun towers, while all-seeing drones patrol the skies above Gaza.

    “The first dire warning about conditions in Gaza was issued in 2015, a year after Israel’s massive attack on the enclave known as Protective Edge, in which more than 2,200 Palestinians were killed, including over 550 children, and 17,000 families left homeless. A report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) argued that Gaza would be ‘uninhabitable’ by 2020 if the trends then current continued. None of those trends has been halted or reversed. Which means Gaza is about to slide into a fully fledged humanitarian catastrophe entirely created by Israel, and implicitly supported by the silence and inaction of western states.

    “But while Israel has managed to keep the Palestinian inhabitants of Gaza cooped up like underfed and abused battery chickens, it is starting to find it is much harder to contain the various crises – social, economic, political and humanitarian – unfolding in the enclave. Slowly Israel is waking up to the fact that Palestinians don’t behave like chickens.”

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