The Battle for Palestine at Tufts

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The Battle for Palestine at Tufts

Tuft University’s Office for Campus Life hands out awards to student organizations every year and 2020’s Collaboration Award was given to Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). The award “is given in recognition of a co-sponsored program that demonstrates synergy and success as a result of working together.”

SJP earned the award by building a coalition of over 20 student groups to help end collaboration between the school’s police force and the Israeli military. In 2017, Tufts University police chief Kevin Maguire traveled to Israel with a delegation of cops to attend a counter-terrorism seminar. “There was quite an uproar after we found out — there was a letter from faculty members condemning the trip and a petition went around calling on Tufts to stop partaking in them,” Tufts SJP member Molly Tunis told the school’s paper last year, “Obviously Kevin Maguire is just one small piece of the puzzle, but creating these exchanges and building up this country’s military industrial complex can really have these big repercussions and it really did scare a lot of people on this campus.”

Last week, Tufts University president Anthony Monaco (and the school’s provosts) put out a statement condemning the decision to award SJP and effectively claimed that it was an attack on the school’s Jewish students:

We strongly disapprove of this award in light of SJP’s concerning policy positions, including its association with the BDS movement, elements of which we view as anti-Semitic. We will be reviewing the awards process, which currently does not involve academic deans or senior university leadership and this year did not include students, in order to ensure proper oversight and review going forward. We as senior leaders take responsibility for this outcome, which should not have happened, and recognize that the award has caused a great deal of pain and concern for Jewish members of our community and others who share concerns about SJP’s policy positions, particularly in light of rising anti-Semitism in the U.S. and around the world.

A number of pro-Israel organizations praised this statement. Anti-Defamation League head Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted, “We appreciate the leadership from @MonacoAnthony & @Tufts here. It’s ironic for SJP to win an award for collaboration when they routinely alienate Jewish students and others who don’t submit to their rigid worldview and regularly foster #antisemitism.”

B’nai B’rith International tweeted, ““Appalled @TuftsUniversity chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) won student Collaboration Award for what are false narrative accusations against Israel. SJP maligns Jewish students. We commend school leaders who disapprove of award to SJP.”

Tufts SJP, and a number of other student organizations, published a response to Monaco’s statement on the group’s Facebook page. “We are appalled and saddened that Tufts SJP has been falsely accused of antisemitism for our principled work in supporting Palestinian human rights,” it reads in part, “It is extremely disheartening to see the Tufts administration push forward these harmful and baseless narratives—both for Arab students in our club who remain constant targets of racist accusations and baseless smear campaigns that delegitimize their organizing efforts, and for the Jewish students and organizations involved in this campaign whom this statement entirely erases.”

A similar situation occurred last year, after New York University’s SJP chapter won a campus award. Pro-Israel groups also condemned that decision and NYU president Andrew Hamilton distanced himself from the decision. “Had it been up to me, SJP would not have received the award — not because of its politics or NYU’s opposition to its pro-boycott, divestment and sanctions positions, but because SJP’s behavior has been divisive,” said Hamilton.

Tufts SJP is asking people to email school administrators about the issue. Those email addresses can be found in the comments section of the Facebook post.

Dingell Letter

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) led a letter to U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft that was signed by 59 congress members. The letter calls on the Trump administration to restore humanitarian aid to Palestine in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

“As COVID-19 pandemic numbers continue to rise, we write to seek your assistance in the effort to restart U.S. humanitarian assistance to Palestinians, including UNRWA,” begins the letter, “As you know, the pandemic has now reached the Gaza Strip with cases beginning to inexorably rise in a place with few resources to combat the outbreak. Coupled with the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, the pandemic now poses an unprecedented global health emergency.”

In 2018, the Trump administration cut all funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Five million people rely on the organization for social services.

Biden Won’t Move Embassy

This week presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden announced that he would not move the United States’s Israeli embassy back to Tel Aviv if elected president. In 2018, the Trump administration broke decades of U.S. policy by moving the embassy to Jerusalem, a city that both Palestine and Israel as their capital.

“It should not have been moved,” said Biden during a virtual fundraiser, “The move shouldn’t have happened in the context as it did, it should happen in the context of a larger deal to help us achieve important concessions for peace in the process. Moving the embassy when we did without the conditions having been met was short-sighted and frivolous. But now that is done, I would not move the embassy back to Tel Aviv.”

Biden’s admission isn’t exactly breaking news, as this was his position on the campaign trail. In fact, this was basically the position of nearly everyone who ran for the nomination. Last July, Axios asked every candidate, who was running at the time, about moving the embassy. While many of them criticized Trump’s move, not one of them would commit to moving it back. In a rare moment of sincerity, Mayor Pete seemed to sum up the prevailing position: “I don’t know that we’d gain much by moving it to Tel Aviv.”

Even Sanders refused to comment on the issue at the time, although he later said he’d consider moving the embassy back during a February debate.

Like most political issues, Biden has a disturbing backstory here. Back in 1995, the former Senator cosponsored legislation that recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and put aside funds to move the embassy there. Here was Biden defending the proposed move on the Senate floor:

Regardless of what others may think, Jerusalem is in the capital of Israel. Israel is not just any old country…it should be clear to all that the United States stands squarely behind Israel, our close friend and ally. Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem will send the right signal, not a destructive signal. To do no less would be to play into the hands of those who try the hardest to deny Israel the full attributes of statehood. I urge my colleagues to support the legislation.

Odds & Ends

🗳️ JVP Action has endorsed two new candidates. Mckayla Wilkes, who is running against pro-Israel Dem Steny Hoyer in Maryland’s 5th district, and Samelys López, who is running in New York’s 15th.

Here’s Wilkes on her endorsement:  “I am honored to be endorsed by Jewish Voice for Peace Action – a grassroots organization working to ensure that the principles of justice are always applied consistently, including when it comes to the rights of Palestinians. I will fight on behalf of marginalized communities across the country and the world, and I am grateful for the support from advocates like JVPA. We stand together in solidarity.”

And here’s López: : “I am proud to join Jewish Voice for Peace Action on the path towards justice, equality, and dignity for all Palestinians and Israelis. We will always stand with the Jewish community against antisemitism and bigotry. Let’s amplify their struggles and triumphs, and stand in solidarity against antisemitism and bigotry because a harm to one of us is a harm to us all.”

⚖️ A federal appeals court threw out a Texas lawsuit that claimed the state’s anti-BDS law violated free speech. No surprises there, as Texas had modified the original law after a judge slapped it down last year and effectively made the existing lawsuit moot.

🇮🇱 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated that the country’s new “unity” government will move forward with West Bank annexation plans this summer and that he’ll have the support of the Trump administration. These statements haven’t generated much from the Democrats and nothing notable from Biden. This week Biden senior foreign policy advisor Tony Blinken said the former vice president was on the record opposing annexation, but that it was too early to prejudge what might happen. We also know that Biden is on the record opposing the conditioning of military aid to Israel, so it’s unclear how he’d go about stopping Israel’s government from doing much of anything if elected, but that’s another story.

One of the only lawmakers to address the situation was Bernie Sanders. “Israeli annexation of occupied territory clearly violates international law,” tweeted the Senator, “An outcome in which Palestinians are denied equality, freedom, and self-determination is an affront to our values and interests. It should not be supported by the United States.”

🏛️ I interviewed Arab American Institute co-founder James Zogby about the fight for Palestine in Washington, his time working for the Jackson campaigns of the 80s, Bernie Sanders, and how two-state rhetoric became the standard Democratic copout. You can read it at the site.

Take care of one another and wash your hands,