I have no connection to UMass, but nor am I a dispassionate observer.
In September 2017, three professors at UMass Amherst who learned that I was to speak there about Israel-Palestine, organised a letter-writing campaign to stop it. The letter accused me of “supporting ‘identity-based hate’ against Jewish people.” As “evidence” against me, they invoked the inventions of two notorious pro-Israeli propagandists in the UK. Thanks to the efforts of UMass Amherst Students for Justice in Palestine and others, the talk went ahead.
But that was not the end of it. In the days following my talk, it was again the propagandists five and a half thousand kilometres to the east, not my talk right in the University, that determined “what I had said”. The reporter for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian had not attended, but was sufficiently sure of what I’d said to convict me of “antisemitism” right in the headline and byline. I was, he went on to report, “a detriment to the Jewish student body on campus”.
As proof that UMass is not the first school where I received, as he put it, a “backlash from local Jews”, the reporter cited a talk I had given in London the previous year that was closed down by — yes — the same saboteurs. The reporter was perhaps not even aware of the irony. Rather, he “corroborated” the propagandists’ reports by a further lie from the same sources, that the institution itself, a branch of the University of London, had a “history of anti-Semitism” (and I spoke there, therefore…).
Even when I gave the journalist a link to a video of my UMass talk, proving that I had said the opposite of what he had reported, nothing changed. The fabrications remained, as did a bizarre embedded metatag in the article, “American Symphony Orchestra”, obviously the result of a Google search about me and inserted in the hope of harming my professional career.
An article in the Amherst Wire used my talk to argue that (as the headline read) “hate does have a home at UMass”. This article highlighted the alleged authenticity of my quotes by supplementing the quotation marks with the word “quote” itself. At that point, Professor of Communication Sut Jhally, executive director of the Media Education Foundation and an expert in communication, advertising, and propaganda, had a video of the complete talk and Q&A transcribed, and presented it to the Amherst Wire. He asked them to find anything remotely resembling the quotes. The Wire removed the online article — a very rare instance in which a paper has shown any responsibility for what it has published about anyone speaking out against Israeli crimes.
The Washington Free Beacon, which self-describes as “dedicated to uncovering the stories that the powers that be hope will never see the light of day”, carried the statement of the three UMass professors who had parroted the fabrications of the London saboteurs, and described me as “dripping with racial hatred against Jews”. Meanwhile, the conservative American political site HotAir declared me to be a “particularly odious speaker” and wondered in its headline: “Is it time for conservatives to ‘shut down’ anti-Israel campus speakers?”
In short, the title of Professor Jhally’s recent film, “The Occupation of the American Mind”, nails it. Yes, we in the United States live under Israeli Occupation.
My great admiration and thanks to UMass Amherst Students for Justice in Palestine…