Monday, July 16, 2012

Silencing pro-Palestinian voices on US Campuses

Remi Kanazi is a poet, writer, and author of Poetic Injustice: Writings on Resistance and Palestine. He will be performing at our National Organizers' Conference September 21-23 at St. Louis University so register today!  

On July 9, 2012, the University of California's Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion presented its fact-finding report and recommendations on Jewish Student Campus Climate. According to a letter written by UC President Mark Yudof, the report was launched
in response to the 2010 Berkeley student government vote to divest from companies selling weapons to the Israeli military and the 2010 UC Irvine protest against Israeli ambassador Michael Oren. 

The "climate report" was tasked with "fact-finding about the challenges and positive campus experiences of Jewish students at UC and to identify steps needed to make campuses more inclusive and welcoming for Jewish students." The council also presented a fact-finding report on Muslim and Arab Student Campus Climate. 

From the outset, the Jewish Student Campus Climate report focuses on non-violent protests and speeches critical of Israel, a state in clear violation of international law, not anti-Jewish bigotry. In fact, nearly 50 per cent of the report (excluding the introduction and recommendations) covered "the Anti-Zionism/Anti-Israel Movement and its Impact on Climate." 

Specifically, the use of the words "ethnic cleansing" and "apartheid" to describe Israel's policies are presented as problematic, while anti-Zionism and the
Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel are referred to as "manifestations of anti-Israel sentiment on campus." 

What is the definition of "anti-Israel?" We are never told. Imagine a UC report referring to protests against the war on Iraq as "manifestations of anti-American sentiment on campus." One of the three key demands in the BDS call is equality for all Palestinians living inside the state of Israel. Imagine referring to the Montgomery Bus Boycott as an "anti-American" period in our history. 

The report further presents Palestine Awareness Week as a "negative experience" for Jewish students, a framing that disregards the viewpoints of many Jewish students involved in organizing and planning the event. 

Israeli apartheid 

When asked about his reaction to the report, UCLA Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) member Rahim Kurwa said, "it reflects an attempt to put the brakes on campus discussion that is rapidly shifting from whether Israel is practicing apartheid to what we should be doing about it, namely divesting from companies profiting off of Israeli apartheid." 

Another extremely troubling aspect of the report is the clear conflict of interest of one its two advisory council members: Richard D Barton. Barton is the National Education Chair of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organisation
infamous for smearing groups working on Palestinian rights and for attacking American Jews who don't fit within their narrow ideological framework

Under its "
Top 10 Anti-Israel Groups in America", the ADL lists SJP, Jewish Voice for Peace, a national organisation with more than 100,000 members that "believes that peace in the Middle East will be achieved through justice and full equality for both Palestinians and Israelis", and the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, a coalition boasting 380 member organisations, including California-based Jewish groups such as LA Jews for Peace and the Tikkun Community. 

It is important to note that SJP, a campus group that often bears the brunt of attacks from right-wing, pro-Israel outside agitators, clearly states on its
website that it "categorically opposes any form of prejudice or discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation." 

The choice of Barton is not without consequence. While UC students have
consistently complained that anti-Semitism is cast about to stifle critique of Israel’s policies, the council members dismiss their concerns that "the charge of anti-Semitism is used in a manner to suppress that criticism." 

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