Photo: Cantavestrella/Wikimedia Commons
The latest of the SOAS University of London “Continuing the Conversations” online events series—“U.S. and Palestine: Shoot to Kill Policies and Transnational Resistance”—offered a platform for activist and professor Noura Erakat of Rutgers University to provide a heavily biased account as opposed to facilitating a conversation over these sensitive issues. Moderator Dr. Rafeef Ziadah, a SOAS lecturer in comparative politics of the Middle East, did not once challenge Erakat’s narrative, and, of course, no other speakers were provided to balance this noticeably one-way “conversation.”
The stated purpose of the Sept. 13 event was to draw comparisons between the United States and Palestine in order to “illuminate the anti-racist nature of the Palestinian struggle” and the “anti-colonial nature of the black freedom struggle.” As is typical of such tirades, the evidence for and definitions of the extraordinary claims made were assumed rather than explained. The supposed similarities between the “anti-colonial struggle” of Palestinians and African-Americans were neither defined nor evidenced, and Zionism’s vehemently anti-colonial origins conveniently omitted. “Racial capitalism” was another term used; it was apparently more useful to Erakat as a label for an irredeemably evil system without having to decide the pesky matter of what it actually was, or whether there was evidence of its existence in the United States or Israel. Terms were not used as a springboard for a fact-based conversation, but as buzzwords that signaled to a likeminded audience that Erakat was on the “right side” of the political conversation.
Many of Erakat’s comments on Israel blatantly referred to the Jewish population as “settler colonialists,” a claim that she repeated in her book published earlier this year, despite all historical evidence to the contrary. Erakat frames Israelis as “European Zionists,” despite the complexities of European Jewish identity, as well as the thousands of years of continuing religious, cultural and ethnic Jewish ties to Israel prior to and throughout the Diaspora. She also ignores that more than half of Israel’s Jewish population are descended from refugees exiled from the Middle East and North Africa after 1948, and have little to zero historical connection with Europe whatsoever. Erakat’s caricature of Jewish history and identity is hardly surprising given her long-standing work with BADIL, an organization that in 2015 awarded a prize to a blatantly anti-Semitic cartoon featuring a grotesque caricature of a Jewish man standing over a dead Arab child and holding a pitchfork in the shape of a menorah dripping with blood.
Erakat also repeatedly appeared needlessly contrarian to the extent of contradicting many of her own points. She discussed a June 2020 incident in which Israeli security forces fatally shot the driver of a Palestinian vehicle, allegedly her cousin. She compared the Israeli response in this episode to be in the same vein as Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt on the basis that the Israelis “assumed by a priori” the criminality of all Palestinians, and thus decided to use lethal force in this situation simply because the assailant was Palestinian. Erakat did not refer to the now released video footage that appears to validate the Israeli response as a legitimate reaction to a car-ramming attack—a terror method that has caused many civilian casualties in previous years. Erakat lamented how the incident evidenced how Israeli authorities were immune to legal scrutiny, despite the video evidencing a terror attack rather than an innocent mistake by the driver.
“Terms were not used as a springboard for a fact-based conversation, but as buzzwords that signaled to a likeminded audience that Erakat was on the ‘right side’ of the political conversation.”
A similar reference had to do with the “March of Return” in the Gaza Strip in 2018, where Hamas—the governing entity of Gaza and an E.U. recognized terrorist organization—used the originally stated planned civil demonstration against Israel to spread terrorism and violence along the border. Erakat decried Israel’s reaction to the terrorism and again parroted the lie regarding a lack of fair due process within Israel’s legal system.
However, she shared no dismay against the use of human shields by Hamas. Erakat based her criticism on two petitions against the Israel Defense Forces’ actions that were brought forth to Israel’s High Court. Yet she failed to note that both petitions were reviewed and subsequently rejected, declaring that the IDF actions were legal on the basis that the march (and the subsequent border violence initiated weekly by Gazans) was not a form of civilian protest. Not only did Erakat fail to contextualize Hamas’s role in the march, she deliberately dismissed the reality of Israel’s sophisticated legal system that in this case, and many others, facilitated the pathway for a legal challenge to military conduct. There always ought to be room for a conversation around military and police methods, but pretending that Israel does not have a legal system in place that can be (and is) used to hold security forces accountable is an act of deliberate deceit.
If SOAS really wants to “Continue the Conversation” in a productive manner, maybe it should consider providing a more balanced set of voices to discuss the Arab-Israeli context or risk damaging its academic reputation even further.
Originally published in jns.org.
Contributed by CAMERA’s UK campus associate Georgia Leigha Leatherdale Gilholy.