Photo: Kenneth C. Zirkel/Wikimedia Commons
On February 26th, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Brown University hosted an event featuring speakers who discussed Palestinian activism.
Unsurprisingly, it was an exercise in antisemitic rhetoric and argumentation, including hateful tropes such as, “These attacks on capital, on money are what scares them [Israelis, Zionists, Western collaborators] the most.”
One speaker vociferously called for all Palestinian prisoners in Israel to be freed — all of them, including those convicted of murder and terrorism. The same speaker, Palestinian poet and New York City-based activist Mohammed El-Kurd, later asserted that “Hamas has a right to exist under international law, [which] doesn’t mean I agree or disagree with them.” He promoted the fallacy that “Israel [needs] to vaccinate us [Palestinians] to comply with international law,” and referred to all of the land as “Palestine.”
But the Q&A session afterward is when things really got interesting. I posed a question, asking if Palestinian activism can ever wade into anti-Jewish rhetoric. The short answer was no, never.
The long answer can be found in the following comments from El-Kurd:
Palestinians in Occupied Palestine have dealt with their oppressors for 70+ years. Their oppressors happen to be Israeli Jews. If Palestinians feel some kind of tension or fear or anger towards Jewish Israelis, and say some sorts of things that attack Jewish Israelis, that is completely fine given the context of them being subjugated and having their land stolen from them and rotting in Israeli prisons and having their roads divided. Yes, antisemitism is horrible and should be combated and should be a value that is instilled in the Palestinian liberation movement, we don’t disagree on that. But I’m not going to waste my time, waste my advocacy punishing Palestinians for choosing to speak about their oppressors in a certain way.
Is El-Kurd arguing that all hate speech targeting Israeli Jews and Diaspora Zionist Jews — from the denial of Jewish indigeneity to openly supporting the killing of Jewish children and non-combatants — is a legitimate expression of the struggle toward achieving what they view as justice?
It certainly seems that way.
Does he feel the same about calling Jews and Israel Nazis? Accusing Jews of trying to poison Palestinians? Encouraging further discrimination and violence against Israeli Jews and Diasporic Jews alike? He acknowledged none of this:
[A]t the end of the day, what is happening in Palestine is that we are being occupied by Israeli Jews and we need to be able to spell these things out without being accused of antisemitism. What I am doing is not antisemitic, end of story. There are literally Israelis living in my house. I have a right to talk about them whatever way I want. You cannot call me antisemitic for it.
Another answer to my question, by New York-based Palestinian activist, Sumaya Awad, explained:
…there’s always this focus on ‘one time a Palestinian rights advocate said this and this was antisemitic.’ Like, let’s pick the one in a billion. It’s frustrating because, Israel’s project, Zionism, is all rooted in this idea of exceptionalization of Jews, which is inherently antisemitic. When you look back on who founded Zionism and what were their ideas, it was ‘oh, Jews are never going to be accepted in society, so they need to be removed from it, everyone else is just inherently antisemitic, so we should just establish a homeland.’ That type of exceptionalization is antisemitic.
There are so many more instances of Zionists and the Israeli state employing directly or tacitly antisemitism than there are of anyone in the Palestine rights movement. And if you want to take seriously the fight against antisemitism, if we’re sincere and genuine about that, then we understand that it’s inextricably linked to the fight for Palestinian freedom. Supporting Palestinian freedom is advocating against antisemitism. We don’t need to apologize for standing up against Israel.
Let’s attack these claims head-on shall we?
First, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs published a study in 2017 that highlights the frequency of antisemitism in SJP’s activism.
Second, protecting Jews from antisemitism was a motivation for the timeliness of Zionism, but it was far from the ideology’s raison d’être. To borrow from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) recent speech regarding Tibetan human rights, Israelis simply seek the freedom to be — to speak their language, to practice their Jewish religion, to sustain their ancient culture, their land, and to live freely in their own country.
Third, the mental gymnastics necessary to claim that the Israeli government has committed “many more instances” of antisemitism than activists in the “Palestine rights movement” is mind-boggling.
The current government in Gaza, ruled by the terrorist organization Hamas, has made it clear that the erasure of every Jewish person from the land is their ultimate goal. The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah agrees. This alone discredits her point.
And finally, “standing up against Israel” seems to, in some circles, include dehumanizing Jews of all colors and teaching children to commit murder. Why should followers of the “Palestinian rights movement” be allowed to brush off this behavior as inconsequential while all supporters of Jewish self-determination are labeled entirely beyond the pale?
I am hopeful that there exists a kind of pro-Palestinian activism free from antisemitism, but I have yet to come across it.
I’ll leave you with this: When answering a question about strategies for dealing with pro-Israel arguments and groups, Awad said that all of Israel “is Palestine. That is Palestine historically. And that is the Palestine that the Palestinians want back.” Echoing Hamas, SJP dreams of a day when there is no Jewish self-determination in the land between the River and the Sea.
That is what SJP advocates — Israel’s destruction. Is this the kind of rhetoric Brown wants on its campus?
Originally published in The Algemeiner.
Contributed by 2020-2021 University of Colorado at Colorado Springs CAMERA Fellow Seth Mendel.