The first week in April 2019, students across the country held educational events, with flyers, movies, panel discussions to raise awareness of the ongoing abuse of human rights in Palestine, Israel’s apartheid laws, the illegal occupation of Palestine territories, the destruction of Palestine homes, and the ongoing massacre of civilian in Gaza.
The Young Democratic Socialists of America at Georgia Tech (YDSA GT) partnered with Jewish Voice for Peace/Atlanta Chapter and Rev. Dr. Fahed Abu-Akel, Founder and Executive Director of the Atlanta Ministry with International Students Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, to hold a “Palestine 101” class to educate students and discuss Palestinian rights.
Hillel Georgia Tech, a campus conservative Jewish organization with an uncompromising pro-Israel position, sent out an email encouraging its membership to attend with a counter-narrative which YDSA worried would lead to disruptions, as has happened on other university campuses.
A non-student staffer with Hillel was turned away at the door by YDSA GT students because they were concerned this person would disrupt the meeting. Two Georgia Tech students, one a Hillel member, who accompanied the staffer were allowed in.
During the meeting, those two students repeatedly disrupted the meeting with inflammatory comments. They called the speaker, Rev. Abu-Akel, a Hamas sympathizer and tried to derail the conversation by arguing about who started the 1948 war and shared their belief that Palestine is Jewish land because we conquered it.
The Hillel staff member filed a complaint of discrimination with the Georgia Tech Office of Student Integrity (OSI) and YDSA GT was informed that they were charged with violating the Student Code of Conduct. The official charge was vague and not specific and the YDSA students were never told the nature of the alleged discrimination.
“This politically motivated investigation aims to completely shut down any conversation around Israeli occupation being had on campus. To accuse YDSA of being discriminatory for being a place where anti-occupation Jews, like myself, can actually begin to grapple with the occupation of Palestinian lands is completely inappropriate, Ariella, a Jewish YDSA member said.
Hillel’s witnesses said that the Hillel staffer was discriminated against and implied it was because of anti-Semitism. The fact that YDSA GT has Jewish members, even former Hillel members, and was working with a progressive Jewish organization seems to be lost on Hillel and OSI.
“OSI grossly mishandled this disciplinary process, and the sanctions resulting from it are a clear example of unconstitutional repression of political speech. This is just one example of a nation-wide pattern of universities privileging the established narrative around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and silencing students who speak in the defense of Palestinian human rights,” Katherine Rolison, Co-chair of YDSA GT told Streets of Atlanta.
YSDA has been found guilty of discrimination and placed on disciplinary probation with sanctions. They are currently appealing that decision.
“In our work throughout Georgia and across the U.S. South, we notice a trend of academic institutions failing to uphold basic constitutional rights when support for Palestine is uplifted. We urge the administration at Georgia Tech to support students’ rights to organize,” Stephanie Guilloud, Co-Director at Project South, a civil and human rights organization in Atlanta, said in a press statement.
A similar incident happened at Emory University when Emory Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) advertised their program with a mock eviction notice on flyers which they posted on dorm room doors to raise attention to the ongoing and illegal Israeli policy of demolishing Palestinian homes.
A few Jewish students and community members complained that they were offended by the flyers and Emory University supported those students rather than the mostly Black Emory SJP students – just like Georgia Tech supported Hillel students instead of the YDSA students.
“As part of a concerted campaign taking place on campuses throughout the country, alt-right blogs, anti-Muslim hate sites, and pro-Israel lobbying groups have sought to crush discussion on these vital issues. They have intimidated students with frivolous legal actions, engaged in aggressive cyber-bullying, sent death threats and threats of violence, destroyed and removed advocacy materials, disrupted events, stalked individual students, and even called the police on black students who were leafleting,” according to a press statement by Emory SJP.
“It reminds me of the kind of repressive, COINTELPRO tactics used against Black community organizers like Angela Davis,” remarked a Black Emory SJP student.
Demonizing and smearing racial justice advocates as “anti-Semites” is an increasingly visible tactic from freshmen members of Congress to the Movement for Black Lives.
“We reject the notion that challenges to US foreign policy and advocacy for justice in the Middle East are a form of discrimination against our friends in the Jewish community,” SJP said in a press statement.
Students and advocates for Palestine are being silenced for the most unreasonable and frivolous reasons by pro-Israel groups.
Students Are Not Alone in Censorship
Students are learning, as others have learned in the past, that there is a price to pay for supporting Palestine – the exception to free speech. For some, the price is censorship but others have lost their jobs and careers for daring to tell the “whole” truth about the Palestine/Israel conflict.
Former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, was condemned as anti-Semitic when he published his book, ” Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” in 2006.
Norman Finkelstein, a Jewish American political scientist professor, a leading scholar of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and author who has written several books about his parents’ ordeal surviving the concentration camps in Nazi Germany.
Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul University after his book “Beyond Chutzpah” was published. It was called a very careful scholarly book and the best compendium that currently exists of human rights violations in Israel.
Even Finkelstein was attacked for telling the “whole” truth, as has other progressive Jews who are called “self-hating Jews” and sometimes disowned by their pro-Israel families.
Palestinian-American professor Steven Salaita was fired from a tenured position at the University of Illinois for his tweets on the Palestine/Israel conflict. He tweeted “This is not a conflict between Israel and Hamas. It’s a struggle by an indigenous people against a colonial power.”
Marc Lamont Hill, a long-time contributor on CNN, was fired for six words “from the river to the sea” as he described the territory of historical Palestine in a United Nations speech.
“I support Palestinian freedom and self-determination. I am deeply critical of Israeli policy and practice. I do not support anti-Semitism, killing Jewish people or any of the other things attributed to my speech,” Hill said in a news report.
In reaction to the growing movement for Palestinian human rights, a number of organizations that staunchly support Israeli policy have sought to suppress and silence criticism of Israel through a broad range of tactics.
From January 2014 through June 2015 Palestine Legal interviewed hundreds of students, academics, and community activists who reported being censored, punished, subjected to disciplinary proceedings, questioned, threatened, falsely accused of antisemitism, and falsely accused of supporting terrorism for their support of Palestinian rights, or criticism of Israeli policies.
In 2014, Palestine Legal responded to 152 such incidents and received 68 additional requests for legal assistance in anticipation of legal actions.
In the first six months of 2015, Palestine Legal responded to 140 incidents and 33 requests for assistance in anticipation of potential suppression.
In 2015, an anonymously run website Canary Mission (https://canarymission.org/) published a list of organizations and activists it accused of supporting terrorism. The website hoped to expose individuals and student groups as “anti-freedom, anti-American and anti-Semitic” to schools and employers. You will find Mondoweiss, Code Pink and Jewish Voice for Peace on that list.
For more information on Palestine, the Exception to Free Speech go to the website – https://palestinelegal.org/the-palestine-exception
Vicious smears are part of a systematic strategy to silence, censor and change the subject away Israel’s ongoing violations of international law and Palestinian human rights abuses.
And to direct attention away from the fact that billions of US taxpayer dollars in financial and military aid, continue to flow to Israel to support those violations. Those taxpayer dollars could better be used in the U.S. on healthcare, education, and housing for low-income families, the working poor, and the crisis of homelessness in America.
by Gloria Tatum