If you read my post from last week about the cancellation of a course on Palestine at the University of California at Berkeley, you’ll recall that one of its themes was the safety of advocates of Palestinian rights, both on and off campus. Whereas the anxieties of Jewish students are enough to shut down any discussion of Israeli violations of the Geneva Conventions or the bombing of UNRWA schools sheltering Gazan refugees, supporters of basic rights for Palestinians have long understood that university administrations won’t even back them up on free speech grounds, let alone take a stand on the issue itself.

With those thoughts still on my mind, I was interested to spot a piece on Mondoweiss’s Twitter feed yesterday about a pushback by academics against the Canary Mission, a pro Israel website that cowers behind anonymity in order to operate a blacklist of Palestine activists and academics on campuses, including social media account information, employment history, and more.

Besides maintaining this blacklist, the group contacts prospective employers and graduate schools to smear pro Palestine activists as ‘Jew haters’ and supporters of ‘terror’ thereby subjecting them to threats and intimidation on campus, and preventing them from getting jobs and being accepted into graduate programmes. A very ennobling ‘mission.’ As Mondoweiss report, more than 1000 faculty members, reflecting a range of views on Israel/Palestine, have signed a letter condemning the Canary Mission’s objectives and tactics.

While I’d urge you to read the piece in full, I was especially struck by the paragraph below, which notes the failure of university administrations to protect their students from these attacks. Indeed, The Electronic Intifada report that students on the Canary Mission’s list have been threatened with violence and sexual assault.

That the Canary Mission have operated until now with impunity is yet another confirmation that the Palestine Exception continues to flourish, undisturbed by charges of hypocrisy, racism or authoritarianism, and that if you step out of line on Israel-Palestine you are the opposite of safe.

Colleges and universities must defend the rights of students to the free exchange of ideas, including advocacy for Palestinian rights. When an off-campus organization publicizes the names, faces, social media, employment, and educational information of students online, universities have a direct responsibility to protect students from this inflammatory, organized harassment, which also threatens students’ physical safety. Sadly, for the most part, administrators have failed even to appropriately condemn the hateful slander, as when the David Horowitz Freedom Center used Canary Mission student profiles during the 2015-16 academic year to publicly post the names of mostly Muslim/Arab/Palestinian student activists on the walls of campuses, and denounce them as “terrorists.”

This powerful essay by the Ohio State University lecturer Pranav Jani appeared on the microsite of the Modern Language Association group, MLA Members for Justice in Palestine. In the essay Jani asks,

‘[W]hat sorts of rational arguments would it take to convince humanities scholars in the MLA membership, who often express a commitment to human rights and equality, to show solidarity with this anti-colonial and anti-racist struggle?’

The Members for Justice in Palestine group was set up in 2014 to campaign in favour of a resolution calling on the MLA to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The MLA, which boasts more than 26,000 members in 100 countries, will vote on the boycott resolution at its 2017 convention.

Here is an excerpt from Jani’s essay:

‘When you join the boycott of Israel you are responding to a call from Palestinian civil society and saying that no, we, as part of a global community that is committed to human rights, will not be silent while atrocities under a military colonial occupation go on month after month, year after year.

‘You may have questions about organizations, strategies, details, policies, and solutions – but you draw a line against colonialism and racism. If you refuse to see this line, you are also taking a stand: for the status quo.

‘You are free to do so, of course.’

But then please don’t speak to me about your anti-racism. For the image of the Palestinian as always already a terrorist fuels every justification of Israeli violence as “security.”

Please don’t toss around words like “empire” and “colonialism.” For the militarization of Israel (as well as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and other allies) is central to US imperial ambitions today.’

Continue reading: Pranav Jani’s Statement in Support of a Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

Some of you might have been following the University of California at Berkeley free speech debacle, in which a course called ‘Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis’ offered through the university’s student-led Democratic Education at Berkeley (DeCal) program was summarily cancelled following a bellicose campaign by pro-Israel groups and – according to the Israeli media – intervention by the Israeli government minister Gilad Erdan and the Israeli Union of Heads of the 4 Universities.

After a huge outcry, including an open letter from students enrolled in the oversubscribed course, who regarded the cancellation as discriminatory, alongside a forceful letter from Palestine Legal, and condemnation from free speech advocates and organisations such as Jewish Voice for Peace (which I support), the course was reinstated a couple of days later.

You needn’t dig deep to uncover the stinking heap of ironies infesting this deplorable episode. Of course, UC Berkeley is the famed birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, a series of protests in 1964-65 aimed at securing students’ right to undertake political activity on campus. Moreover, the UCB Chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, and its Dean, Carla Hesse, who together cancelled the course just hours after receiving a complaint from dozens of Israeli advocacy organisations, initially claimed that those running it had failed to follow the university’s procedures for devising DeCal courses, an allegation that was swiftly disproved when relevant documents and emails were produced.

By contrast, the extraordinary cancellation was undertaken with no discussion with any UCB faculty members or anyone involved in devising the course syllabus. Paul Hadweh, the Palestinian-American student running the course, who is in the final year of a degree in Peace and Conflict Studies, says he learned about its cancellation in an Israeli newspaper. As Palestine Legal’s Liz Jackson put it in her letter to the Chancellor,

‘The ample documentation of a public pressure campaign, combined with your failure to provide a justification that holds water – procedural or otherwise – makes it clear that you suspended Ethnic Studies 198 because Israel advocacy groups disagreed with the course content.’

While the decision to cancel the course was located within the transparently self-serving but now widespread claim that any discussion of Palestinian human rights or Israeli violations of international law constitutes a threat to the ‘safety’ of Jewish students, administrators did not hesitate to ‘throw [Hadweh] under the bus’, as he described it, in order to mollify these pro Israel groups.

Just like the denial of a constitutionally-protected free speech entitlement to pro-Palestine advocates, this shoddy affair and similar incidents make clear that for university administrators, legislators and others, Palestinian students and defenders of Palestinian rights should have no expectation of safety. Certainly, their sense of safety was of no concern to Columbia University which recently hosted the Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked who advocated the genocide of the Palestinians in a 2014 Facebook post, in which she called Palestinian children ‘little snakes.’ (Another irony: Shaked is now working with Facebook to censor anti-Israel posts on the social media site.)

As my sister wrote movingly to me not long ago,

‘What do you need to feel safe? That when you say a word, like ‘Palestine’, the person in front of you does not cringe, look away, change the subject or worse, assume you are a dangerous person. You would like to have a sense that you are understood, that someone will listen, that you may find some access to some corridor of power, that someone will champion your cause, they might even fight for you or supply you with what you need to keep going, that someone will achieve cult-like status as a hero for your movement.

‘To be a supporter of Palestinian self determination is to be the opposite of safe.’

The vague terror that attends this knowledge is by now a visceral, body sensation I live with much of the time, through many sleepless nights. It is a prickle of fear, a thudding heart, a ‘poorly tummy’ as my children might say. It’s a ‘Free Gaza’ badge worn defiantly, and then shoved into a handbag with such nervous haste it pricks my finger, when an unsuspecting friend unexpectedly approaches. It is that same finger shaking as I hit ‘publish’ on an essay like this one.

I recall the grimaces on the faces of our suburban Canadian friends back in the 1970s when they tasted our tabbouleh, so lemony it brought out a sweat in the skin near your nose, or gaped at our flat, tangy za’atar bread which looked ‘dirty’ to kids weaned on Cheerios and PB&J. It’s just food, you might think, and yet I sensed even then that their alarm was a proxy for some more nebulous suspicion. After all, who eats dirt?

Even then, I understood that the Palestinians – whose human rights my parents have advocated with fierce commitment throughout their lives – were considered terrorists by most, and even worse by some. Not much has changed. Just last year, the Times of Israel reported remarks by the Knesset member Eli Ben Dahan that ‘[t]o me, [Palestinians] are like animals, they aren’t human.’ Consequently, asserting their entitlement to basic human rights constitutes a dangerous schism from a consensus aggressively policed virtually everywhere in public and private life, both here and there, that it is Israel that faces an existential threat from a bloodthirsty Other, and not the Palestinian people.

Indeed, it strikes me that while courageous Jewish advocates of Palestinian rights are often denounced as self-hating, self hatred is required of Palestinians. For how else to construe the grotesque and perverse demand that they accept the legitimacy of a racist project predicated on their dispossession, and surrender the right to live on their own land in peace, safety and equality, as a condition of ‘negotiating’ that same right?

Despite the reinstatement of the Palestine course, the UC Berkeley affair continues to reverberate, as well it should. Aside from the rest, it’s a reminder that it was Berkeley students who drove the Free Speech Movement, earning the school widespread esteem for its embrace of that liberty, in the face of fierce opposition from its administration. Their contribution was to call the cops.

Unsurprisingly, the Modern Language Association’s very active Members for Justice in Palestine group has weighed in on this episode with the piece below, which broadens the discussion to the campaign to shut down all academic debate on Israel/Palestine, save that which upholds the interests of Israel’s voracious expansionism. I thought it was worth a read so I’m sharing it with you.

Here is an excerpt: ‘What Zionist pressure groups oppose is neither process nor even using the classroom for indoctrination as they claim. They oppose a course, any course, which studies the Palestinian experience and its history of colonial settler dispossession. They oppose the content of such courses and the perspectives of such people. In 2014, AMCHA targeted a similar course at UC Riverside where Professor David Lloyd and Tina Matar, the student course facilitator, were subject to PRA requests, threatening emails, including rape threats and pilloried on the website Canary Mission, which posts the photographs of student activists along with libels intended to dissuade prospective employers from hiring them.’

The rest is here: Palestine, Settler Colonialism and Democratic Education at UC Berkeley

Palestine has a thriving banking sector and all Palestinian banks make money transfers daily to corresponding US banks. The US Treasury Department is also active in Palestine and has praised the level of Palestinian banking compliance. Considering these financial ties, it is a mystery why PayPal, which is widely considered the most trustworthy company in its sphere, continues to ignore this market.

The rest is here: #PayPal4Palestine | openDemocracy

Jamie Stern-Weiner

B. Michael:

For 50 years (at least), Israel has been experiencing the existence of occupation, a brutal, wicked, unrestrained existence. The number of people exposed to the abominations of occupation – through their eyes, hands, feet, weapons and children – is growing. Even the best-honed skills of denial, and all the media’s huffing and puffing, cannot hide the experiences of their lives from them. In their heart of hearts they know perfectly well what they are: abusive, exploitative, covetous, committing abominations with their very own hands, or accepting of such abominations, or at least financing them.

There is good reason that their foamiest rages are directed against those few nervy individuals who insist on telling them the truth about their being.

Voters, who are at the end of the day just human beings, need their consciousness to be escapist. Comforting. They need a leader, a stand-in parent, a super-ego…

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Those who saw my letter last week to Canadian Green Party leader Elizabeth May in anticipation of her party’s conference in Ottawa on the weekend might be interested in the result. You can read the media release from Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) below, but in short the Greens passed the resolution in support of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, with Lisa Barrett, its Shadow Cabinet Critic for International Affairs, saying ‘[W]e as a party have to support social justice. We’ve seen BDS tactics work against the Apartheid regime in South Africa, and if we hadn’t pursued it vigorously then, Nelson Mandela would have died in jail.’

The Green Party also passed a modified version of the resolution to revoke the charitable status of the Jewish National Fund over its flagship ‘Canada Park,’ which sits on West Bank villages that were cleansed of Palestinians in 1967. Instead of singling out the JNF, the resolution that passed calls on the government to revoke the status of all charities that violate Canadian and international human rights law.

Indeed, according to IJV, May affirmed, ‘I want to be clear about this: the Jewish National Fund has been complicit and involved in human rights violations in building Canada Park on top of land that was dispossessed from Palestinians who are living there in 1967.’

Still, Mondoweiss report that May fought the resolutions tooth and nail, claiming the BDS movement is divisive and counterproductive, without offering any alternative, and working behind the scenes to protect the JNF from any direct criticism. This is a marked contrast to Dr Jill Stein who leads the Greens in the US and Natalie Bennett who heads the party in England and Wales, both of whom support the strategy.

As I’ve argued here before, it’s rather odd that the only tactic that’s had any impact on Israeli businesses profiting from its occupation and illegal settlements has met with such bitter opposition from people who claim to support Palestinian rights.

Still, it’s so rare that a political party of any stripe has the courage to call it like they see it on this issue, I confess that I almost cried when I read this, for we all know the cost: B’nai Brith et al. have predictably gone berserk, as have the trolls in the newspapers. Naturally, The Globe and Mail ran a highly misleading piece alleging that the vote had ‘divided’ the Green Party, and quoting five anti-BDS voters but only one in favour. In fact, support for the BDS resolution was so overwhelming, the Chair didn’t bother counting the votes.

So for now, I’ll focus on this from the Greens’ Justice Critic, Dimitri Lascaris, who submitted the BDS resolution. The IJV media release follows.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE August 8, 2016  Independent Jewish Voices congratulates the Green Party of Canada on the passage of its historic Palestinian rights resolutions  “The Green Party of Canada has pa […]

Here’s the rest: Independent Jewish Voices congratulates the Green Party of Canada on the passage of its historic Palestinian rights resolutions

Here is the letter I sent to Elizabeth May, leader of Canada’s Green Party, in anticipation of her party’s conference in Ottawa this weekend. One of the resolutions at issue is in support of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) which uses non-violent means to pressure the Israeli government to respect international law and the Geneva Conventions. Friends of Israel call this tactic anti-Semitic.

The second is to revoke the charitable status of the Jewish National Fund, which uses donations from Canadians to plant millions (yes, literally) of non-indigenous trees on occupied Palestinian land. The goal is to ‘de-Arabise’ the landscape, which requires a massive diversion of water resources from Palestinian farms, towns and villages, in order to keep these non-native trees alive. I presume the Green Party regard this as a dodgy use of a scarce resource, not to mention a violation of the right to water enshrined in UN Resolution 64/292. It’s also part of the broader campaign of ‘water apartheid’ documented in Counterpunch, Mint Press News, and various other news and campaigning websites.

I’m told the usual forces have aggressively mobilised against May and her party, so she can use all the support she can get; here’s her email address if you want to get in touch: Elizabeth.may@parl.gc.ca

Dear Ms May

As a Canadian living in London, England, I was heartened to hear about the two resolutions in support of Palestine at your upcoming conference in Ottawa. I’m sure you are facing tremendous pressure to abandon these gestures of principle and solidarity and I am writing now to urge you to hold your nerve.

As the future of the Palestinians grows bleaker each day, I have been horrified to read and learn from friends about the ongoing unconditional support of Canada’s political and media establishment for the Israeli government. Frankly, I am ashamed that my own country, which makes regular claims to decency and fair play, colludes in whitewashing these horrors, and smears anyone who speaks out against them.

I follow Palestine/Israeli closely and write about it often on my blog, so I am uncomfortably aware that the prospects for Palestinian rights and dignity are worse than ever. Shortly before I sat down to draft this email, I spotted the news that Israel has just passed a law permitting children as young as 12 to be jailed. Yesterday I read about an Israeli soldier confiscating the bicycle of an eight year-old girl simply because he could, and watched an Al Jazeera video of two families in East Jerusalem being evicted from their homes so settlers can live there.

This is on top of Israel’s systematic, daily aggression and humiliation of Palestinians: West Bank farmers requiring Israeli permission to irrigate their own crops, the appropriation of their land, the demolition of their homes, the policy of collective punishment, not to mention the barbaric siege of Gaza.

Things aren’t great here in the UK, but this systematic behaviour by Israel is what Alan Duncan, a Conservative MP who has just been appointed Foreign Office Minister, called ‘apartheid’ in an October 2014 speech. Indeed, none of this would be possible if the international community were to go beyond occasional hand-wringing and demand that Israel respect international law and the Geneva Conventions.

In closing, I urge you not to abandon the Palestinians, who are a dispossessed and friendless people. I will be watching the events at your conference in Ottawa this weekend with an anxious ache in my stomach, but with my fingers crossed too.

Kind wishes, Juliana Farha