On May 10 this year, the Associated Student Inc. senate passed a resolution to divest ASI funds from companies profiting off the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Many of my friends who worked on the Divest Coalition and the senators who voted for the resolution were blacklisted online by Canary Mission, a website targeting pro-Palestinian activists.
This well-funded punishment campaign orchestrated by pro-Israel groups poses a threat to academic freedom on campuses and aims to reproduce settler-colonial narratives by erasing Palestinian identity altogether. The existence of a Palestinian national identity threatens the Israeli narrative of “a people without a land and a land without its people” in reference to early Jewish settlers in Palestine.
Palestine was never a land without her people. The original inhabitants were ethnically cleansed to create a jewish majority state.
The intimidation from Israeli lobbies such as Canary Mission and Stand With Us isn’t just limited to students, but extends to academics who have participated in divestment campaigns or have adopted a critical stance toward the Israeli occupation. On April 26th, Cal State University Fresno cancelled a search for professorship in Middle-Eastern Studies, which was named after late Edward Said, a prominent Palestinian literary critic known for his interest in postcolonial studies. Pressure from outside groups and individuals are attributed to the cancellation because anyone who fails to fanatically support Israel, such as Said, is labelled “anti-Semitic.” Middle-Eastern and Muslim students are falsely accused of being “terror-sympathizers.”
The Zionist movement was established in 1896 as a response to the historical persecution faced by Jews in Europe. It supported the establishment of a Jewish-state in Ottoman Palestine and the migration of Jews around the world to the future-state of Israel. The Ottoman Empire dissolved in the aftermath of WWI, and Palestine was delivered into British hands. In 1917, the Balfour declaration was signed by the British in an agreement with the Rothschilds, which supported the “establishment in Palestine a national home for the Jewish people.” Zionism caught on with the world’s jewry during WWII as a result of Nazi persecution of the jews. Jewish migration to Palestine increased, and the state of Israel was created in 1948 with fierce opposition from the region’s Arab population.
Zionism as a political movement is different from Judaism, which is a faith. From a Palestinian perspective, Zionism can be seen as inherently racist, ethnocentric and colonial. The atrocity of Zionism is that it uses the tragedy of Holocaust victims as a prop to bolster its manifest destiny agenda, conceived decades before Nazis even came to power.
When Zionists on campus say they want dialogue, what they actually want is hegemony. Hegemony, a concept developed by Italian Marxist-theorist Antonio Gramsci, argues that the dominant group in power shapes the cultural life of the society through its values, beliefs and perceptions. They decide which ideas are acceptable and which are not.
The Israeli lobbies wield considerable influence in American politics, especially in foreign policy. These groups have convinced Americans that Israel’s national interests are indistinguishable from that of the United States. American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbies Congress to pass Israel-friendly policies, rewarding politicians who support Zionist agendas while punishing those who challenge them.
Israeli propaganda has infiltrated its way through our media, politics, educational institutions, corporations, NGOs, and churches. At Cal State Long Beach, I have seen Hillel and 49ers for Israel passing out pamphlets and booklets to students, which is basically propaganda from its foreign ministry.
The U.S. uses Israel to maintain its military dominance over the Middle East and gain access to the region’s vast natural resources, giving $3.8 billion in aid to Israel every year. Israel shares with U.S. its intelligence, weapons, military technology, surveillance technology, paramilitary tactics used by police departments against protesters and training for border patrol.
This makes Israel the world’s leading exporter of state-violence. SB.720, also known as “Israel Anti-Boycott Act,” is a legislation pending approval in Congress which seeks to punish U.S. citizens and businesses who support boycotts against Israel with $1 million in fines and 20 years in prison. The audacity of the Israeli lobby knows no limits or bounds.
Another factor that is obscured in media coverage is the vastly unequal power-dynamic between the occupier and the occupied. This is not a conflict between two parties of equal strength. The brutal destruction and ethnic cleansing of Palestine is whitewashed through biblical stories of the “promised land” and the heroic exploits of Israeli leaders in its wars of expansion and conquest against the region’s Arab inhabitants.
No one speaks about the destruction of Palestinian villages by the Zionist militias, mass-expulsions of Palestinian people from their homelands, the siege which has turned Gaza into an “open-air prison,” as described by Noam Chomsky. The demolishing of Palestinian homes, walls separating Israel from Palestine, violent jewish settlers and the expanding settlements in the West Bank, they’re all in violation of international laws. Don’t Palestinians have a right to resist this unjust occupation?
There is a need for a strong anti-Zionist movement within the academia to counter the dominant narrative. Learn more about the Israeli apartheid. Start a Students for Justice in Palestine group or a Jewish Voice for Peace chapter on campus. Endorse the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement. Culturally boycott organizations which stifle academic freedom to advance Zionist agendas such as AIPAC, Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, Jewish Community Relations Council, Christian United For Israel, Stand With U.S., Zionist Organization of America, Jewish National Fund, Israel’s embassies and consulates. Encourage pro-Palestinian students to pursue careers in the government and media.
Most importantly, refuse to submit to intimidation and hold Israel’s feet to fire.
Many of the changes envisioned are long-term rather than short-term. Until then, the U.S. and Israel continue to be two right-wing threats to world peace.