Report: US-Israeli relationship plays in repression, racism and backlash against pro-Palestinian activists
Palestinian supporters in the United States have often been silenced or witnessed backlash for their solidarity.
The International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) released a report in March that highlights the specific role the US-Israeli relationship plays in repression, racism and backlash against pro-Palestinian activists.
If the report is indicative of the general climate in the US, especially in media and other institutions of systemic power, one can only imagine how magnified, concentrated and pervasive it is within Jewish communities in the United States.
The pro-Israel mindset in so severely inundated into the framework of Jewish life in the US that, as the joke goes, it is easier (or “better”) to be a Jewish atheist than a Jewish anti-Zionist.
Work by Jewish anti-Zionist activists is consistently written off as wrabble – to illustrate this, one may consider the derisive comments about Jewish Voice for Peace activists made by J.J. Goldberg, at “The American Jewish Conversation about Israel”, held at the Jewish Theological Seminary on April 21. At the risk of sounding too esoteric or theoretical, it is highly apparent that there is much more than institutional pressure due to the US-Israeli relationship in the repression of pro-Palestinian activists. Furthermore, the hegemonic role this relationship plays in the discourse about Palestine and Israel has enabled those on the side of Israel to take on a mindset that shows an absolute inability and unwillingness to see past oneself, and acknowledge a reality that delegitimizes one’s claim to the truth.
Several members of Jewish Voice for Peace – Columbia/Barnard Chapter and Jewish members of Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine (myself included) attended an event, “Deconstructing Israel Apartheid Week”, at Hillel of Columbia/Barnard on March 25, intended to offer a “safe space” for Jewish students to express their feelings about Israeli Apartheid Week.
Over the course of the event, one non-JVP student, who was vocal in his support of the Israeli state, made a comment about narrative, fact and history that requires addressing outside the parameters provided by the event. It is relevant to me as a member of the Columbia University community, who is privileged with the opportunity to attend and study at an Ivy League institution, not to mention privileged to be able to not only accept such an opportunity, but also afford to spend the tens of thousands of dollars required to have even witnessed this comment being made.
The comment in question, in a nutshell, was that during Israeli Apartheid Week, there is a focus on a one-sided and or personal narrative, and that it should yield to the “facts”, which the individual commenting said with great certainty he was providing.
Another student astutely countered that different people react differently to facts – that it is possible for the same event/occurrence to elicit a different response from different people (both as individuals, and in groups). This is definitely not disagreeable, but in line with the event’s line of “deconstructing,” we also need to deconstruct the idea of using “facts” to shut down “narrative”.
First of all, the dissonance of the statement must be pointed out: the individual who made this comment was both un-phased and oblivious that he was performing the exact phenomenon that he was describing. In the face of what is presented as fact, this person presented their own narrative, as fact, no less.
If there is one thing that should be learned in the course of receiving an education at Columbia/Barnard, it is that “facts”, especially as presented by an entity or individual in a position of power, must be questioned. When Dr. Gayatri Spivak asks, “can the subaltern speak?” (and we realize that this question was largely rhetorical; it is reproduced here only as a rhetorical device) the answer is that it is not the case that the downtrodden, oppressed, subjugated, occupied, colonized, enslaved, or hated peoples and individuals are (physically) incapable of speaking for themselves.
On the contrary, they often do! It is the truth/facts that they are speaking, however, that go unheard, or unacknowledged by those committing subjugation. And why would they be acknowledged, when the subjugators are fully aware of what it would do to their positions of power? “Fact” and “truth” are established through power, through violent political dominance (“violent” almost seems redundant). It is the narrative of those in a position of power that become promoted, established, and then accepted as fact. This is the reality of living under cultural hegemony. As was so rightly said by Hannine Hassan, a PhD candidate at Columbia University’s Middle East, South Asia, African Studies Department and writer for Al Jazeera English, at the Media, Solidarity, and Palestine panel discussion, “Because I’m Palestinian, I’m [treated as] a less objective source than a Zionist”.
To recount another incident, a man came by SJP’s mock apartheid wall one afternoon, and got into a heated discussion with several SJP members, saying that what was written on the fact sheet on the wall was “not true”. What this man said, and in all likelihood believes, is “untrue” is the conveyance of the well-documented experiences of Palestinians, and their treatment by the Israeli state and military. The bottom line for this discussion was that he should let Palestinians speak for themselves, rather than he, as a Jewish citizen of Israel, and former Israeli Defense Force officer, try to speak for Palestinians.
For me, what has been one of the most distressing things that occurs in discussions of occupied Palestine is the prevalence of one population – Palestinians – being spoken for, and told what it best for them, by the population whose status as recognized by the Israeli state puts them in a position of power – Jewish Israelis. During the course of Aryeh’s (formerly LionPAC) mass flyering campaign, intended to counter Israeli Apartheid Week, JVP was accused of “speaking for all Jews”, a claim that is completely unsubstantiated.
Nowhere has JVP ever claimed to speak for all Jews, and JVP specifically exists to counter the claim by the Israeli government to speak on behalf of all Jews, and by Hillel “to help students, regardless of their origin or destination, find their own interpretation of Jewish values”.
Many people have criticized the Columbia University Black Students’ Organization recent Facebook post, speaking out against an Aryeh flyer widely posted around campus that appropriates and decontextualized Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s image and alleged support for the nascent Zionist state project.
However, the comments and criticisms on the BSO’s Facebook post, racist vitriol aside, all contain the tactic of denying one people’s right to speak about their own history (or, in this case, a mere attempt to do so), while simultaneously weakly trying to substantiate a claim that their voices as critics is being silenced. There seems to be an obsession over monopolizing voice, and wanting to speak over and on behalf of everyone, while simultaneously claiming others are doing just that.
In the end, this is why SJP organizes on campuses. This is why JVP was created at Columbia. We do not seek to replicate systems of power that privilege one narrative over another. What we hope for is the deconstruction and undoing of those systems of power, and for people to be allowed to speak for themselves, without being told that they are speaking over another group whose narrative is often privileged when asked to speak to the truth.