More offensive posters targeting Palestine activists surface on campuses
Last week, students on at least three U.S. campuses found posters depicting Muslim Students Association (MSA) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters as violent terrorists.
Students at American University in Washington, D.C., University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA), and University of California – San Diego (UCSD) reported flyers sporting the hashtag “#StopTheJihadOnCampus.”
One poster pictured alleged Al-Qaeda member Anwar Al-Awlaki in crosshairs and had “MSA terrorist” and “President: MSA Colorado State” written on it. Al-Awlaki—a U.S. citizen assassinated without charge or trial—was the president of the MSA chapter at Colorado State University while he was a student there.
Another poster showed a Middle Eastern child with a Kalashnikov rifle in front of a black flag presumably meant to represent the ISIS flag. The flag had “Students for Justice in Palestine” and “SJP” written on it and was accompanied by the caption, “SJP: Regardless of how they picture themselves, this is who they really are.”
Another flyer showed a disembodied hand stabbing the Star of David with a bloody knife. The text of the flyer attacked the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement: “The real meaning of BDS: Boycott, Divest, Stab”—an apparent reference to the recent escalation of violence in occupied Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. The posters referring to SJP and BDS both included the hashtag “#JewHaters.”
On Sunday, the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a nonprofit founded by neoconservative David Horowitz and labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, claimed responsibility for the posters. Both hashtags are attributable to the Freedom Center’s campaign “Stop the Jihad on Campus,” which targets SJP and MSA groups because they “seek to further the goals of terrorist groups” through “the use of our universities as staging grounds for campaigns of hatred aimed at Jews and Christians and Muslims who do not support the agendas of ISIS, the Iranian mullahs and Hamas.” According to the Freedom Center’s campaign, the BDS movement and its demands for equal rights in Israel-Palestine are “genocidal.”
As numerous civil rights attorneys argue, including Palestine Solidarity Legal Support founder Dima Khalidi, the label of terrorism in this context is clearly meant to have a chilling effect on the activism and self-expression of Muslim and pro-Palestinian groups which are predominantly made up of undergraduate students of color. Especially given the political discourse of the post-9/11 United States, Khalidi says, “We have seen a number of examples of Zionist organizations making claims that groups or individuals are connected to terrorist organizations, or that their fundraisers are supporting terrorism, and publicizing that they reported them to law enforcement.”
As PhD student and president of UCLA SJP Yacoub Kureh explains, “SJP members were shocked by the posters and felt exceptionally threatened as there has been such a continual attack on them.” The imagery and their framing “feed the mainstream media narrative about Palestinians by perpetuating stereotypes.”
Indeed, the rampant conflation of Islam with terrorism endangers Muslim students regardless of political affiliation. UCSD SJP reports that both its members and members of MSA “felt very confused, unsafe and targeted due to this campaign,” to the extent that “some students felt that Friday prayer that day might be unsafe.”
These types of posters and harassment towards Palestine and Muslim activists aren’t a new phenomenon. They’re part of a pattern of repressive tactics employed by pro-Israel groups to demonize Palestine solidarity organizers by associating students with imagery most Americans associate with terrorism.
Among numerous incidents dating back to 2003, UCSD SJP recounts that conservative campus groups invited Horowitz to a talk in response to the MSA’s “Justice in Palestine Week” events. Horowitz disseminated “literature claiming that MSAs are ‘Jihadist terrorist networks,’ and accused MSA of affiliation with “Hitler Youth.”
This past February, during the week some SJP chapters held their annual Israeli Apartheid Week events, flyers were posted depicting masked gunmen with a hooded prisoner, with the words “Students for Justice in Palestine” and the hashtag “#JewHaters.”
The posters were found at Drake University, DePaul University, University of Massachusetts – Amherst, University of California – Irvine, and UCLA. The image was quickly identified as a photo of Hamas militants with a suspected Israeli collaborator in the Gaza Strip. Not long afterwards, the David Horowitz Freedom Center claimed responsibility for those posters as well.
The targeting of MSA and SJP chapters is revealing. As SJP and BDS campaigns continue to gain visibility in the U.S., it’s fair to say that the most brazen Israel advocates are hoping to align Palestine solidarity with the sort of violence most actively feared by Americans.