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February 7, 2013

Free Speech Is A One-Way Street For The BDS Movement

In response to the controversy surrounding a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) event taking place tomorrow at Brooklyn College, numerous pro-BDS public figures, activists and groups have labeled concerns about the event as a “smear campaign” designed to get the event canceled and suppress the expression of legitimate viewpoints.

A statement by the national coalition of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) referred to opposition to the event as an “onslaught of intimidation.” Al-Awda and American Muslims for Palestine, two off-campus anti-Israel organizations, condemned the pro-Israel community’s reaction as a “smear campaign” designed to suppress free speech. Jewish Voice for Peace went so far as to call for Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz to be fired for arguing that Brooklyn College’s political science department should not sponsor anti-Israel events.

Similarly, Roger Waters, the founder and lead singer of Pink Floyd, issued a statement of solidarity with the SJP chapter at Brooklyn College, the group organizing the event, that conspiratorially claimed: “That you have come under attack from powerful political and media forces for trying to shed light on the predicament of the good peoples of Palestine and Israel is wrong. I stand with you. Sadly, none of us knows what lies behind the closed doors of government, even though we should for we have a right to know, to speak, discuss, still not your voice, be not afraid. More power to you.”

Other more mainstream commentators have also used abrasive language to lambast those who disapprove of the department’s sponsorship of the event. Glen Greenwald, in a piece over the weekend on The Guardian’s “Comment is Free” site, described those urging the political science department to drop its sponsorship as an “ugly lynch mob” and claimed that elected officials in the U.S. support Israel for less than earnest reasons: “It is all but impossible to succeed in New York City politics – or US national politics – without faithfully embracing pro-Israel orthodoxies. That’s the nature of politics in general: it requires subservience to empowered factions and majoritarian sentiment.”

It is the BDS movement, however, that is inherently predicated on the suppression of speech and “free exchange of ideas,” which Greenwald claims to vehemently support in his article. Supporting boycotts of Israeli academics, diplomats and performers is simply not consistent with free speech values.  Furthermore, anti-Israel students cannot legitimately claim to support a “free exchange of ideas” when they regularly disrupt and heckle pro-Israel speakers on campus. One anti-Israel student who heckled Israeli soldiers at an event at UC Davis last February flatly admitted, “My only purpose today is that this event is shut down.”

In fact, an increasing number of anti-Israel groups do not support a free exchange of ideas and explicitly argue that the pro-Israel voice does not even deserve to be heard. The tactic, known as anti-normalization, is increasingly being felt by pro-Israel groups on campuses across the country whose counterparts refuse to engage in dialogue with them and often try to disrupt or shut down pro-Israel events. It seems that the BDS movement’s commitment to free speech and an open exchange of ideas is only a one-way street.

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November 16, 2012

Demonstrators at Anti-Israel Rallies: “Gaza is the Real Holocaust,” “Long live the Intifada!”

Virulent anti-Israel protests were held in at least two dozen cities across the United States yesterday. The demonstrations were organized to protest Israeli air strikes against Hamas and terrorist infrastructure in Gaza in an ongoing effort to defend Israel’s civilian population against the continuous barrage of indiscriminate deadly rocket fire from Gaza which now extends to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Many of the demonstrations were marked by extreme and anti-Semitic messages. Signs that compared Israel to Nazi Germany and expressed support for “armed resistance” in Gaza were widespread. Below is a sampling of the demonstrations:

New York: Approximately 1,000 individuals attended a rally to “Protest Israeli crimes in Gaza” outside the Israeli Consulate. Signs held at the demonstration read, “Palestinians are freedom fighters;”  “Stop Israeli genocide in Gaza;” “Resistance is justified when people are occupied;” “Long live the Intifada;” “With our soul and our blood we will redeem you, Palestine;” and “Gaza is Today’s Warsaw Ghetto.”

One after the other, different speakers took turns condemning Israel using Holocaust analogies, praising “armed resistance,” and calling for “Palestine to be free, from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea.” One speaker said, “Speaking of resistance, do you guys think resistance equals terrorism?” The crowd shouted, “No!!!” Another speaker claimed that “Gaza is the Warsaw Ghetto of today. Sixty years ago when the Jewish people in the Warsaw Ghetto fought back against the Nazi war machine, today it is the people of Gaza and Palestine who are fighting for freedom against a war machine that is no better than that of the Nazis.”

The speakers at the rally represented a number of groups, including Al-Awda, the Arab Muslim American Federation, New York University and Hunter College’s chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, Muslim American Society, ANSWER, and more (see below for videos of the event).

Los Angeles: Several dozen students protested on UCLA’s campus holding signs that read, “From the River to the sea Palestine will be free,” “This Israeli Jewish Granddaughter of a Holocaust Survivor is against the Massacre of Gaza,” “Blowing up children ≠ self –defense” and “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance.” Another sign, which read “93% effective missile defense Iron Dome paid for by $250 M in US tax $,” seemed to be upset with the Israeli defense system that prevents rockets from landing on Israeli civilians. Students also chanted, “Free, Free Palestine; Long live the intifada” and “Israel is a terrorist state.”

Chicago: Several hundred protesters held signs that read “Gaza is the Real Holocaust,” “Condemn Gaza Genocide,”  “Divest from Israel’s Crimes,” and “Stop Israel’s Slaughter in Gaza.” One person held a sign that showed the Star of David = Swastika. The rally was held in Prudential Plaza outside President Obama’s campaign headquarters. It was sponsored by several Chicago-based organizations, including the Chicago Movement for Palestinian Rights, the Palestine Solidarity Group and American Muslims for Palestine – Chicago. It was also endorsed by nearly 20 other organizations, including 8 area chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and the Chicago chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Boston: Protesters chanted “Resistance is Justified When People are Occupied” and “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea.” “Long live Intifada, Intifada, Intifada!” A large banner that read “Jews for Intifada” was held by several activists at the front of the crowd as they marched towards the Israeli Consulate in downtown Boston. The rally was sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace, CODEPINK, the United National Antiwar Coalition, and Occupy-Boston. A sign that read, “Un-Occupy Palestine” was also on display.

Videos from the anti-Israel demonstration in New York City:


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June 7, 2012

Anti-Israel Group Increases Outreach to High School Students

American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), a Chicago-based anti-Israel organization, is planning to host a joint conference on “Palestine activism” with the High School Muslim Student Association of Southern California (HSMSA), an inter-high school network of Muslim student organizations.

The conference is scheduled to take place on June 24 at the University of California, Irvine, a center for virulently anti-Israel campus activity in recent years. It is part of AMP’s 7th annual campaign to commemorate the “Nakba,” an Arabic term that means “catastrophe” and is used by Palestinians and their supporters to describe Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

AMP organizers say the conference is designed to help “train high school, college, and non-student activists on issues pertinent to Palestine activism.” The list of speakers invited to “educate” students on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict include several anti-Israel activists known for their use of rhetoric to delegitimize Israel.

Speakers include Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the anti-Israel Electronic Intifada blog; Taher Herzallah, AMP’s National Campus Coordinator and one of the 11 students arrested for shouting down Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren during a 2010 speech at UC Irvine; and Osama Abu Irshaid, an AMP board member who has previously expressed support for Hezbollah and conspiratorially alleged that the U.S. government makes decisions based on the “influential Jewish community.”

AMP targeted high school students earlier this year when it held its first high school training session in Villa Park, Illinois. The workshop was similarly organized to the upcoming conference at UC Irvine and included workshops on subjects such as the Islamic significance of Palestine, activism, and how to utilize the media.

This year’s AMP Nakba campaign consists primarily of educational and training sessions designed to “raise awareness about the occupation” and to “help bring justice and liberty to the Holy Land.” These events will be held throughout the month of June across the Southern California region, which include the cities of Hawthorne, Corona-Narco, Anaheim, Temecula, and Lomita.

AMP has increasingly made an effort to engage in facilitating student activism on college campuses and high schools nationwide. The importance of encouraging AMP’s presence among students was the central theme of the organization’s 2011 national conference, where a number of sessions were dedicated to how students can discuss the issue of Palestine in schools and on campuses. AMP’s concerted effort to engage with students has led to increased collaboration with on campus anti-Israel groups, such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

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