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March 22, 2016

Intended or Not, SJP’s Actions Have Consequences for LGBTQ People

By Seth M. Marnin, Vice President for Civil Rights

Recent homophobic and anti-Semitic incidents at Brown University came on the heels of the announcement that Janet Mock, transgender author and founder of #GirlsLikeUs, a social media project that empowers trans women, had cancelled her scheduled speaking engagement there. Mock’s talk, Redefining Realness, was sponsored by Moral Voices, the Brown Center for Students of Color, Sarah Doyle Women’s Center, LGBTQ Center, Sexual Assault Peer Educators, Swearer Center for Public Service, Office of the Chaplains, the Rhode Island School of Design’s Office of Intercultural Student Engagement, and Brown/RISD Hillel.

Reacting to the fact that Hillel was one of the co-sponsors of program, the Brown University chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) launched a change.org petition urging Ms. Mock to reject Hillel’s invitation to speak, saying that she should accept “Brown students’ sponsorship instead of Hillel’s.”  Although they were only able to gain 159 supporters (of the nearly 9,000 students who attend Brown), SJP’s divisive efforts led to Ms. Mock cancelling her talk.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

While some may be quick to criticize Ms. Mock’s decision, condemnation should instead be leveled against SJP and their efforts to splinter a community and use Ms. Mock as a pawn. In their effort to link Hillel’s Moral Voices’ campaign – a largely domestic initiative highlighting violence against LGBT+ individuals and communities – to violence in the Middle East, SJP forced a transgender woman of color to choose between silencing herself or allowing herself to be exploited for their unrelated crusade.  She should never have been put in that position.

The homophobic and anti-Semitic graffiti that appeared on Brown’s campus just days later occurred in an environment that SJP helped create. Their claim to be surprised is unpersuasive.   Moreover, the graffiti is only one visible sign of the consequences of SJP’s actions. While SJP’s efforts to alienate Jewish students are well documented, there are other implications too.

There are far too few visible transgender role models and leaders. Efforts that have the effect of quashing those scarce voices have far-reaching repercussions.  For example, studies have shown that the suicide attempt rate among transgender men and women exceeds 41%, greatly surpassing the 4.6% of the overall U.S. population who report a suicide attempt at some point in their lives. The elevated rates of suicide attempts are connected with survivors’ experiences of family rejection and discrimination and violence at school and work. The absence of transgender voices in mainstream discourse also plays a role. There few role models for young transgender people, and families, co-workers, and friends of transgender people have limited opportunities to hear from transgender leaders.  Such an experience would better equip them to be allies in the future. Unfortunately, SJP’s actions foreclosed that possibility for the Brown University campus.

The importance of providing platform for transgender voices is underscored by the fact that, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs’ most recent report, violence against transgender women and particularly transgender women of color remains at an alarmingly high rate. At present, only 17 states and the District of Columbia have hate crime laws that explicitly cover gender identity. Critical efforts to address violence against LGBTQ people, including advocacy for inclusive hate crime laws like the 50 States Against Hate campaign, are undermined by organizations that engage in activism that results in silencing transgender voices. That too is what SJP did.

SJP encouraged a speaker – wholly unrelated to Israel – to reject an invitation from a broad coalition of student organizations solely because one of those organizations is Jewish. Intended or not, SJP harmed the LGBTQ community at Brown and beyond.  It’s well beyond time to reject these divisive tactics.

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November 24, 2015

Campus Groups Exploit Domestic Social Issues to Attack Israel

Anti-Israel groups on university and college campuses continue to link the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to issues of police brutality and discrimination in the U.S., in an attempt to gain broader support for Boy­cott, Divest­ment, and Sanc­tions (BDS) cam­paigns and other anti-Israel initiatives from minority student groups. By employing this tactic, groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) link domestic issues to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, thereby couching hostility towards Israel in social justice terms and making Israel look like an aggressor.students-for-justice-in-palestine-suhad-khatib

Below are a few examples of these events and actions from the 2015-2016 academic year:

  • Linda Sarsour, the National Advocacy Director for the National Network for Arab American Communities, spoke at Rutgers University on Monday, November 23, 2015 for an event titled “Solidarity: Unifying Communities of Color to Break Cycles of Oppression.” According to the organizers of the event, it was held to focus on a number of issues, including “mass incarceration, mass criminalization, structural violence, apartheid, racism, state-sanctioned violence, police brutality, tear gassed for fighting for freedom and equality- a reality for Palestinians living under occupation, and for Blacks fighting an unjust system here in the United States.”
  • Suhad Khatib, a member of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC), spoke via Skype at San Diego State University on Thursday, November 19 for an event titled “Resisting Oppression from Mizzou to Gaza.” In her presentation, she stated that African-Americans, Palestinians, Mexicans, and oppressed people are connected, claiming that “Ferguson taught me more about my connection with Palestine than anything else because you understand racism and systematic racism. We as Palestinians are brainwashed to think we are white when we are people of color and are oppressed.”
  • The Marquette University SJP chapter sponsored a panel discussion titled “Outlets 4 Activism,” which featured Ali Abunimah, founder and executive director of the anti-Israel Electronic Intifada blog, as a panelist. Other panelists at the event included Nate Hamilton, an activist from the #BlackLivesMatter movement and brother of Dontre Hamilton; and Oscar Hernandez, an immigrant rights activist who works as an Organizer for We Own the DREAM. The event was co-sponsored by Black Student Council (BSC), Youth Empowered in the Struggle (Y.E.S), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).
  • Many SJP chapters and other anti-Israel groups across the country co-sponsored rallies and demonstrations held in solidarity with African-American students at the University of Missouri. At one of the demonstrations, which took place at Loyola University on Wednesday, November 11, Nadine Darwish, a member of Loyola SJP and Loyola Divest, stated “Now is the time to hold administrators accountable…No longer can we remain complacent as students and student activists. We have to put an end to the policies and practices that contribute to the systemic traumatization of students of color on campus, particularly Black students and my peers in SJP.”

These events are a continuation of what occurred during the previous academic year, when anti-Israel groups worked to link the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Ferguson, Missouri and when SJP and its partners began to publicly back different movements and offer support to various groups, while broadening support for BDS and other anti-Israel initiatives.

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September 25, 2015

University Departments Sponsor Key BDS Advocates

University departments on five different college campuses have sponsored or co-sponsored anti-Israel programs promoting Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns so far during the 2015-16 academic year. The founding goals of the BDS movement and many of the strategies employed in BDS campaigns are anti-Semitic.  Such sponsorship creates the perception that specific university departments sanction these goals and strategies, lending an added degree of legitimacy and credibility to anti-Israel advocacy and campaigns that may alienate Jewish and pro-Israel students.omar-barghouti-berkeley-flyer

Since the 2012-13 academic year, there have been at least 99 anti-Israel events that received university department sponsorship, including 44 events which took place in the 2014-15 academic year.

On September 18, 2015, Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), spoke at the University of California-Berkeley. His presentation, which discussed the role which he believes academia should play in BDS, was sponsored by the campus Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter and co-sponsored by eight different University departments, including the Center for Race and Gender, Asian American Studies, Native American Studies, Ethnic Studies, English, Chicano Studies, Near Eastern Studies, and African American Studies.

Barghouti, a founder of the movement who recently stated that he believes BDS is turning mainstream, has used Holocaust imagery to condemn Israel and its supporters in past presentations and interviews. He also has advocated for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, along with the right of return for Palestinian refugees, claiming that one state would mean “equality for everyone–irrespective of identity, ethnicity, religion or any other attribute.”

Barghouti’s event is not unique for this year though, as the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at Michigan Technological University sponsored a similar presentation from Israeli anti-Zionist author Miko Peled on September 15, 2015. Over the years, Peled has made several statements about Jews, Israel, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would not define “inclusion” or “diversity.” These statements include his allegation that Israel turned Gaza into an “enormous concentration camp” or more recently, when he stated that “neither Iran, Hezbollah or Hamas pose a threat to Israel, they pose a threat to the Israeli occupation and oppression of Palestinians.”

Other events which received department sponsorship this year include an upcoming performance by Remi Kanazi, an Organizing Committee member of the US Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI), at John Jay College. At John Jay, Kanazi’s performance is being co-sponsored by the Department of Gender Studies.

In addition, a September 16 presentation at Drew University by Bassem Tamimi, a Palestinian anti-Israel activist who has been arrested in Israel several times, was co-sponsored by the Middle East Studies Department; and a presentation from Vijay Prashad, the former Edward Said chair in American Studies at the American University of Beirut, was co-sponsored by the Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs Program.

While not all advocates of BDS are anti-Semitic and may be driven by perceived legitimate criticism of certain Israeli policies toward Palestinians, many individuals engaged in BDS campaigns are driven by opposition to Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state. Because of this, it’s unfortunate that university departments would lend their sponsorship to events that can create an environment that is hostile to Jewish and pro-Israel students.

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