As another year closes and Palestine remains as far from liberation as ever, it would be wise to admit, once again, that there is no clear, unified strategy to defeat Zionism and liberate Palestine. One place where some change can perhaps be made, however, is in relation to the Zionist organizations around the world whose sole purpose is to disrupt pro-Palestinian activism.
Peaceful activism for Palestinian rights on college campuses and elsewhere has long been targeted heavily by nationalist groups like Hasbara Fellowships, Hillel, and others who present Israel as a fun, wonder-filled beacon of democracy and haven for Jewish people while feeding into islamophobic and anti-Arab sentiments.
We see this in the continued attempts to brand Muslim and Arab students as inherently “violent” or supporting terrorism. Students who support Israel are presented as fearful of attacks and vulnerable while in fact, those who highlight Palestinian rights face harassment and defamation campaigns that follow them for the rest of their academic and professional careers.
Most, if not all, speakers who are invited to speak on campus on the issue of Palestine have experienced the hateful, vicious attacks by Zionist groups who campaign to silence the Palestinian voice. Granted, some experience this more and some less, but the Zionist reach seems to have no boundaries and they are more vigilant and hateful than ever before.
This is true everywhere, but perhaps nowhere more than on university campuses. As an event is planned, and sometimes immediately after an event, Zionist organizations express their displeasure to university authorities in an attempt to either cancel an event altogether or, if the event had already taken place, to demand an apology or urge authorities to reprimand the organizers for allowing what they refer to as an “anti-semitic” voice to be heard on campus.
The time has come to change this dynamic. Rather than wait for the attacks by Zionist groups and then explain and apologize, those who stand for justice in Palestine would do well to expose Zionist groups and the hateful racism which they represent.
Zionist groups represent a racist, supremacist, and violent ideology. They defend a state that is engaged in the worst type of violence against the Palestinian people, yet they feel that they are in a position to question the motives of organizers, speakers, and activists who call for justice and tolerance.
Hillel, for example, writes on its website, that “Israel is at the heart of Hillel’s work.” They fully admit that their goal is “to inspire every Jewish college student to develop a meaningful and enduring relationship to Israel.” They want every Jewish student to have a “meaningful” relationship with Israel, which has from its very inception destroyed, stolen, killed, and imposed a violent racist regime in Palestine.
Hillel further says that “Engaged and educated students can become committed Jewish adults who are passionate supporters of Israel.” One has to wonder what kind of hate-filled indoctrination must be used in order to cultivate “passionate” support for an apartheid state.
My most recent experience was with a Candian Zionist organization called Hasbara Fellowships. On their website, Hasbara Fellowships write, “We envision North American college campuses to be a place where Zionists feel empowered to openly celebrate the Jewish State without fear or exclusion.” How is one empowered to celebrate a state that keeps millions of people under its control, deprived of water and food, and determines who has access to medical care based on whether or not they are Jewish?
As for the misleading use of the name “Jewish State,” the majority of Jewish people around the world choose not to live in Israel. The majority of the population governed by the State of Israel are not Jewish, but Palestinian Muslims and Christians who are subjected to systemic racism and violence. How then is Israel a “Jewish” state?
Furthermore, this so-called Jewish State has been denounced by Ultra-Orthodox Rabbis and secular Jews alike for over 100 years. Zionism never represented Jews or Jewish identity, or for that matter, Jewish self-determination.
Hasbara Fellowships further states that it is, “a leading pro-Israel campus activism organization.” On the face of it, to some readers, this may seem benign, but to anyone familiar with the history of the Middle East, and that of Palestine in particular, this is indeed sinister. “Pro-Israel” means pro-violence and pro-apartheid. It means being pro a regime which has taken Palestine, and like wildfire, destroyed everything in its path.
Zionism embraces (and various Zionist groups promote) a racist, supremacist ideology that has brought death, homelessness, and destruction to millions of Palestinians. And yet, it is the wonderful, selfless work being done by student groups like PSC and SPHR in Canada, SJP, and SUPER in the United States, that is being attacked and defamed.
All around the world, students toil day in and day out to get the truth regarding Palestine out into the open. Yet, the Zionist organizations which promote hatred, racism, and violence are being given the ear of university administrations and the intentions of the Palestine solidarity student groups are brought into question.
Set the record straight
In their demands to reprimand the organizers of a recent event in which I participated, albeit remotely, Hasbara Fellowships called me a “fringe member” of the Jewish community. Never mind that this ignores my upbringing in Israeli society, which gave me an invaluable intimate insight, it undermines the opinions of countless Jews around the world who similarly do not subscribe to a nationalist ideology.
These Jewish groups range from the large-scale ultraorthodox Hassidic communities (a great many of whom are the descendants of Holocaust survivors) who put religious observance before nationalism and flat-out reject the State of Israel, to the many secular Jews who have a long tradition of peaceful activism resisting oppressive regimes. Quite often inspired by their own experiences of oppression, these Jewish groups, individuals, and communities stand up for the human rights of others. Nationalist groups such as Hillel and Hasbara Fellowships do not speak for these Jewish people, as they demand to feel “empowered” to spew hate and racism.
The state of Israel became rich as a result of the pillaging and looting of Palestinian property, both private and collective. This theft took place after countless Palestinians were forcibly exiled from their homes and their land. The Israeli economy is strong and Israel is not a state that is in need of foreign aid, or any aid for that matter. It is, however, in need of a great deal of public relations, and that is where these groups come in.
Israel peddles weapons and sells to the darkest dictatorships around the world, and Israel’s arms industry profits are in the billions. Historically, Israel supported Apartheid in South Africa, Mobuto in the Congo, Idi Amin in Uganda, the Shah of Iran, the genocidal attacks against the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, and military dictators in Latin America.
Still, university administrators have decided to bow their heads to racist, hate-filled Zionist groups rather than support the courageous students who stand for justice and freedom from bigotry everywhere. One hopes that the administrations of universities around the world will not let these attempts at defamation leveled by Israeli nationalist groups deter them from protecting freedom of speech and peaceful human rights advocacy at their universities.
However, rather than wait for others to do the right thing, we who support the causes of justice and liberation in Palestine need to act. We would do well to move from defense to offense, and clearly, there is a lot of material to work with.
Feature photo | Israeli peace activist and author Miko Peled speaks at the 2014 FOSNA conference. Photo | graceandsalaam | Flickr
Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”