Donnie Donilon, Ellis Garey and Shafeka Hashash are organizers with NYU Students for Justice in Palestine. This article was originally published in Washington Square News.
Avital Kaplan and Josh Lavine’s recent WSN op-ed condemned an Israeli Apartheid Week event held by NYU Students for Justice in Palestine. The authors claimed an interest in holding a “panel on peace,” but, as their article demonstrates, their conception of peace comes through silencing those they oppose — be they “well-educated,” and therefore “dangerous,” speakers at an SJP event, or the Palestinian people at large, who had the audacity to elect officials from a political party the authors dislike.
Since the launch of the Madrid-Oslo talks in 1991, the U.S.-brokered peace process has demanded that Palestinians engage in negotiations that offer them no tangible gains. Palestinians have seen the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank rise from 110,000 in 1993 to 350,000 in 2013. Each year, Palestinians witness Israel detain 500 to 700 Palestinian children. Three in four of those detained will be subjected to physical violence. In Gaza, Palestinians endure Israel’s frequent blockades, which leave them without power or clean water. Asking Palestinians to continue participating in a farcical peace process is asking them to passively watch further confiscation of their land, and the imprisonment andmurder of their neighbors.
The anti-Palestinian logic of this sham peace process is reflected in Kaplan and Lavine’s argument. To start, they introduce the West Bank as “Judea and Samaria,” thus disregarding the internationally recognized Palestinian claim to the land. At this very moment, unofficial annexation of the West Bank continues in the form of settlement building. Next, Kaplan and Lavine turn a blind eye to the lopsided nature of the conflict by equating Palestinian stone throwing with Israeli state-sponsored violence. Israel is one of the most militarily advanced nations in the world, while Palestinians are an occupied people with no military. Israeli military offensives such as “Operation Cast Lead” exemplify this imbalance — 1,400 Palestinians were killed, the grand majority of whom were civilians. Finally, in referencing the “12 elected Arab members” of the Israeli Knesset, Kaplan and Lavine obscure the fact that, by definition, a state that defines itself as Jewish privileges one ethnic group over all others. We see this in Israel’s segregated school system and again in the state’s treatment of African immigrants.
We would be mistaken to think that the assaults on freedoms end within Israel and Palestine. We feel the effects of repression right here on university campuses. The Israeli-sponsored effort to censor Palestine solidarity activism in the United States has had significant consequences. This semester alone, Barnard College administrators removed an authorized SJP banner due to allegations of anti-Semitism. Likewise, Northeastern University’s SJP was suspended as a result of similar pressures. NYU students must ensure this type of censorship does not occur on our campus.
We must therefore be critical when Kaplan and Lavine label Max Blumenthal anti-Semitic for his principled criticism of Hillel. In reality, Hillel excludes Jews who criticize Israeli occupation, especially those who question the morality of religious states like Israel. By confusing anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, Kaplan and Lavine ignore this uncomfortable fact. Hillel students at Swarthmore College recently rejected this discriminatory policy by deciding to become the first “Open Hillel.” They were denounced by Hillel’s national president.
Freedom of speech is not reserved for safe topics. Students have the right to speak out against Israel, even when that involves questioning NYU’s partnership with an organization that funds an unjust occupation.