Illinois faculty rejects efforts to suppress Palestinian freedom

Criticism of Israel is not antisemitism
Grave implications for free speech, distracts from actual racism

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT URBANA-CHAMPAIGN. (INSTAGRAM)

OPEN LETTER, Mondoweiss, DECEMBER 23, 2020

As faculty and staff within the University of Illinois system, we are writing to renew our outrage at the rampant anti-Semitism and racism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. We condemn all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, anti-Blackness, xenophobia, and other forms of hatred and dehumanization.

We are also deeply concerned about the way anti-Semitism is defined in a joint statement issued by UIUC, the Jewish United Fund, Hillel groups, and the Brandeis Center in response to complaints that these avowedly pro-Israel groups filed against the University based on student speech and activism for Palestinian human rights.

Specifically, the statement identifies incidents “that demonize or delegitimize Jewish and pro-Israel students…[or] subjects them to double standards” as expressions of anti-Semitism. This conflation of Jewish religious and ethnic identity with a viewpoint that supports the state of Israel or Zionism as a political ideology is a dangerous tactic that is expressly aimed at silencing any and all debate about Israel and Zionism on college campuses.

The way that anti-Semitism is defined in UIUC’s statement correlates with a definition that has been pushed by pro-Israel groups in legislatures, agencies, and institutions around the country and that was adopted by Donald Trump in an executive order issued in 2019. Those same groups have often funded Islamophobia across this country and have allied themselves with right wing organizations. The definition itself is uncontroversial, but it is accompanied by several illustrative examples intended to guide its interpretation and use. For instance, critiques of Israel as a racist state are treated as expressions of anti-Semitism. As the Brandeis Center has said explicitly in the complaint it filed against UIUC, the definition means that: “anti-Zionism is a contemporary form of anti-Semitism.”

The political project to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism is harmful on several levels, and we urge the University of Illinois administration to reject this effort because of the grave implications it has for academic freedom and student free speech on our campuses, the way it distracts from actual racism happening on our campuses, and the ironic consequence of creating an anti-Palestinian/Arab/Muslim environment on campus by targeting students for expressing their experiences and views.

1) The harm to academic freedom and student speech

Whether or not one agrees with Israeli policy, anyone concerned about academic freedom should be gravely concerned about this definition because repressing the free exchange of ideas is antithetical to the purpose of campus life and the opportunity for students to learn how to engage with diverse viewpoints.

Part of the university experience means hearing ideas that may clash with your own, being challenged to consider different perspectives, and approaching issues with intellectual rigor. UIUC’s statement eviscerates this by demanding that students with a certain political viewpoint – that is, support for Israel – be shielded from opposing ones. That is impossible, and untenable. No one would expect the university to protect students from Myanmar from criticism of its treatment of Muslims, or supporters of South Africa’s apartheid regime from its critics. That’s because we do not conflate criticism of a country with hatred of people who are from or support that country’s policies. And we must not do that for Israel either. Neither Israel, nor any other country, can be shielded from criticism in a university setting, and people who support Israel – as with any other issue – must learn to contend with differing viewpoints.

We are especially concerned about the impact this definition will have upon academic freedom in the area of teaching and debate in our classrooms, as well as on our scholarship. This creates an environment of fear in our classroom, making even faculty worried about being attacked for scholarship they assign in their courses and lectures and research projects they pursue. At colleges and universities across the US, pro-Israel organizations have called on the US Department of Education to enforce this definition by silencing students, faculty, courses, and events expressing support for Palestinian freedom. It is particularly concerning to see the adoption of this definition by the UIUC administration, in light of Prof. Steven Salaita’s experience having a job offer withdrawn by UIUC for comments made on his personal social media and other experiences of harassment of faculty and graduate students at UIUC. Indeed, the University has at times been responsive to ensure that explicit Islamophobic comments are not tolerated by staff, especially those in key positions on campus. Yet these responses are not nearly enough. Anti-Muslim sentiment and practices are integral to today’s unleashing of white supremacy across the country. Students across various U of I campuses continue to raise grave concerns about the lack of administrative response to the ways Islamophobia impacts their lives and academic success and they continue to fear for their safety. In January 2020, UIUC extended an invitation to JUF to train staff of the housing department. And now, for example, the University is dismissive of student concerns.

If UIUC accepts that criticism of Zionism, or opposition to Israel’s establishment as a state in historic Palestine that privileges Jews over indigenous Palestinians, is the equivalent of anti-Semitism, the University will insert itself into the position of a political censor of classroom, scholarly and campus discourse. The First Amendment won’t allow that, and neither will faculty or students who are here to experience a diversity of thought and to think and associate freely.

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Biden needs to reverse Pompeo on Israel/Palestine


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu make a joint statement after meeting in Jerusalem, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, Pool)

Tsela Barr and Jeff Spitzer-Resnick, The Cap Times, Dec 4, 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in another lame-duck effort to tie the hands of the incoming administration and give a parting gift to the far right in Israel and to right-wing Christian Evangelicals at home, has just poured kerosene on the fire of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The most senior U.S. official ever to publicly visit an Israeli settlement on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank, Pompeo proclaimed that settlement-produced goods imported to the U.S. will no longer be labeled as they had previously been, “made in West Bank/Gaza.” Instead, they can now be labeled “made in Israel,” despite the fact that neither U.S. law, nor the United Nations, recognizes Israel’s de facto annexation of large swaths of Palestinian territory.

Trump and Pompeo hope to drive one more nail in the coffin of long-standing official U.S. policy, which, while not sufficiently supportive of the aspirations of the Palestinians for legitimate self-governance on their own land, at least until now has held the settlement enterprise to be illegal, illegitimate, counterproductive to the cause of regional peace and stability, and even damaging to Israel’s own interests.

But there is an even more dangerous part of Pompeo’s pronouncements: that henceforth, the U.S. will officially label the international grassroots movement known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as anti-Semitic and will create what amounts to a blacklist of organizations that support it.

The BDS movement is an international effort by millions of people to try to pressure the Israeli government to respect the human, political and economic rights of Palestinians. It is inspired by a similar movement that targeted and helped overthrow apartheid rule in South Africa.

While, as American Jews, we have serious concerns about rising anti-Semitism, which is traditionally defined as hostility to, prejudice toward, or discrimination against Jews, we are united in opposition to labeling BDS (or other criticism of Israeli policies), as anti-Semitic and even worse, to using the power of governments at all levels to outlaw or punish the BDS movement.

Labelling BDS and other criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic is a cynical move to suppress speech and action critical of Israeli violations of human rights. This is plainly and simply wrong, and indeed dangerous. What happens when actual anti-Semitism does take place? Will it be taken seriously when politicians make up their own contemptuous definitions of genuine hatred of our people?

In 2018, we worked together to try to stop such an effort right here in Wisconsin, where both then-Gov. Walker and the majority of the Wisconsin Legislature — from both parties — succeeded in writing unconstitutional anti-BDS legislation into law.

All who believe in free speech and the right to press governments to end injustices must speak out against yet another authoritarian move from this lame-duck administration. We call upon the incoming Biden administration to firmly reject Trump and Pompeo’s Israel/Palestine policy, including the dangerous BDS-as-anti-Semitism falsehood.

While Pompeo’s last-ditch efforts may make finding a just solution for the decades old Israeli-Palestinian conflict more difficult for President-elect Biden, they don’t make it any less necessary.

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Pompeo Labels BDS Antisemitic, Threatens Blacklist

This week Pompeo broke with longstanding U.S. policy and visited illegal Israeli settlements. On his trip, he made several announcements, including that the State Department is designating BDS as antisemitic and calling for the U.S. Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism to create what is essentially a blacklist of organizations that support BDS. We will have more on this soon, but for now:

  • Please share the JVP Action statement condemning this widely (this is compliant to share on chapter lists and chapter social media). You can also re-share our petition to the State Department on this issue.
  • Here are other statements you can check out and lift up:
  • Amnesty International, 19 November 2020

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    Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Boycotts Yitzhak Rabin Event

    Yesterday progressive Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) was headlined in the Palestine news-sphere as word came out about her speaking at a Peace Now event memorializing former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

    For Palestinians, this news was triggering. For us, Rabin is not known as the “peacemaker” as U.S. history memorializes him, but as a colonial military general who oversaw ethnic cleansing campaigns and violent tactics to suppress Palestinian protests.

    Today AOC’s office let us know that she has officially pulled out of the event memorializing Yitzhak Rabin after learning about his true legacy. Rabin’s legacy is much more than his handshake with Yasser Arafat at the White House and his assassination by a right-wing Israeli extremist. In assessing Rabin’s legacy, it’s important to center on the people most gravely harmed by his actions, the Palestinian people.

    Not all Nobel Laureates are heroes, not all peace deals are just. We need look no further than the arms-trade deals President Trump is trying to pass off as peace accords between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain to know this to be true.

    Young people around the world are demanding we rethink the legacy of historical figures valorized and celebrated uncritically. Israeli leaders are no exception.

    Thank you for listening to the lived experience of Palestinians, Congresswoman.

    Adalah Justice Project is a Palestinian advocacy organization based in the U.S. that aims to shift public discourse and policy on Palestine. We work towards collective liberation. Adalah Justice Project is a fiscally sponsored project of the Tides Center, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

    Tell General Mills: Stop manufacturing Pillsbury products on stolen Palestinian land!


    Did you know that food giant General Mills is manufacturing Pillsbury products on stolen Palestinian land?

    That is not OK.

    The Pillsbury factory is located in Atarot Industrial Zone, an illegal settlement near the infamous Qalandia Checkpoint that separates East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.

    Stand up for Palestinian rights! Join AFSC in telling General Mills: Stop profiting from the occupation.

    The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights listed General Mills as one of the companies supporting illegal Israeli settlements. AFSC’s own research shows that the land the factory was built on was confiscated by force. The factory is located on land that used to be part of Beit Hanina, a Palestinian town which was dissected by Israel’s separation wall. Israel annexed this area into Jerusalem.

    We wrote a letter to General Mills CEO Jeff Harmening, urging him to stop doing business in an illegal settlement—and received no response.

    Please join us in taking action today:

    1. Write your own letter to Jeff Harmening and tell him: “No dough for the occupation!”

    2. Boycott Pillsbury products until General Mills stops manufacturing on stolen land.

    3. Help us spread the word. Share more information about the campaign with your networks as well as our campaign website: BoycottPillsbury.org. Support our call for justice for Palestinians and join us in boycotting Pillsbury today.

    In peace,

    Noam Perry
    Economic Activism Associate
    American Friends Service Committee

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    DNC Delegates Demand Apology from the Biden Campaign

    Attacks on Palestinian-American Delegate Linda Sarsour

    After DNC delegate and Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour spoke at an official DNC event of the Muslim Delegates and Allies Assembly on August 18th, 2020, Andrew Bates, a spokesperson for the Joe Biden campaign, issued a statement saying,

    “Joe Biden has been a strong supporter of Israel and a vehement opponent of anti-Semitism his entire life, and he obviously condemns her views and opposes BDS, as does the Democratic platform. She has no role in the Biden campaign whatsoever.”

    As Palestinian-American delegates and allies, we stand by our fellow Palestinian-American delegate Linda Sarsour and condemn any effort to exclude elected national DNC delegates from official DNC events. We reject efforts to marginalize and demonize the Palestinian narrative. We also call upon the Democratic National Committee to renew its commitment to its own core principles of equality and justice for all.

    The DNC seeks to represent an inclusive and diverse population and should not discriminate against any segment on the basis of ethnicity, religion or political dissent. The vast majority of Democratic voters are calling for accountability, including BDS as a nonviolent form of curbing Israeli violations and challenging Israel’s impunity. The statement by the Biden campaign has willfully dropped the reference to freedom of speech from its platform language quote in the rush to malign, condemn and exclude Sarsour. Such an attack goes against the principles of the Democratic Party and the 2020 Democratic Party Platform to end systemic racism and to build a coalition.

    While we recognize the prevalence of anti-Semitism, criticism of Israel must not be conflated with anti-Semitism. Israel has repeatedly violated international humanitarian law and human rights as well as American international aid conditionality. Moreover, Jake Tapper of CNN has a history of singling out Palestinian-Americans, Muslim-Americans and anyone who stands behind Palestinian human rights or criticizes the Israeli occupation.

    This disavowal of Linda Sarsour reeks of misogyny, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian bigotry. It provides a false shield for Israel’s human rights abuses. The Biden campaign must not follow the lead of the Trump administration and should rise above these attacks and make a concerted effort to be inclusive and represent the collective vision for a truly democratic Party.

    Palestinian-American delegates and allies demand an immediate retraction and apology from the Biden campaign that smeared a prominent Palestinian-American activist, undermined her constitutional right to free speech, and weaponized anti-Semitism to silence the just critique of Israeli oppression of Palestinians.

    Sincerely,

    Palestinian American Delegates
    Huwaida Arraf, MI Delegate (CD-10)
    Zeina Ashrawi Hutchison, VA Delegate (CD-10)
    Samia Assed, NM At-Large Alternate (CD-1)
    Summer Awad, TN Delegate (CD-2)
    Sam Hindi, CA Delegate (CD-14)
    Hatem Natsheh, TX Delegate (SD-25)
    Emad Salem, TX Delegate (SD-10)
    Murad Sarama, CA Delegate (CD-6)
    Ibraheem Samirah, VA At-Large Delegate (CD-11)
    Endorsed by the following delegates to the 2020 Democratic National Convention:
    Abdul-Khabir, Kareema – CA Delegate, CD-8
    Ahmad, Nadia – FL Delegate, CD-7
    Alexander, Cory – ID Delegate, CD-1
    Ali, Faiza – NY Delegate, CD-10
    Alvarez, Roberto – CA Delegate, CD-38
    Aszterbaum, Joey – CA Delegate, At-Large
    Bagheri, Aaron – CA Delegate, CD-24
    Baker, Dana – CA Delegate, CD-4
    Beall, Elise – CO At-Large Delegate
    Beichler, Amber – VA Delegate, At Large
    Bellanca, Jay – NY At-Large Delegate
    Bernal, Karen – CA PLEO Delegate, CD-6
    Beyer, Timothy – CA Delegate, CD-43
    Bignell, Mark – MI Delegate, CD-4
    Bishop, Heather – OR Delegate, CD-4
    Blochowiak, Patricia – OH Delegate, CD-11
    Bonge, Sam – AZ Delegate, CD-8
    Britto, Lisa – FL Delegate, CD-10
    Brown, Michele – FL Delegate, CD-18
    Caballero, Josie – CA Delegate, CD-53
    Cea, Sergio – PA PLEO Delegate
    Choudhury, Leila – VA Delegate, CD-5
    Chrisliquori@gmail.com
    Chu de León, Chris – TX Delegate, SD-13
    Corley, Troy – CA Delegate, CD-26
    Cramer, Gina – TX Delegate, SD-26
    Culver, Jon – WA Delegate, CD-1
    Davis, Mina – TX Delegate, SD 5
    De Delva, Namcy – NY Delegate, CD-5
    Dean, Amy – VA Delegate, CD-7
    Derton, Robin – TX Delegate, PLEO Delegate, SD-5
    Dinkin, Leah – CO Delegate, CD-2
    Dlugosz, Anne – Delegate, Democrats Abroad
    Dominguez, Silvia – MA Delegate, CD-05
    Dunbar, Melissa – WA Delegate, CD-6
    Dupont, Aimee – MA Delegate, CD-2
    East, Shana – IL Delegate,
    Enriquez, Ivan – CA Delegate, At-Large CD-46
    Espinosa, Giancarlo – FL Delegate, At Large
    Ester, Lesley – CA Delegate, CD-2
    Evans, Stevevonna – CA Delegate, CD-33
    Farokhia, Sudi – CA Delegate, CD-45
    Farokhnia, Sudi – CA Delegate, CD-45
    Fleming, Joanne – WA Delegate, CD-5
    Foley, Linda – TX Delegate, SD-12
    Garcia Centeno, Krystal – IL Delegate, CD-11
    Garcia, Brandon – TX PLEO Delegate, SD-19
    Giardinelli, Bryan – CA Delegate, CD-42
    Gibson, Emily – OR Delegate, CD-2
    Gloria, Ernesto – TX Delegate, SD-9
    Gonzalez, Ana – CA Delegate, CD-35
    Gonzalez, Elizabeth – CA Delegate, CD-46
    Gordon, Patrick – IL Delegate, CD-8
    Hassan, Syed – TX Delegate, SD-22
    Hastings, Erika – TN Delegate, CD-8
    Hernandez, Thomas – WA Delegate, CD-3
    Hicks, Jared – MA Delegate, CD-7
    Hill, Lauren – NC At-Large Delegate
    Hoyt, Margie – CA Delegate, CD-43
    Huntley, Paul – CA Delegate, CD-19
    Huynh, Katherine – CA Delegate, CD-43
    Ibarra, Antonio – IL Delegate, CD-11
    Isak, Barbara “Babs” – UT Delegate, CD-3
    Jiang, Zhenzhen – CA Delegate, CD-14
    Johnson, Cavla – FL Delegate, CD-15
    Johnson, Heather – CA Delegate, CD-31
    Johnson, Valerie – TX Delegate, SD-9
    Hanieh Jodat Barnes – CA Delegate, CD-45
    Joyce, Rommy – CA Delegate, CD-19
    Jun Nawabi, Aleena – CA Delegate, SD-52
    Kain, Matthew – MI Delegate, CD-14
    Kang, Mani – CA Delegate, CD-46
    Kaur, Gurdeep – CA Delegate, CD-40
    Kessel, Michelle – TX Delegate, SD-25
    Khan, Varisha – WA Delegate, CD-1
    Khoury, Kari – CA Delegate, CD-9
    Klemmer, Isabel – WI Delegate, CD-6
    Knight, Mary Ann – TX Delegate, SD-10
    Langford, James – FL Delegate, CD-7
    Larranaga, Chris – NM Delegate, CD-1
    Lee, Briana – MN Delegate, CD-5
    Lefebvre, Lyndsey – CA Delegate, CD-39
    Lim, Cheng-Sim – CA Delegate, CD-28
    Liu, Melanie – CA Delegate, CD-18
    Ly, Ricky – FL Delegate, At Large
    Lynch, Nita – CO Delegate, CD-1
    MacLeod, Duncan – MI Delegate, CD-3
    Manos, Michelle – CA Delegate, CD-29
    Mansoor, Nabila – TX Delegate, SD-18
    Maro, Anthony – CO Delegate, CO-5
    Martin, Beth – WA Delegate, CD-9
    Martin, Grayson – CA Delegate, CD-52
    Martinez, Eduardo – CA Delegate, CD-11
    McClain, Christopher – CA Delegate, CD-31
    McCord, Kathleen – NM Delegate, CD-1
    McGrath, Bob – CO Delegate, CD-7
    McLain, Brian – IA Delegate, CD-3
    Merritt, Madeline – CA At-Large Delegate
    Meyer, Katie – CA Delegate, CD-53
    Moffa, Jamie – MO Delegate, CD-1
    Mohammed, Sabina – TX At Large Delegate, SD-22
    Moran, Kate – WA Delegate, CD-46
    Moreno, Gabriel – MD Active Alternate Delegate, CD-2
    Moxley, Kyle – MI Delegate, CD-8
    Nasrullah, Mohammed – TX Delegate, SD-11
    Nguyen, Lisa – OH Delegate, At Large
    Nygard, Dorothy – CA Delegate, CD-10
    O’Hea, Justin – NJ Delegate, CD-12
    Ocampo, Christina – CA Delegate, CD-8
    Okuzumi, Margaret – CA Delegate, CD-17
    Omeish, Abrar – VA PLEO Delegate, CD-11
    Orgel-Olson, Shawn – CA Delegate, CD-20
    Palma, Dayja – TX Delegate, SD-22
    Parr, Andrew – VA Delegate, CD-8
    Patterson, Kevin – TX Delegate, SD-30
    Perkel, Leah – WA Delegate, CD-3
    Pfeiffer, Mindy – CA Delegate, CD-27
    Phillips, Gregory – FL At-Large Delegate
    Pierce, Eric – CA Delegate, CD-28
    Ramos Rios, Virginia – NY Delegate, CD-7
    Ramos, Stacey – CA Delegate, CD-35
    Rawson, Katherine – UT Alternate Delegate
    Recendez, Denis P. – CA Delegate, CD-32
    Rehmani, Tasneem – CA Delegate,
    Reynolds, Samantha – CO Delegate, CD-2
    Rizvi, Maha – CA Delegate, CD-42
    Rodriguez, Maya – CA Delegate, CD-41
    Rodriguez, Tisa – CA Delegate, CD-41
    Roemer, Katy – CA Delegate, CD-13
    Saines, Koran T. – VA PLEO Delegate, CD-10
    Scoville, Carrie – CA PLEO Delegate, CD-44
    Shaughnessy, Christian – CA Delegate, At-Large
    Shepherd, Jeri – CO Delegate,
    Shergill, Amar – CA Delegate, CD-7
    Shimizu, Christine – CA Delegate, CD-30
    Siddiqui, Aftab – TX Delegate, CD-6
    Siddiqui, Zahid – CA Delegate,
    Smith, Benjamin – TN Delegate, CD-02
    Smith, Megan – ME Delegate, CD-2
    Solomon, Norman – CA Delegate, CD2
    Sondahl, Birrion – CO Delegate, CD-2
    Stevens, Karen – CA Delegate, CD-26
    Sukaton, Samuel – CA Delegate, At-Large
    Sullivan, Maureen – IL Delegate, CD-3
    Summervillle, William Moses – CA Delegate, CD-48
    Talevski, Susie – IN Delegate, CD-1
    Tatlock, Nina – FL PLEO Delegate,
    Taylor, Tarah – TX Delegate, SD-15
    Terpening, Stephanie – MI Delegate, CD-4
    Terrazas, Stephanie – CA Delegate, CD-39
    Thompson, Victoria – CA Delegate, CD-7
    Torres, Nelly – PA Delegate, CD-11
    Touati, Khalid – TX Delegate, SD-16
    Toy, Shirley – CA Delegate, CD-6
    Ty, Yaddi – WA Delegate, CD-2
    Uddin, Nazim – NC Delegate, At-Large
    Usman, Sameena – CA Delegate, CD-17
    Valladares, Victor – CA Delegate, CD-48
    Vazquez, Juan – CA Delegate, CD-10
    Verhey, Molly – WA Delegate, CD-08
    Wang, Anlin – PA Delegate, CD-3
    Ward, Kenneth – ID Delegate, CD-2
    Weekley, Dakin – FL Delegate, CD-26
    Wells, Marley – FL Delegate, CD-1
    Williams, Susana – CA Delegate, CD-9
    Winograd, Marcy – CA Delegate, CD-24
    Wong, Audrey – CA Delegate, CD-33
    Woodhall, Adam- FL Delegate, At Large
    Wright, Lissette – Delegate, Democrats Abroad
    Wunderly, Maggie – IL Delegate, At Large
    Youngblood, Brandon – CA Delegate, CD-9
    Zaman, Rubina – TX Delegate, SD-11
    Zeisel, Jodi – OR Delegate, CD-3