Free speech triumphs over pro-Israel bullies in US universities

Nora Barrows-Friedman, The Electronic Intifada, 20 October 2016

Students constructed a mock wall on the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor campus to protest Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights. (SAFE-UMich Facebook)

Students have won major victories for free speech on US campuses lately as attempts by Israel lobby groups to suppress Palestine solidarity activism continue to fall flat.

“Israel advocacy organizations driving the suppression cannot succeed in manufacturing facts, even if they try,”
Liz Jackson, an attorney with the organization Palestine Legal, told The Electronic Intifada.

Last week, the president of the University of Michigan defended Palestine solidarity activism on campus after student organizers were attacked for holding a protest against Israeli policies on the same day as a Jewish holiday.

In response to accusations that the protest was an affront to Jewish students, the protest’s organizers, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE) stated that the charges fall “under the much larger wave of speech suppression that seeks to derail any valid criticism of Israeli state policy of oppression against Palestinians as a false claim of anti-Semitism.”

University president Mark Schlissel told The Michigan Daily, a campus newspaper, that SAFE “did what we want advocacy groups to do, and to me, they were advocating a political point of view.”

Schlissel’s statement follows a similar defense of student activism in New York City.

There, Israel-aligned groups and elected officials lost a long-waged battle to censor Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) after a six-month independent investigation yielded results that did not support their claims.

The groups and pro-Israel lawmakers steadily pressured administrators at the City University of New York to censure SJP members, accusing them of being responsible for anti-Semitism on campuses.

In February, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), a right-wing lobby group, published a 14-page letter, claiming that SJP “has created a hostile campus environment for many Jewish students.”

Around the same time, local lawmakers also called for a ban of all SJP chapters on CUNY campuses.

The accusations against SJP triggered the investigation, which was led by a former federal judge and a federal prosecutor.

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Black Lives Matter Benefit Is Canceled Over Stand on Israel

The owners of the club have canceled a concert, citing a platform of groups affiliated with Black Lives Matter that calls Israel “an apartheid state”

MICHAEL PAULSON, The New York Times, September 8, 2016

Photo Credit: Karsten Moran for The New York Times

A popular Broadway cabaret club has canceled a concert benefiting Black Lives Matter, citing the movement’s criticism of Israel.

The owners of Feinstein’s/54 Below, a small performance venue just north of Times Square, this week emailed ticket buyers to the event, informing them of the cancellation. In a separate message to participants, the owners cited a platform released this summer by a coalition of groups affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement that declared “Israel is an apartheid state” and denounced what it described as “the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people.”

The concert was scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 11, and would have been directed by the actress Tonya Pinkins (“Caroline, or Change”).

In the note to participants, 54 Below said that its owners and managers “strongly believe in and support the general thrust of the goals and objectives” of the Black Lives Matter movement.

It continued, “However, since announcing the benefit they’ve become aware of a recent addition to the B.L.M. platform that accuses Israel of genocide and endorses a range of boycott and sanction actions.”

The statement said, “As we can’t support these positions, we’ve accordingly decided to cancel the concert.”

The concert cancellation was reported by Playbill. The owners of 54 Below, through a spokesman, declined to comment further, and spokesmen for Black Lives Matter did not respond to requests for comment. Ms. Pinkins, in an email, said that many of the speakers and artists who had planned to participate in the 54 Below event would be at “The Meeting*,” hosted by Justin Sayre, at Joe’s Pub on Sept. 18; she said some would “give testimony,” and that the proceeds would benefit Black Lives Matter.

CODEPINK Petition to Veto California Anti-BDS Bill

CODEPINK, August 28, 2016

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California’s AB 2844 is an attack on the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and protest. It is intended by its authors to create a blacklist of supporters of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns for Palestinian human rights. This is of urgent concern to Californians who will be immediately affected by the legislation, and also of relevance to all Americans given the rapid spread of these laws to multiple states, chipping away at our right to use boycott to advocate for political change.

Civil liberties groups, including the ACLU, National Lawyers Guild, and the Center for Constitutional Rights affirm that right to use economic boycotts in support of human rights and social justice causes is a protected form of free speech under the US constitution. A recent article in the LA Times explain how boycotts of Israel are a protected form of free speech.

The authors of AB 2844 have portrayed the legislation as an anti-discrimination measure. However, the purpose of the bill, as admitted to by its authors, is to stifle the nonviolent boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian human rights, even at the cost of the US constitution. As CODEPINK co-founder Jodie Evans says, “it is up to all of us to let California Governor Jerry Brown know that we do not want to support Israel’s policies of occupation and apartheid nor give up our right to freedom of speech and nonviolent protest.”

AB 2844 passed through the California Senate and is expected to pass the California Assembly in the next few days. At that point, Governor Brown will have only 12 days to sign or veto the bill. If Governor Brown does nothing, the bill will be approved by default. Join CODEPINK, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the rest of the Coalition to Stop AB 2844 in telling Governor Brown to veto AB 2844.

In peace,
Jodie, Sam, Marianna, Chelsea, Ariel, Alli, Medea, Nancy K. and the entire CODEPINK team


Dear Governor Brown,

We urge you to veto AB 2844, an unconstitutional and costly attack on Californians’ free speech and the movement for Palestinian human rights.

AB 2844 chills free speech by falsely associating legal and time-honored boycotts for human rights with unlawful discrimination, and by creating a vague new crime in the process. The bill could cost California taxpayers over $140 million (Department of Finance estimate) and unknown additional sums for fielding complaints and lawsuits.

Although the title and some of the content of AB 2844 have changed over time, its intent remains the same: to stigmatize and suppress protected political speech, especially advocacy for Palestinian human rights through the nonviolent tactics of boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Stop this attack on Californians’ free speech. Veto AB 2844.

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I’m Jewish, and I want people to boycott Israel

The country must be held accountable for its human rights abuses.

Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace
The Washington Post, June 24, 2016

In 2009, I was living in Tel Aviv during Operation Cast Lead. During that offensive, Israel killed about 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza. When small numbers of us went out into the streets to protest the war, we were often pelted with eggs or attacked by passersby. When I dropped my children off at their preschool, parents chatted as if nothing unusual was going on. When they asked me what was wrong, I would tell them I was deeply upset about what was happening just 40 miles away. Their response: awkward silence, or an angry defense of Israel’s actions.

The Old City walls of Jerusalem (EPA/JIM HOLLANDER)

I wanted to take concrete action to bring about freedom and full rights for Palestinians. So I embraced the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. The non-violent effort, started in 2005 by a broad coalition of Palestinian civil society organizations, is a call for solidarity from the international community until Israel complies with international law and ends its violations of Palestinian rights. It’s hard going though — the governor of my own state, New York, recently condemned BDS in a unilateral executive order.

Seven years later, there have been two more horrific assaults on Gaza. About 500 Palestinian children were killed in 2014. Even when there are no intensive bombing campaigns, Palestinians in Gaza live under siege. West Bank residents are severely curtailed by Israel’s matrix of control in the area, including checkpoints, administrative detention and home demolitions. Inside Israel, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship live in a system of unequal laws and rights. Outside of Israel, refugees cannot return home.

Of course, during this time there have been attacks on Israeli civilians too. These are a horrifying symptom of ongoing occupation and repression, as Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai pointed out after a recent attack in Tel Aviv killed four Jewish Israelis.

I believe that Israel won’t change its policies until outside pressure becomes impossible to ignore. BDS is a powerful way to encourage the state to act. And during my time with the movement, we’ve had growing success. Mainstream churches have divested from companies profiting from the occupation. Dozens of American campuses have passed divestment resolutions. More than 100 artists refuse to perform in Israel, and multinational corporations like G4S and Veolia have withdrawn from the Israeli market.

During this time, there’s also been a shift in public opinion. A 2015 Brookings Institute poll found that 49 percent of Democrats support imposing economic sanctions against Israel over settlement construction. A Pew poll released last month found that for the first time, liberal Democrats were more sympathetic to Palestinians than to Israelis. In May, the research firm Ipsos found that one-third of Americans support the boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel until it respects Palestinian rights.

But our efforts have been threatened here in the United States by a nationally coordinated, well-funded strategy financed by the Israeli government and advocacy organizations. Over the last year, 22 states have introduced or passed anti-BDS legislation. Many of these measures make it illegal for states to do business with companies that support BDS. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has escalated that strategy with a draconian executive order that would create a blacklist of companies and organizations that choose not to invest in Israel or that advocate for BDS. Cuomo’s executive order circumvented the state legislature, where opposition from supporters of Palestinian rights and free speech, including many members of Jewish Voice for Peace, had successfully stalled the anti-BDS legislation in committee.

This is wrong. It’s not discrimination to hold a state accountable for its violations of international law and human rights abuses. The state of Israel is not the same as the Jewish people.

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US labor board affirms union’s right to boycott Israel

“As Americans who have a constitutional right to criticize our own government, we certainly have a right to criticize and, if we choose, boycott a foreign government that is heavily subsidized by US taxpayers.”

Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 25 July 2016

The United Electrical Workers backed BDS in a vote of delegates at the union’s August 2015 national convention in Baltimore. (via Facebook)

The National Labor Relations Board has reaffirmed its dismissal of charges against the United Electrical workers union because of its support for the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

The NLRB is the US federal agency that enforces the country’s trade union legislation.

In August 2015, the 30,000-strong United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, known as UE, became only the second national trade union in the US to back BDS by a vote of delegates at its annual convention in Baltimore.

In October, Shurat HaDin, a lawfare group with ties to Israel’s Mossad spying and assasination agency, filed a complaint against the union, claiming that its support for BDS amounted to a violation of the law against secondary boycotts.

In January, the labor board dismissed the complaint, stating it had investigated and found “there is insufficient evidence to establish a violation” of the law.

Shurat HaDin appealed the dismissal, but on 26 May the labor board’s general counsel issued a letter that the union says reaffirms the earlier decision to throw the case out.

Victory for BDS

UE national president Peter Knowlton welcomed the decision in a press release on Friday.

Knowlton said that UE had in the past “withstood attempts by the US government to silence us during the McCarthy era in the 1950s,” and was “unbowed by the latest attempt of a surrogate of the Israeli government to stifle our call for justice for Palestinian and Israeli workers.”

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Israeli Defense Minister Compares Beloved Palestinian Poet to Hitler

JAMES GLANZ, The New York Times, JULY 21, 2016

Avigdor Lieberman, an ultranationalist, said that Army Radio should not have aired a show about Mahmoud Darwish, who is considered the Palestinians’ national poet

A memorial for the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish in the West Bank city of Ramallah in 2008. He occupies a unique place among Palestinians: their national poet, beloved by politicians, academics and defiant youth. (Abbas Momani/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

Those Who Pass Between Fleeting Words
O those who pass between fleeting words
carry your names, and be gone
Rid our time of your hours, and be gone
Steal what you will from the blueness of the sea
And the sand of memory
Take what pictures you will, so that you understand
That which you never will:
How a stone from our land builds the ceiling of our sky.

From you steel and fire, from us our flesh
From you yet another tank, from us stones
From you teargas, from us rain…

It is time for you to be gone
Live wherever you like, but do not live among us
It is time for you to be gone
Die wherever you like, but do not die among us
For we have work to do in our land.

O those who pass between fleeting words
It is time for you to be gone
Live wherever you like, but do not live among us
It is time for you to be gone
Die wherever you like, but do not die among us
For we have work to do in our land

So leave our country
Our land, our sea
Our wheat, our salt, our wounds
Everything, and leave
The memories of memory
those who pass between fleeting words!
Mahmoud Darwish

JERUSALEM — Israel’s ultranationalist defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, managed to offend both Palestinians and free-speech advocates on Thursday, comparing the Palestinians’ national poet to Adolf Hitler and threatening the independence of Israel’s Army Radio station.

The controversy erupted after Army Radio, which has been under pressure from right-wing politicians to broadcast more patriotic programming, aired a show about the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, a revered figure among Palestinians whose work is a staple of school curriculums and is showcased at a signature museum in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The Defense Ministry issued a statement on Thursday saying that Mr. Lieberman had excoriated the commander of the radio station over the show. The statement said that “according to this same logic,” it would be possible to “glorify during a broadcast the literary marvels of ‘Mein Kampf,’” Hitler’s autobiography.

Months after Israel’s conservative culture minister raised hackles by trying to adjust Army Radio’s playlist, Mr. Lieberman recently assigned a Defense Ministry official to make recommendations on whether the station should continue to operate. The left-leaning Israeli news organization Haaretz reported that Israel’s attorney general had phoned Mr. Lieberman on Wednesday night “to remind him he has no authority to intervene in Army Radio’s programming.”

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Poetry is not a Crime

Join over 150 renowned writers, poets, translators, editors, artists, public intellectuals and cultural workers.

These signers, from Alice Walker and Claudia Rankine to Naomi Klein and Jacqueline Woodson, represent some of the most respected individuals in the arts and literary worlds. For the list of signers, please scroll down.

Dareen Tatour has been charged with incitement to violence based on a poem posted to YouTube. She is one of over 400 Palestinians arrested in the last year for their expressions of resistance to the Israeli Occupation over social media.

She had her first court hearing last month, charged by Israel for Facebook postings and a poem posted to YouTube called “Qawim ya sha’abi, qawimhum” (Resist my people, resist them).

We believe in the rights of artists and writers to openly express their artistic vision and share work freely. The Israeli government’s actions reveal a desire to silence Tatour, part of a larger pattern of Israeli repression against all Palestinians.

Expressing resistance to oppression and Occupation through poetry is by nature non-violent and should not be criminalized by any government.

We, the undersigned – writers, artists, and people of conscience from around the world – believe that poetry is not a crime. We are calling for poet and activist Dareen Tatour to be released immediately from house arrest and for all charges to be dropped.

Add your name:

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