March 27, 2019
Book talk: Boycott! The Academy and Justice for Palestine

The Palestine Center
Washington, DC
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm CT
Livestream Online
Videos & Transcripts

with Dr. Sunaina Maira, Professor of Asian American Studies, University of California – Davis

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) has expanded rapidly though controversially in the United States in the last five years. The academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions is a key component of this movement. What is this boycott? Why does it make sense? And why is this an American Studies issue? In this short essential book, Sunaina Maira addresses these key questions. Boycott! situates the academic boycott in the broader history of boycotts in the United States as well as in Palestine and shows how it has evolved into a transnational social movement that has spurred profound intellectual and political shifts. It explores the movement’s implications for antiracist, feminist, queer, and academic labor organizing and examines the boycott in the context of debates about Palestine, Zionism, race, rights-based politics, academic freedom, decolonization, and neoliberal capitalism.

Sunaina Maira is Professor of Asian American Studies and was Co-Director of the Mellon Research Initiative in Comparative Border Studies at UC Davis from 2015-2018. In addition to Boycott! The Academy and Justice for Palestine, she is the author of several books on Muslim, Arab, and South Asian youth culture and activism including Jil Oslo: Palestinian Hip Hop, Youth Culture, and the Youth Movement and The 9/11 Generation: Youth, Rights, and Solidarity in the War on Terror. She co-edited Contours of the Heart: South Asians Map North America, which won the American Book Award, and The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent. Her current research is a community-engaged project on sanctuary activism and migrant solidarity movements in the US and Europe. Maira has also been involved with various community organizations and Palestine solidarity campaigns in the Bay Area and nationally.

New York Jewish Voice for Peace Proud to #StandWithIlhan

Dear Rep. Engel and Rep. Lowey,

We, members of the Westchester chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, are your constituents. And we proudly #StandWithIlhan.

Many of our colleagues and allies have already robustly and eloquently called out the dishonesty, Islamophobia, and anti-Black racism evident in Democratic leaders’ swarming attack on Rep. Omar. We echo those views, and note that your actions do nothing to counter the real and growing threat of antisemitism in this country and around the world.

But we wish to address a different point that your attacks on Rep. Omar seek to suppress, namely that your fidelity to the Israel lobby is inconsistent with your responsibilities as our elected representatives in Congress.

This non-exhaustive list highlights some of our areas of concern:

  1. The most glaring recent example of your willingness to subvert the essential obligation of your office — to uphold our Constitution — is your determination to enact lobby-drafted laws that would penalize Americans for exercising their Constitutional right to free speech that criticizes Israel. There is no way to dress up this legislation as anything other than an effort to silence legitimate, Constitutionally-protected speech and debate on questions of significant importance. Shame on you both.

  2. Where the State of Israel has pursued policies that are contrary to US interests and long-held policy you have thrown your support behind Israel, as you both did, for example, in opposing the JCPOA (multilateral Iran nuclear deal); condemning the US abstention on the UN Security Council vote acknowledging the illegality of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine; and supporting relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem. These positions are incomprehensible to us; they weaken the rule of law and the cause of peace and stability in the region.

  3. For years we have watched in amazement and disgust as both of you impugn the mountains of findings of fact and conclusions of law by actual experts, documenting Israel’s extensive and systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, as well as of essential norms concerning interstate relations like the prohibition against the acquisition of territory through force — and uncritically spout dishonest and discredited lobby-drafted talking points to justify your support for those policies of oppression. We deserve representatives who are willing to countenance real facts, even if those facts challenge their long-held beliefs.

  4. The Foreign Agents Registration Act requires that agents for foreign interests register with the Department of Justice and report on their contacts with elected officials. Throughout your years of Congressional service, both of you have willingly engaged with the many-headed hydra of the unregistered Israel lobby, knowing full well that the messaging you were receiving originated within agencies of the Israeli government. Because these lobbying entities are unregistered it is impossible for us, your constituents, to learn the extent of your engagement with them. It is clear to us, however, that you affiliate with and are sympathetic to organizations that actively work to silence and intimidate Americans who seek serious and honest examination of our Israel/Palestine policy.

We #StandWithIlhan because we too have been smeared by you, Mr. Engel, accused of being “self-hating Jews” when we spoke to you of the rights and dignity of Palestinians.

Rep. Omar courageously spoke up because too many of us have failed to confront our representatives and hold them to account. We salute her for her bravery and integrity. And we pledge to #StandWithIlhan by persisting in our demand for honest debate around the legitimate question of Israel lobby influence over our Congress and other areas of our civic and political life.

Signed,

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Call NOW to stop resolution targeting Rep. Omar Ilhan

#StandWithllhan

Please consider calling or emailing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and your own Representative:

    Speaker Pelosi: 202-225-0100, press “1” to leave a message, or email form
    Rep. Mark Pocan: 202-225-2906 in DC, or email form

The vote is now scheduled for Thursday, 3/7/19.

The Democratic Party Attacks on Ilhan Omar Are a Travesty

I’m Jewish and have worked against anti-Semitism for decades. I was sitting a few feet from Omar at Busboys & Poets and I heard nothing—nothing—that smacked of anti-Semitism, overt or coded or otherwise.

Phyllis Bennis, The Nation, March 5, 2019

Ilhan OmarRepresentative Ilhan Omar at a news conference in the Capitol on January 10, 2019. (Tom Williams/AP Images)

Attacks on Congresswoman Ilhan Omar are rising. One of the first Muslim women elected, Omar is also black, an African immigrant, a former refugee from Somalia, and wears her hijab in the halls of Congress. She is under attack from the leaders of her own party for anti-Semitic statements she never made, for anti-Jewish prejudice she never expressed, for hatred of Jews she doesn’t hold. And the Democratic Party leadership is considering a resolution whose early text, at least, while not mentioning Omar by name, is clearly aimed at accusing her of precisely those things, despite the fact—ignored by the Speaker of the House and other top officials—that she never said or believed any of those words.

The most recent attacks on Representative Omar are based on her answer to a broad question about anti-Semitism during a recent town hall meeting at Busboys & Poets in Washington, DC. I was there, sitting just a few feet from Omar, asking a question during the Q&A. She never said that Jews have dual loyalty. She never expressed “prejudicial attitudes” or supported “discriminatory acts” against Jews or anyone else. And yet that is the language being proposed for a Democratic Party–sponsored resolution aimed at undermining Omar’s credibility, and likely that of Rashida Tlaib, the other Muslim woman just elected to Congress. Like Omar, Tlaib, who is Palestinian, stands forthrightly in support of Palestinian rights, against the power of the pro-Israel lobby and other lobbies that use money to influence Congress to support guns, environmental destruction, and Israeli violations of human rights—and she stands against racism and anti-Semitism.

These members of Congress understand that real anti-Semitism in the United States has been rooted in white supremacy since the Ku Klux Klan reemerged in 1915 and added Jews to the African Americans who had long been their primary target. That’s the real anti-Semitism we’re seeing—the violence of the Charlottesville march by Nazis and the Klan, the Pittsburgh synagogue murders, all of it rooted in white supremacy. Criticism of Israel, and of its human-rights and international-law violations and its lobbies, is simply not anti-Semitism.

I’m Jewish. I’ve worked against anti-Semitism, in the context of working against white supremacy, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and beyond, for decades. And I heard nothing—nothing—that smacked of anti-Semitism, overt or coded or otherwise. Ilhan Omar simply didn’t say it.

Here’s some of what she did say.

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ADC Stands With Congresswoman Ilhan Omar!

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), February 12, 2019

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) unequivocally condemns all attacks and mischaracterizations against Representative Ilhan Omar for her outspoken position in support of Palestinian human rights. It is absurd that Representative Omar is being targeted for exercising her legal right to question the influence of AIPAC, one of the most influential special interest groups in the U.S. for the last twenty years.

The American people expect elected representatives to be transparent on special interest funding, and most polls show support for campaign finance reform. Representative Omar has the responsibility as a member of Congress to use her platform to question the influence that special interest groups have on U.S. policies; it is precisely why she was elected by her constituency.

Let us be clear, these attacks are not new and have absolutely nothing to do with anti-Semitism. The fictitious statements including those coming from one of the most xenophobic and racist Presidents in history, confirms that these attacks are rooted in a continued pattern and practice of vicious, bigoted, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-Black rhetoric that started before Representative Omar was elected. To falsely conflate anti-Semitism, is dangerous to the victims of true anti-Semitism, as we tragically saw in Charlottesville and at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Ohio.

ADC is equally disturbed by the growing trend in the U.S. to undermine civil liberties when it comes to engaging in Palestinian human rights work. This is best exemplified in the recent congressional efforts to punish those who peacefully exercise their First Amendment right to boycott. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) is not anti-Semitic, in fact it is against anti-Semitism and all forms of racism. Indeed, the U.S. Palestinian human rights movement condemns the very hate that it is being falsely linked to.

As, Palestinians continue to endure violations committed by Israel with impunity, Representative Omar’s questioning of the U.S. role should be applauded. Just last week, Israel shot and killed two Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip, including a 14-year-old Palestinian boy. In 2018 alone, Israel killed 57 Palestinian children. It is the duty of all members Congress to question AIPAC’s substantial influence on U.S. policies and its role to shield Israel from accountability.

We commend Representative Omar and other members of Congress that stand up for the values that this country claims to uphold, justice and dignity for all. Thank you for taking a principled position in defense of human rights and justice for all. ADC is proud to stand with you.

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Prominent Democrats Form Pro-Israel Group to Counter Skepticism on the Left


Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington last March. (Sipa, via Associated Press)

Jonathan Martin, New York Times, Jan. 28, 2019

WASHINGTON — Several prominent veteran Democrats, alarmed by the party’s drift from its longstanding alignment with Israel, are starting a new political group that will try to counter the rising skepticism on the left toward the Jewish state by supporting lawmakers and candidates in 2020 who stand unwaveringly with the country.

With polls showing that liberals and younger voters are increasingly less sympathetic to Israel, and a handful of vocal supporters of Palestinian rights arriving in Congress, the new group — the Democratic Majority for Israel — is planning to wage a campaign to remind elected officials about what they call the party’s shared values and interests with one of America’s strongest allies.

“Most Democrats are strongly pro-Israel and we want to keep it that way,” said Mark Mellman, the group’s president and a longtime Democratic pollster. “There are a few discordant voices, but we want to make sure that what’s a very small problem doesn’t metastasize into a bigger problem.”

The group, whose board includes former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and a former Clinton administration housing secretary, Henry Cisneros, will create a political action committee later this year and may engage in Democratic primaries, Mr. Mellman said. They also are planning an “early states project” with the goal of organizing pro-Israel Democrats in the first nominating states to lobby the party’s presidential hopefuls.

For many traditional Democratic supporters of Israel, there is a deepening concern that voters in America’s two major political parties appear to be moving apart in how they view the country.

As Republican backing for Israel surges thanks to the rise of evangelicals in their coalition and President Trump’s close alignment with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an increasingly liberal Democratic Party is growing more uneasy with a country they see as an oppressor of a marginalized group, the Palestinians.

The shift on Israel reflects the larger Democratic tilt toward a brand of leftist politics that is creating tensions between the party’s old guard and an ascendant progressive wing that has been emboldened by Mr. Trump’s inflammatory politics and the perceived compromises and failures of an earlier generation of moderates.

While the overwhelming majority of congressional Democrats are strong supporters of Israel, the party’s pro-Israel wing has been jolted by election of a pair of high-profile freshman, Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against the country.

Ms. Omar was appointed to a seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which drew scorn from Republicans but offers her a prominent perch in the debate over Middle East policy. And Ms. Tlaib drew widespread attention earlier this month when somebody in her office placed a Post-it note that read “Palestine” over Israel on a map in her office.

But they are hardly alone among the newer Democratic lawmakers in taking, at least, a more nuanced view of Israel. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York has called the “occupation of Palestine” a humanitarian crisis, and other progressives like Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington have not hesitated to criticize Israel’s use of force against Palestinian protesters.

According to a survey conducted earlier this month by Pew, the share of liberal Democrats who sympathized more with Israel than Palestinians has plummeted from 33 percent to 19 percent in just three years.

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