Listen: Why new Israel lobby smears are “good news” for activists – Nora Barrows-Friedman/The Electronic Intifada
Last week, Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights released a detailed report on the escalation of tactics deployed by Israel lobby groups to smear and derail Palestine solidarity activism on US campuses.
These include targeting students and faculty with false accusations of terrorism or anti-Semitism, threats of legal complaints and administrative disciplinary actions. Flush with new injections of cash from right-wing Israel supporters, including billionaire Republican Party donor Sheldon Adelson, lawyers and students are bracing for “dirtier tactics” to spread across US campuses in the coming school year.
Israel lobby groups explicitly aim to crush student-organized boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns, which have been steadily gaining victories in university settings.
Students say that these silencing attempts reveal that Palestinian rights organizing is having an irreversible impact as it becomes more mainstream.
“We’ve been dealing with these issues from the very beginning — and we’re not the first wave of student activism for Palestine that has been facing these issues,” said Sami Suleiman, a graduate student at Brown University, in a recent interview with The Electronic Intifada.
Suleiman is on the national steering committee of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). There are more than 100 local SJP chapters across the US — a number that increases every year.
“The recent news about escalation about campus repression, and Sheldon Adelson injecting all this money to fight us, is actually good news,” Suleiman said.
“It means that we’re effective if a billionaire wants to spend tens of millions of dollars fighting students — who are doing the work they do on shoestring budgets, [who are] meeting in library rooms and dorm rooms [and] enjoying the work … because of how passionate they are.”
He said it was “just affirmation for the work we’re doing, more than anything else.”
On 9 October, hundreds of students from all over the US will gather at the fifth annual National Students for Justice in Palestine conference, hosted this year at San Diego State University.
With the theme “From Campuses to Communities: Building a Vision for the Future,” the conference aims, as organizers say, to “reflect on our role as student activists within the larger scheme of a worldwide struggle for Palestinian rights, situating our work in both regional and global contexts.”
“Within a community”
Suleiman said that national and local SJP organizing affects the communities of which students are a part.
“We are conscious of the fact that we are not just doing our work in the context of a campus, but within a community,” he explained.
He mentioned that SJP activists in the Midwest have been organizing for justice for Rasmea Odeh, a Palestinian American community leader who was prosecuted and convicted by the US government on charges of immigration fraud.
Other student Palestine solidarity activists are heavily involved in organizing in local indigenous, Latin@ and Black community struggles around the US. Such growing alliances are being met with alarm by Israel-aligned groups.
Suleiman added that the national organizing structure is actively working to assist and advise students who are just launching their SJP chapters and may already be facing heavy intimidation by pro-Israel groups on campus. “They need to know they’re not alone,” he said. “[Starting a chapter] is the hardest part … It requires personal endurance to do this work and a willingness to face a lot of backfire.”