Running contrary to much of current American political discourse and foreign policy, SJP’s position is exactly the type which needs the support of an institution devoted to free speech.
At about 12:00 pm on May 16, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at the University of Chicago set up an installation on Bartlett quad to mark the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe, when over 700,000 Palestinians were forcibly removed from their land by Zionist forces in an act of brutal settler-colonial ethnic cleansing.
Our installation consisted of 70 flags, each with a fact about Palestine, Israel, and the Nakba. These facts were carefully researched and rendered in the installation. Though we are a political organization and make no claims to a mythical “neutral objectivity,” there were no falsehoods. Our goal was to educate, raise awareness, and foster discussion.
The installation was thoroughly scrutinized in advance by the University administration and approved of. By 3:00 pm the same day, the installation had been vandalized, 10 of the flags were missing, and a hastily-written note was left, accusing us of anti-Semitism. This accusation is patently false. As has always been the case, we vehemently oppose anti-Semitism, just as we oppose all forms of racism. By 1:00 am the following morning, all of the flags had been stolen.
“I was scarcely aware of the existence of the Horowitz Center [before seeing my picture on the poster]. But a few minutes researching their activities reveal it to be a front organization for a hate group that seeks to defame and intimidate anyone who dares to criticize the state of Israel by calling them a terrorist, linking them to Hamas, and (of course) denouncing them as an anti-Semite. This is a thoroughly despicable group that perpetrates lies and slander directed at American universities and their students and faculty. I recommend that you look at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s account of David Horowitz’s career.”
— University of Chicago professor W. J. T. Mitchell
Over the past week, posters targeting members of the University of Chicago community as “terrorist supporters” appeared around campus and have since been removed by the University. The posters included the names of 26 members of the University community, including the names and drawings of the faces of two members of the faculty.
The students named on the posters are affiliated with the Muslim Students Association (MSA), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), and U of C Divest. The David Horowitz Freedom Center placed similar posters on campus in October of 2016 and May of this year, after College Council (CC) approved a resolution calling for the University to divest from companies connected to the Israeli occupation in May 2016.
“Of course the Israeli settlers target him. The people who are activists, or the people who try to document Israeli violations, are being targeted by the Israelis all the time, because they don’t want to allow people to see the reality of how life is here.” — Hebron resident Ayman Samir
Emad Abu Shamsiyah first started receiving death threats in March, after a video he filmed for Israeli rights group B’Tselem, which captured Israeli soldier Elor Azaria shooting dead Abed al-Fattah al-Sharif, 21, was released to the public. The video sparked a media frenzy surrounding the incident, and directly led to the initial indictment of Azaria. Shamsiyah has not had a good night’s rest since.
Shamsiyah lives in the city-center of Hebron — arguably the most contentious city in all of the occupied West Bank — and the only city-center where Palestinians and Israeli settlers live side-by-side.
During the case, Shamsiyah was frequently accosted by Israeli settlers near his home, who demanded he change his testimony. After last week’s ruling, which found Azaria guilty of manslaughter, the threats against Shamsiyah have reached a new level, as 67 percent of the general Israeli population supports a full pardon for Azaria.
The lack of support for the manslaughter ruling has translated into anger among Israeli settlers, who have a neighbor directly responsible for the main evidence in the case. As a result, Shamsiyah cannot walk the streets of his neighborhood without fearing for his life.
“The deeply entrenched racism in our country has to be addressed. And it has to be addressed not for any single minority population, but for the sake of all of us as human beings.”
One morning, Khalid Latif was asleep in his bed when he was awakened by two FBI agents. Latif remembers the agents telling him, “You’re just too good to be true, and we want you to know we’re watching you.”
At the time, Latif was an honored member of the NYPD and traveled around the world for the US State Department. He had met with President Barack Obama, Pope Francis, and the Dalai Lama. Yet every time he went through an airport, he was searched, questioned, and detained. When Latif asked the TSA agents why, they said, “you’re young, you’re male, and you’re Muslim, and those things don’t go so well together right now.”
For Khalid Latif, this has been his reality in a post-9/11 world.
In his role as Imam at New York University, he currently devotes his life to combat Islamophobia and to create a safe, open, nonjudgmental environment for Muslim students and local community members to come together, worship, and feel that they have a support system.
“The major way that McCarthyism worked was not because the government went in and punished people for the speech that they engaged in,” explains Corey Robin, a professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center whose name and photo are also featured on the site. “The bulk of it was precisely through these contacts amongst private employers and universities and non-state institutions that would sanction individuals for their speech.”
This past July, Thomas DeAngelis discovered that a bizarre website had placed his name and photo next to claims that he was “whitewashing terrorist violence and calling for more.” The site lists where he goes to school and what he’s studied, includes a lengthy description of his political activity, and even links to his Facebook page and Twitter handle.
DeAngelis, 23, is a first year doctoral student in the Earth and Environmental Sciences program at the CUNY Graduate Center and a longtime activist with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). The profile on his political activities was posted to CanaryMission.org, a website that publishes the names, photographs, and biographical information of students engaged in Palestine activism across the United States.
The website, which was launched in May 2015, now contains profiles of over 600 individuals, most of them people of color. The site targets students and professors at universities across the U.S., in addition to a small number of people employed by Jewish Voice for Peace and other Palestine advocacy groups. [As of this writing, more than 1,000 US university faculty have signed a letter opposing CanaryMission.org here, AgainstCanaryMission.org.]