Dear Campus Community,
The Cornell Daily Sun published an article on February 28th titled “Jewish Students Denounce Defacement of Hillel Posters”. Due to the continuously misleading coverage of events involving Cornell Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) as well as our views, we feel obliged to respond.
Journalism is not about recapitulating statements of various “sides” in order to present an empty debate; it must also involve fact-finding, evaluation, and challenging bogus claims. It is troubling that the Sun article calls SJP’s poster “anti-Israel” in an editorial voice that echoes the viewpoint of the students from Hillel and CIPAC interviewed by the reporter. What about the posters is anti-Israel, as opposed to anti-occupation? Far worse is the way the article allows the posters to be described as “anti-Semitic” without challenging or even questioning the use of that term. This falls into the tried and true strategy of those apologists for Israel’s war crimes of conflating all criticism of the occupation with anti-Semitism. As a dishonest, manipulative strategy, it’s bad enough – but when a piece of putative journalism parrots this smear without pause or thought, it is irresponsible and repressive.
The posters – which SJP made and distributed, and persons unknown ripped down and trashed, contrary to the article’s title narrative – draw on the tradition of culture jamming which is a venerable form of political speech. To claim that such political speech is threatening, as the president of Hillel does, is a way of demonizing a position rather than actually engaging with it. If Hillel has no qualms about bringing soldiers to campus who have partcipiated in wars of aggression and military occupation, but find any critique of this militiarism to be “threatening,” it needs to think about how violence and power actually work.
Furthermore, Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is not a reaction to Hillel’s event, but rather an annual international series of events aimed at educating people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system. IAW first took place in 2005, hand in hand with the initiation of the BDS movement, calling to boycott, divest and sanction Israel until it complies to international law and recognizes the demands of the Palestinian people. In reaction to the successes of IAW in raising awareness of Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people, “Israeli Peace Week” began in 2010. Not incidentally, this happened the year after Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip, an offensive which caused widespread destruction and left 1,400 dead to the horror of people of conscience all over the world. Israeli [Peace] Week is a well orchestrated and funded whitewashing campaign which disguises itself as a grassroots effort.
The article similarly misconstrues the November 19 rally organized by SJP and its Cornell and Ithaca community allies in solidarity with the people of Gaza. Instead of the belligerent symmetry implied by the Sun’s coverage, the situation on Ho Plaza was the result of a counter-rally that CIPAC scrambled to assemble after learning of our event. But the Sun article tells a different story: “In November, pro-Israel and pro-Palestine groups held a rally on Ho Plaza that ended in students screaming at each other and campus police ejecting one of the groups from the plaza.” In point of fact, the rally ended with the police ignoring our right under the Campus Code of Conduct to hold a rally on Ho Plaza as well as to use amplification during the prescribed hour of 12-1. Summoned by CIPAC to eject us from our own rally, the Cornell Police tried to suppress our protest, throwing a Cornell student to the ground in the process. Our decision to leave Ho Plaza was driven by shock at the tactics of the CUPD which made Ho Plaza no longer a safe place for the free speech or personal safety of our members and allies.
Not only does the article get some basic facts wrong, presenting an incoherent sequence of events; it also allows Hillel to air biases and talking points without challenge or question. Since Hillel claims that the purpose of bringing soldiers to campus was to show a sunnier side of Israel, “palm trees and clubs” rather than “barbed wire and tanks,” we ask why such an event should feature soldiers at all? Attempts like these to romanticize Israel as “hip” and “modern” in an otherwise “despotic” region are part of a wider propaganda campaign, launched by the Israeli Government in 2007, to rebrand Israel and shield the reality that Israel is a hyper-militarized state that relies on its tanks, barbed wire, tear gas, bombs, and assault rifles every single day to enforce its illegal rule over Palestinians.
And where Hillel’s statements in the article spin the conflict as one of Jews versus Muslims, we reject such a dichotomous, simplistic framing. While we insist that ethnicity, identity, and privilege should not be a prerequisite for any political critique, it should be noted in this context that Cornell SJP is a diverse group of Muslims, Jews, atheists, Arab-Americans, Israelis, and others. Neither (ir)religion nor ethnicity precludes any category of people from choosing to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Viewing the conflict as one of individuals obscures the character of the Occupation. It is Israel’s Occupation that creates categories of occupiers and occupied and any solution will involve the dismantling of those categories. Until that occurs privileging the personal feelings of supporters of the occupiers, smiles exchanged in press photos, or felicitious gladhanding are just claptrap that forestalls a serious presentation of the issues.
It is thus appallingly naive that Hillel offers a token dinner sit-down with Muslim students in place of meaningful dialogue on the core issues of the Occupation. Despite their protestations, it seems as though they do indeed view “Muslim” and “Pro-Palestinian” as synonyms. But this conflict is not about identity. The problems are the colonialism, imperialism, and racism which have coalesced into Israel’s intractable occupation.Despite Hillel’s attempts to sanitize the history of the conflict in the facile terms of “Pro-Israel” and “Pro-Palestine,” SJP has never considered itself “anti-Israel.” We are anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist and anti-racist. And rather than being “pro-Palestinian,” we fight for equality for all human beings regardless of their race, ethnicity, or religion. We apply these same anti-oppression principles to our work with other communities as can be seen in the broad coalition of about 20 groups, representing a spectrum of religious, political, and ethnic groups, who co-sponsored our November rally in solidarity with the people of Gaza. The terms “pro-Israel” and “pro-Palestinian” distort the conflict into one of competing sides. This anti-colonial struggle isn’t a soccer match between two equal teams; it is the struggle of a dispossessed people to regain their homes and their rights.
Condemnation and censorship of SJP’s political commentary on the grounds that it is allegedly anti-Semitic is simply unacceptable. The Cornell Daily Sun has done an excellent job of obscuring the facts of this matter, bending over backwards to accept uncritically the framing of events by a loud, conservative faction to the demonization of every other viewpoint held by students on this campus.