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LETTER: How the Israel lobby at IU suppresses speech for Palestinian rights



Editor's note: This letter has been updated. The organization made two submissions and the earlier draft was published.

On Nov. 5, we were shocked to learn that the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East, Feisal Istrabadi, sent out a message to the center’s extensive list falsely painting the Palestine Solidarity Committee as anti-Semitic. He wrote that he agreed with a recipient of the center’s email list who was offended by a cartoon we included in a poster for an event on the suppression of free speech about Palestinian rights. Istrabadi refused to allow us to defend ourselves on the CSME list on which he denounced us.

Though we understand that some may have been offended by this use of the Israeli flag, we disagree that the use of the flag is in any way anti-Semitic. We apologize if the use of the image caused any of our friends in the Jewish community and beyond any sort of distress. It is important to listen to all voices that denounce bigotry and hate. Our goal is not to alienate anyone. We want to build a diverse coalition in the fight for Palestinian rights. But it must be stressed that the conflation of criticism the state of Israel with criticism of Judaism is dangerous to both Jews and Palestinians. 

These events speak to a higher form of suppression that may be more obscure and indirect. As another administrator told us, Istrabadi may also be concerned that any insinuation, from anyone, that his center supports anti-Semitic activities would hurt his funding from Washington. Of course there are some in Washington who do falsely equate pro-Palestinian speech with anti-Semitism.  

The Department of Education under Betsy DeVos has been targeting pro-Palestinian speech for quite some time. Earlier this year, the department went after Duke University for hosting a pro-Palestinian artist. A letter to DeVos, signed by 100 Jewish scholars around the country, has denounced the Department of Education for what they describe as “a crusade against anyone on college campuses who dares to criticize Israeli human rights violations.”

This is how suppression of speech works. Those who are against human rights for Palestinians have the power to smear those who challenge their views as “self-hating Jews” or anti-Semites. Individuals such as Istrabadi do their bidding out of concern for their own interests or a misinformed definition of anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, activists who have none of the same institutional support systems or connections to power are forced to fight on a grossly uneven playing field. As these fights continue, the status quo persists, and Palestinians suffer.

Reactionary pro-Israel elements on campus have been using this weaponization of anti-Semitism for many years at IU to silence voices for peace, equality and justice for Palestinians.  We invite everyone to join our event at 6 p.m. Nov. 11 in Room 1112 of the Global and International Studies building to learn about it and to judge for yourselves. You will hear people of Jewish and Arab heritage, black, brown and white, working together to remove barriers to advocating for peace, rights and justice for all in that contested land.

Join the Palestinian Solidarity Committee, or JStreet U, to support equal rights, justice and peace for Palestinians and Israeli Jews in their contested lands.

Palestine Solidarity Committee

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