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  March 16, 2015

Students Critical of Israeli Occupation Face Academic Crackdown

At the 2015 Jewish Voice for Peace Conference in Baltimore, TRNN speaks to Jewish and Palestinian students, academics and attorneys who are demanding that college campuses stop suppressing dissent
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Jaisal Noor is a producer for The Real News Network. His stories have appeared on Democracy Now!, Free Speech Radio News and other independent news outlets. Jaisal was raised in the Baltimore-area, and has a degree in history from the University of Maryland, College Park.


JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: As the Real News continues to report from the 2015 Jewish Voices for Peace conference in Baltimore, one topic that's gotten a lot of attention here and around the country is the issue of what's being called the assault on academic freedoms for those who voice support for the Palestinian cause and call for the boycott, divestment, and sanctioning of Israel for its ongoing and continued occupation of the Palestinian territories.

We started by speaking to 20-year-old Malak Fakhoury, who's active in the Students for Justice in Palestine movement at the University of South Florida.


MALAK FAKHOURY, STUDENT, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA: So my experience is that I assumed, like anyone else, that I had the right to express myself and that I had the freedom of speech, especially when it comes to issues so prominent has human rights or civil rights. But what I found out with our our SJP chapter: when we had a petition to ask our university to divest the millions of dollars they've invested in companies that are compliant with human rights violations, they said no, and they don't care, and they don't want to politicize their investments. And not only that was when they give us an answer, but leading to that, all of the pressure we had put on them: they tried to strike the results from the record and not even say that it was officially counted under the university's student government. They said that they don't want to discuss it, and they said that this--our institution's going to have no part in it.

NOOR: And were there ramifications for SGP as well?

FAKHOURY: Well, we came under a lot of scrutiny and we get a lot of attention from the administration. We had to get local civil rights groups involved to protect our freedoms and ensure that we were in protocol and able to do what we wanted and we weren't violating any of the Florida laws. Like, they were threatening us with misdemeanors and saying that we were doing things that were illegal and inappropriate.


NOOR: Aaron Maddow is the campus outreach coordinator for Open Hillel. He talks about the challenges facing critical voices in Jewish spaces on campus.

AARON MADDOW, NAT'L CAMPUS OUTREACH COORDINATOR, OPEN HILLEL: So the fact is is there are a lot of Jewish students who hold critical views on Israel, ranging from people who are liberal Zionists to people further to the left and SJP and JVP.

And the mainstream Jewish community and the people that run organizations that control Jewish campus spaces, namely Hillel International, don't seem to be able to acknowledge that there really are Jews who see themselves in solidarity with Palestinians or Jews who have serious critiques of Israeli occupation and Israeli history. Even some things as mild as discussing the Nakba, the displacement of Palestinians in 1948, is something that really doesn't happen inside Jewish communal spaces on campus.

And so what my movement seeks to do is to end the very real restrictions that are written out and spelled out that bar many speakers from appearing in Jewish communal spaces that are both Jewish and non-Jewish. And this [incompr.] the fact that it's also a message about who is and who is not welcome in Jewish communal spaces. And Open Hillel's a movement to say, no, Jewish students should control Jewish student discourse, and it is not the place for our elders to say what we should and should not think.

NOOR: Joel Beinin is the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History and a professor of Middle East history at Stanford University.

JOEL BEININ, DONALD J. MCLACHLAN PROF. HISTORY, STANFORD UNIVERSITY: --probably the most outrageous and high-level was that Professor Steven Salaita was offered a job at the University of Illinois, and then, after he had signed the offer letter, it was retracted, allegedly because of his uncivil Tweets during the Israeli assault on Gaza, but actually (as it's been revealed by emails subsequently) because of pressure on the board of trustees and the administration by wealthy donors. There have been a much larger number of cases involving restrictions on student speech and political activism. So, at Columbia a banner calling for a boycott, divestment, and sanctions was taken down by order of the administration, even though it meant all of the normal criteria for how such things should be approved and hung up. There were restrictions put on chapters of students for Justice in Palestine at Northeastern University and at a few other campuses.

NOOR: Alan Levine is a longtime civil rights lawyer who defends the rights of Palestinians among other causes.

ALAN LEVINE, LONGTIME CIVIL RIGHTS LAWYER: It all begins, of course, with the response of the organized Jewish community and people acting on behalf of Israel seeking to deter those who are advocating for Palestinians and criticizing Israeli actions towards the Palestinians. And it happens nationally off campus, and it happens nationally on campus. And one of Israel's strongest allies is the Anti-Defamation League, and the ADL has had an organized campaign seeking to suppress organizing on behalf of Palestinians, and particularly organizing on behalf of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. And they have circulated the idea that anti-Israel activity is a form of anti-Semitism. They filed complaints with the federal Department of Education seeking to have the DOE cut off funds to campuses. They've lost every time in that endeavor. But they've been more successful in pushback against students and faculty.

I was personally involved with students in Brooklyn College who organized a panel on behalf of BDS. Speakers included Judith Butler, a prominent Jewish scholar, and Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian who has led the BDS movement. And when the panel was announced, politicians in New York City and newspaper headlines roundly criticized the panel. Professor Dershowitz from Harvard called joined in, calling it anti-Semitic. And there were attempts to withdraw funding from Brooklyn College. Eventually, all of that failed. But it's a suggestion of the kind of organized efforts there are all over campuses to suppress pro-Palestinian views.

NOOR: Go to for our continued coverage of the Jewish Voice for Peace conference in 2015.

From Baltimore, this Jaisal Noor.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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