This year, Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) was scheduled for Wesleyan’s campus from April 11th- April 17th. IAW is an international initiative in its twelfth year that seeks to raise awareness and critique concerning the multitude of injustices faced by the Palestinian people at the hands of the State of Israel. For those who may not be aware, the establishment of the State of Israel* is a continuing settler colonial project that devours the land that Palestinians work, cultivate, and thrive on. Today, this includes a military occupation of the West Bank that receives financial backing from the U.S. and an apartheid state that has been constructed as Israel Proper, which recognizes Arabs as second class citizens**.
Wesleyan’s SJP and JVP chapters have entered their third and first year, respectively, organizing to call on Israel to end its transgressions against Palestinian human rights. In addition to movie screenings, teach-ins, discussions, and circulating pro-Boycott Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) material, our iconic move for IAW is to move around an Apartheid Wall SJP constructed three years ago that is reminiscent of the wall that separates Israel from the West Bank. Every year this act is met with aggressive Facebook posts, Argus articles, and allegations, but last year in particular the wall was defaced by a non SJP/JVP member who chalked “Go Jews.” By misrepresenting Jewish identity (ethnicity and religion) as being contingent upon the existence of Israel, this act essentially linked a dynamic population of people to political zionism—a specific ideology.
There are so many ironies surrounding that act. In my experience with SJP, the criticisms we receive from Jewish students are most often charges of antisemitism. This rhetoric frustrates all members—particularly those that identify as Jewish (more than half)—and further, it prevents us from being able to have critical dialogue about systemic racism with potential allies. This result is intentional, if not calculated, and informs much of what we know about the issue of free speech.
When Michael Roth vilified SOC activists by publishing “Black Lives Matter and So Does Free Speech,” he conflated the lives of people trying to hold The Argus accountable for its exclusion with the rights of those who have always had such rights in the first place. Both Wesleyan SJP and individual members are featured on a plethora of sites that spew falsehoods about our alleged anti-semitism, and even worse, Wesleyan Fossil Fuel Divest has had their “Climate Change is Racist” and Climate Colonialism posters taken down repeatedly. There is a clear trend of suppression of student activists’ voices at Wesleyan, and yet the conversation on free speech continues to conveniently ignore this. Free speech isn’t free if there are individuals whose speech might jeopardize their own well-being while those who use their first amendment rights to perpetuate systems of oppression may freely do so.
This double standard allows the enemies of people who dedicate their lives to collective liberation to maintain white supremacy (et. al,) by characterizing free speech as good vs. bad, the bad being when it questions the subjugation of black and brown bodies for gain. See, when Hillary Clinton referred to Israel and the U.S.’s “common adversaries” in a speech to AIPAC (U.S. Israel lobby group), she did not only mean to implicate Iran and their alleged nuclear weapons. She was also talking about “rioters”, “terrorists”, and “cop-killers”—aka activists of color in Palestine and the U.S. that refuse to endure oppression from racist States and systems any longer. This particular moment’s concern with mass incarceration repeatedly forgets the activists—the socialists, labor organizers, political prisoners, anarchists, black power and other racial justice leaders—who have been incarcerated or executed under the guise of “national security.” I myself have worried about the consequences of my activism on my life, career, and future and admire their refusal to be silenced. Their conviction allows the work to continue.
Israeli Apartheid Week and Palestine activism generally, for me, rely on the recognition that almost all systems of oppression intersect across seas. Consequently, unified and cooperative modes of resistance are imperative. Collective outcry amplifies to decibels that would drown out the harmful speech of our common oppressor, and our collective power will result in a sustainable, equitable world in which power is in the hands of the people—not the state.
*Israel throughout this article ONLY means the nation state of Israel and does not intend to conflate Israeli citizens with the structure of the nation.
**Apartheid is used in this article as a system of segregation—South African Apartheid is an infamous example. Because Palestinian citizens in Israel are marked as Arab and subject to 50+ discriminatory laws that help Israel remain a “Jewish State,” and because of the existence of a literal separation wall, many scholars and activists refer to Israel as an apartheid state.
This piece has been republished from the Ankh Spring 2016 edition.
James is a member of the class of 2018.