BY MARIAM BANAHI
Editor’s note: The author is a member of Students for Justice in Palestine.
I agree with the article “Dershowitz is not an anti-Arab bigot” (hereafter “Dershowitz”), which appeared in the Nov. 5, 2015 edition of The News-Letter, on one crucial point: Words are weapons. However, no matter the eloquence with which some of us write or the power we try conjure through our words, authorship also plays an unforgiving role in defining their force and legitimacy. Put more simply, whether speaking with deference, arguing with passion, or screaming in anguish, we are often met with indifference or silenced for daring to raise our voices in protest.
Over one year has passed since the Hopkins Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) Die-in and Teach-in for Gaza. Similar to those efforts, the resistance to Alan Dershowitz was a collective one driven by a coalition of groups with unique concerns. Very crucially, we have learned one indisputable fact: The changes sought by the disenfranchised voices at Hopkins demand a collective approach that is intersectional at its core.
The purple prose and empty platitudes that color “Dershowitz” aren’t fooling anyone. Neither is the authors’ desistance from directly labeling SJP as terrorists. By accusing SJP of “hurling stones from behind the pages of the school newspaper,” the authors of “Dershowitz” take advantage of the force and resonance of Islamophobic and anti-Palestinian discourses. They never have to utter that vulgar word: terrorist. Instead, allusion does the work for them and even affords them plausible deniability within the broken grievance system of the corporate university. We know that this structure protects the image of Hopkins more than it does its students and pays lip service to diversity rather than implementing policies to actually foster inclusivity. However, by resorting to this naming by not naming explicitly, the authors of “Dershowitz” belie their own prejudices.
This week, Islamophobic and anti-Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) posters targeting members of SJP and Muslim Students Association appeared at the Georgetown, George Washington and American campuses.
As offensive and painful as these attacks are, the assaults on SJP were carried out on the pages of the campus newspaper, which unabashedly published this hateful characterization. It is also of deep concern that no high-level administrator or member of the MSE Symposium ever addressed SJP’s demand for a disavowal of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and anti-Arab prejudices. I am also unaware of a single student group that spoke out against such a conflation of SJP members with terrorism.
A published response to an earlier petition sponsored by Hopkins Feminists, Sexual Assault Resource Unit, Diverse Sexuality and Gender Alliance, Voice for Choice and Black Student Union characterized it as anti-Semitic and as part of a witch-hunt against pro-Israel advocates. With a final dash of unmistakable paternalism from the self-declared “boggled mind” of its author, the coalition is characterized as unwitting collaborators and supporters of anti-Semitic attacks on proponents of the Israeli state (see “Dershowitz Petition Lacks Validity,” Oct. 8, 2015). The unfounded and false charges of anti-Semitism against this coalition expose themselves for what they truly are: part of an organized effort to stifle debate on Israel (see the Fall 2015 report by Jewish Voice for Peace, Stifling Dissent: How Israel’s Defenders Use False Charges of Anti-Semitism to Limit the Debate Over Israel on Campus, jewishvoiceforpeace.org/%20stifling%20dissent). Unfortunately, the force of unfounded charges such as these have had significant repercussions at JHU, especially for SJP: Other student groups reject collaboration and co-sponsorship out of fear that they will be “guilty by association.”
Moreover, feigning surprise at resistance to Alan Dershowitz being offered a prestigious platform at Hopkins is a disingenuous and deluded position to take on the part of “some of the world’s brightest students.” The authors of “Dershowitz” also claim that their undergraduate years are when “[they] engage new ideas and that [they] come into [their] own as thoughtful individuals.” Just to be clear, Dershowitz’s ideas are neither new nor ground-breaking. Rather, despite his endless cries to the contrary, Dershowitz represents the status quo and would rather threaten lawsuits than be challenged by those demanding an end to the systematic oppression of the Palestinian people and to afford Palestinian students and scholars with the academic freedom that Dershowitz claims to be so vehemently defending.
I also wonder if those who have set their sights on opposing any dissent at Dershowitz’s invitation considered the deep hurt and frustration leveled at many in the community or the violence inflicted by those in positions of power telling petitioners that their grievances are not only inconsequential and without merit, but that writing an open letter was tantamount to cowardice. After the onslaught of criticism wielded at petitioners, it would be remiss not to emphasize that anonymizing petitions is a means of protecting signatories. For instance, SJP members are targeted in ways that explicitly threaten their current lives as students, as well as their future careers (see: The Canary Mission, Campus-Watch).
Lastly, I will not concede that members of SJP were “hurling stones from behind the pages of the school newspaper.” In fact, even when acting as a collective voice, we are subject to the vaunting of our critics that Israel is “the only true democracy in the Middle East” or that they have a Palestinian friend. When we voice our concerns and call for action, we are accused of being cowards and singling out Israel. Just as when supporters of Israeli state policies call for Palestinians to put down their stones and engage in an unequal dialogue, members of SJP and the coalition of groups protesting Dershowitz’s appearance know that the game is rigged from the outset.
On Nov. 20, 2015, the American Anthropological Association will vote on a resolution to undertake an association-wide academic boycott of Israeli institutions that are complicit in the occupation. Following the success of resolutions at the American Studies Association, the African Literature Association, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, the Association of Asian American Studies, the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies, the Peace and Justice Studies Association, United Auto Workers Local 2865, the University of California’s Student Worker Union and many more, it’s no wonder that Dershowitz and those entrenched in the status quo are panicking.
Mariam Banahi is a graduate student from Penfield, NY.