Awareness of Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights is becoming more mainstream at Harvard.(Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee)
In the last few days, the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee has been attacked by various outlets of the right-wing Zionist press spreading a vicious lie that we have targeted Jewish students at Harvard with fake eviction notices (see “Jewish Harvard students receive mock eviction notices,” Arutz Sheva (Israel National News), 7 March 2013).
The claim is not only baseless and slanderous, it also carries echoes of last year’s outrageous accusation against Florida Atlantic University students, who were falsely accused of targeting Jewish students and subjected to intense pressure for a simple awareness-raising campaign about Israel’s practice of evicting Palestinian families and destroying their homes. These false allegations and the ensuing pressure escalated to death threats against Palestinian solidarity activists there.
In the last week, a blogger at The Jewish Journal, Orit Arfa, has followed up on the claims at Harvard and called for a campaign against Muslim students in response, raising the banner of a religious war against Harvard students based on completely unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism (“Jewish Harvard students: Be smart!,” 7 March 2013).
These rightwing groups have pretty much outdone themselves this week in attacking students and inciting hatred. So how did this all happen?
This year’s Harvard Israeli Apartheid Week, organized by the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee, attracted widespread campus attention as usual. The week began with an advertising campaign that included mock eviction notices placed in dormitories across the university.
These notices informed students that their dormitories were to be demolished before explaining that the notices were actually intended to raise awareness about Israel’s systematic destruction of Palestinian homes. They were posted on the outside of suite doors in dormitories across campus, a common place for flyers.
In the last two years Israeli Apartheid Week has become a central part of the activist calendar at Harvard University, drawing hundreds of students to events and conferences and reframing a dialogue about Zionism and the State of Israel at one of the country’s most prestigious institutions of higher education.
With each passing year the discourse has noticeably shifted, and critique of Israel’s egregious policies of apartheid and human rights violations against the Palestinian people has become increasingly a part of the campus mainstream.
In response to this year’s Israeli Apartheid Week, The Harvard Crimson, the major campus newspaper, published an editorial that began by dressing Israel down for its discriminatory policies “in the territories” and its history of human rights abuses, but cautioning its readers that the word “apartheid” itself was divisive (“Keeping us apart,” 8 March 2013).
It was a sign of the sea change in campus debate that the relatively conservative student newspaper felt the need to begin by condemning the State of Israel before being able to discuss the use of the word “apartheid.” Editorials with a similar tone would have been unthinkable even a year or two ago. The campus newspaper has been accused of having a history of anti-Palestinian bias. It has repeatedly condemned Palestine solidarity actions and academic conferences on the topic before they even occurred, as well as subjecting pro-Palestinian authors to unusually intense pressure. Surprisingly, however, this latest editorial struck a relatively less Zionist tone than past articles.
Israel lobby’s “outrage”
Tellingly, Harvard Students for Israel did not express much outrage about the flyers themselves, with the main statement coming from the group’s co-chair Sara Kantor, who was quoted in The Harvard Crimson saying Israeli Apartheid Week is “inherently problematic” (whatever that means) and that she “felt bad responding” because the week doesn’t promote dialogue. Not exactly condemnation from the most pro-Israel group on campus (“Mock eviction flyers incite debate,” 5 March 2013).
For reasons that are unclear, the Anti-Defamation League then decided to make its voice known on the matter, issuing a statement expressing “outrage” that the campaign attempted to “silence and intimidate pro-Israel advocates” (“ADL: Mock eviction notices at Harvard intimidate students,” 5 March 2013).
The statement was of course extremely silly; we had posted the flyers on the doors of suites, a common location for posting advertisements, and while the style of the advertisement may have been provocative, there was absolutely nothing “intimidating” about them.
At this point, however, the story took a much darker turn. As news of the eviction notices spread, Israel’s Arutz Sheva decided to publish its aforementioned piece with the blatant lie that only Jewish students at Harvard had received the eviction notices, suggesting that the Palestine Solidarity Committee had somehow targeted Jewish students exclusively.
The claim was an outrageous slander, and there was no evidence to suggest this was even a remote possibility, neither as reported by The Harvard Crimson newspaper nor by the ADL statement.
In effect, the right-wing Zionist press was inciting outrage through a complete fabrication of anti-Semitism, spreading a rumor that implied we had somehow compiled lists of Jewish students and targeted them with the flyer. Not only was the claim completely fabricated, but, as it was repeated in other outlets, some even referred directly to reporting from The Harvard Crimson even though the paper made absolutely no suggestion of an attempt to target Jews.
Since then, the claim has been reprinted in Atlas Shrugs, the blog of infamous rightwing extremist Pamela Geller, under the title “#MyJihad at Harvard,” and Algemeiner, among many other sites giving the lies credence.
Incitement to violence
Orit Arfa, the blogger for The Jewish Journal, repeated the claims in her post, urging Jewish students at Harvard to respond by fighting fire with “hotter fire” and targeting “the Muslim groups.” She claimed that “Muslim student unions fight dirty,” and urged Jewish students to “make the Muslims go cry to their superiors” by posting notices on the doors of the Palestine Solidarity Committee with notices saying things like, “If Jews do not leave this land, preferably at the hands of other Jews, we have the right to kill you in the name of jihad,” or “72 Virgins Await for You in Heaven if you Kill Jews.”
Not only was Afra calling for reprisals against “Muslims,” even though the Palestine Solidarity Committee is not a “Muslim” group, she was practically attempting to incite religious warfare on campus. The Jewish Journal should be ashamed of the blatant falsehoods spread by this blogger and we urge its editors to denounce the calls for the campaigns against Muslims at Harvard she has made, if not disassociate themselves from her altogether.
The last week’s attacks on the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee reflect the increasingly virulent use of claims of “anti-Semitism” to bolster Zionist propaganda and to launch attacks on Palestine solidarity activism across the country.
How the ADL blatantly misconstrued a poster campaign into an attempt to “silence” students is inconceivable. And given the amount of outside advertising for Zionist events and trips that occurs on the Harvard campus (without even the pretense that any student group is organizing them), it is laughable that the ADL somehow convinced themselves that Harvard PSC could “intimidate” students with an informational flyer.
The spread of blatant lies and baseless accusations by Arutz Sheva, The Jewish Journal and other outlets reflects the sad reality of the right-wing Zionist press today. While the Harvard Crimson and the student population more broadly have become increasingly aware of the realities of Israel’s brutal policies of segregation and widespread human rights abuses, these media outlets react with fabricated claims of anti-Semitism in order to deflect blame.
As the world increasingly awakens to the reality of Israel’s apartheid state, much of the Zionist press falls further into a world of violent delusion where calling for campaigns against “Harvard Muslim students” is an acceptable response to an informational poster campaign.
Alex Shams is a second-year graduate at Harvard University and a member of the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee. Last year, he was an organizer of the One State Conference at Harvard. He is currently on the organizing committee of the Right of Return Conference, scheduled for next month at Boston University.