Podcast Ep 58: How students are fighting ADL’s smear campaigns

On episode 58 of The Electronic Intifada Podcast, we discuss the significance of a recent statement by the editorial board of The Harvard Crimson in support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and Palestinian liberation.

The Crimson editors say they “regret and reject” their previous position that maligned BDS, and now recognize the potential the movement has for empowering Palestinians to fight against Israeli apartheid – especially on campuses.

They also asserted that “support for Palestinian liberation is not anti-Semitic,” noting the “wake of accusations suggesting otherwise.”

Immediately after the statement was published on 29 April, those exact accusations poured in from Israel’s defenders, including US politicians and leaders of Israel lobby groups such as the Anti-Defamation League.
Two members of the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee, Nadine Bahour and Shraddha Joshi, join us to talk about the Crimson editorial, along with Emmaia Gelman. Gelman is a lecturer at New York University and an activist with the Drop The ADL coalition.

She recently wrote an analysis on the dangerous role that the ADL and its CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, play in emboldening the right wing’s war against anti-racist activists.

Joshi says that Harvard’s Palestine Solidarity Committee hadn’t expected an endorsement from the Crimson given previous years of the newspaper denying or downplaying Israel’s apartheid practices.

“You can look at a 2000 article that essentially denies apartheid,” she explains.

“And then you look at 2020, which says that maybe human rights violations are happening, maybe there are problems that are happening, but it would still be unfair to divest. And then you look at 2022, and they’re really calling out these issues of apartheid, settler-colonialism, things that … PSC members have been calling on for decades.”

She adds that the shift indicates that PSC’s actions and impact “are not limited to just people who come to our events and people who are very actively part of our community.”

As support for Palestinian rights grows, especially on high-profile college campuses like Harvard, Gelman explains to us that Israel lobby groups are doubling their efforts to smear anti-racist activists as racists.

At the ADL’s recent national leadership summit, its CEO Jonathan Greenblatt declared that “anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism” and condemned Jewish Voice for Peace, Students for Justice in Palestine, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Drop The ADL coalition – which Gelman wrote was a signal to the right-wing “that it’s okay to target us.”

Greenblatt “announced very specifically that he was doing that, that he was categorizing anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism without exception, and that he named these three primary organizations and Drop the ADL as a coalition. And he did it in a language that’s Cold War language,” Gelman says.

Bahour notes that the backlash from Zionist groups and individuals, and threats from Israel lobby groups, including Greenblatt’s ADL, is designed to shut down Palestine solidarity activism and push students into silence. But students say they aren’t going to back down in the face of these threats.

“I think we’ve managed to figure out that the answer to all of this is just a channel into speaking louder, into organizing more events and to holding [Israeli Apartheid Week events] again, and into writing more. And that’s the most constructive way to do it. And the way that we’ll continue doing it,” she says.

Articles we discussed

Video production by Tamara Nassar

Theme music by Sharif Zakout

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Full transcript

Lightly edited for clarity.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Welcome back to The Electronic Intifada Podcast, I’m Nora Barrows-Friedman. On April 29, The Harvard Crimson’s editorial board published a statement, “In Support of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions and a Free Palestine,” in which they say that they now “regret and reject” their previous position that sidelined the Palestinian led BDS campaign. “It is our categorical imperative to side with and empower the vulnerable and oppressed. We can’t nuance away Palestinians’ violent reality, nor can we let our desire for a perfect imaginary tool undermine a living, breathing movement of such great promise.”

They continue, “two decades ago, we wrote that divestment was a blunt tool that affected all citizens of the target nation equally and should be used sparingly. Yet the tactics embodied by BDS have a historical track record – they helped win the liberation of Black South Africans from apartheid, and have the potential to do the same for Palestinians today.” The board also asserted that “support for Palestinian liberation is not anti-Semitic, noting the “wake of accusations suggesting otherwise.”

And as if on cue, those exact accusations poured in from Israel’s defenders of apartheid from former Harvard president and erstwhile Democratic Party official Lawrence Summers to Israeli newspapers to US Senator Ted Cruz and the Anti-Defamation League. However, the former president of the Crimson, Daniel Swanson, remarked that it took tremendous courage for the paper to publish the statement he said, “there’s more debate inThe Harvard Crimson editorial and room for both the main editorial and dissent than there is in the New York Times editorial page. So that’s a very good sign.” Joining us to talk about the student-led movement that helped lead the Crimson to this point and the backlash by Israel lobby groups and US politicians are two members of the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee, Nadine Bahour, and Shraddha Joshi. And also joining us is Emmaia Gellman. She’s an activist researcher and a teacher at NYU who just wrote a crucial analysis on the dangerous role that the ADL and its CEO Jonathan Greenblatt play in emboldening the right-wing’s war against anti-racist activists. Emmaia is also working on a book about the ADL. Thank you all for being with us today on The Electronic Intifada Podcast.

Guests: Thank you.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: So Nadine, and Shraddha, let’s start with having you lay out your reaction to The Harvard Crimson taking this bold stance in support of Palestinian rights and admitting that they got it wrong in the past. The editorial board took note of the Palestine Solidarity Committee’s campus organizing and they say “in at least one regard PSCs spirited activism has proven successful. It has forced our campus and our editorial board to once again wrestle with what both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called Israel’s crimes against humanity in the region.” Nadine, you’re a senior. Can you talk about the steady direct actions you’ve been a part of at Harvard and the significance of the Crimson recognizing how student organizing led to their statement.

Nadine Bahour: Thank you for having us. Nora. For the past four years, everything ever since I started my time at Harvard, I’ve been very involved with the Palestine Solidarity Committee. And as an international student from Palestine, specifically the West Bank, I really wanted to make sure that the lived experiences of Palestinians, that my identity is sort of portrayed during my experience at Harvard and I have the very unique perspective of sharing how I grew up and where I grew up with a population that might not even know where Palestine is. And the Palestine Solidarity Committee has always been sort of a home for that kind of activism. Ever since my first year, we were able to organize our annual Israeli Apartheid Week, which is sort of what spurred the editorial this year. But alongside that, we also host a variety of speakers. We hosted a Palestine 101 event, we organized rallies in support of our divest campaign. We organized boycotts with four different products that the university supplies that support Israeli apartheid, like Sabra hummus in our dining halls, but we also want to highlight the culture that comes with Palestine and that’s also very often a part of what is being stolen and what is is what is a part of Israeli apartheid, but we host a lot of dabke events which is a traditional Palestinian dance. We try to do an embroidery workshop, we try to highlight Palestinian food.

And I think throughout my four years, half of it was online for sure. But the Palestine Solidarity Committee’s events continued to sort of be a main part of my experience, and something that we really wanted to make sure is portrayed on campus. But of course, with every year we try to highlight something different, there’s always something happening, the news never leaves us looking for information or for anything to highlight. And every year, we sort of try to highlight a different thing through our Israeli Apartheid Week and I think during my first year, there was a big emphasis on solidarity movements. During the online year with COVID, there was a lot to emphasize in terms of the pandemic, but also in terms of the violence that was taking place in May 2021. And throughout the summer, and this year, we really wanted to focus on BDS on divestment. We wanted to put all our efforts into our divestment campaign, which we titled Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine. And we really organized throughout the year for it, and IAW was sort of the icing on the cake for that in terms of really bringing speakers that highlight the apartheid that is on the ground, but also how Harvard is complicit in it.

And that really put the Crimson’s editorial into perspective when it came out just a week after IAW because we had been organizing for so long, we’ve been highlighting BDS for so long. And I think as a Palestinian student, I often felt that our voices were really marginalized, really just ignored by the Crimson and in many times that Crimson was sort of one of the forces that was working against PSC and was one of the forces that didn’t allow us to publish anonymously, would cover our events in a very, quote, unquote, neutral manner. And we really sort of get slapped with like the anti-Semitic label very quickly, just for hosting certain speakers. So I was very shocked when I saw the Crimson editorial that morning. And I couldn’t believe that the same body that only two years ago had said that the BDS movement is a blunt tool and something that they are not willing to back by a longshot in two years saw PSC’s activities, saw the students’ voices, heard the students’ voices on campus, and decided to take a stance.

And the backlash that they’re facing now is nothing new to PSC. I think what’s interesting is I have been focusing so much on my shock that the editorial came out and how excited I am about it. And I’ve really sidelined a lot of the backlash similar to a lot of PSC organizers, I think. But then when you open any of the news, or you talk to anyone in the Crimson right now, they’re like, but the backlash! And it’s so much and how do you deal with that? And for some reason, I feel like I’ve only now started to notice how much we’ve normalized that, we sort of know what we’re working towards. And we’re going to keep putting our efforts into producing more events and sort of highlighting our mission, rather than putting our efforts into finding any of the backlash that’s coming out. And sort of the repeated accusations of x, y, and z of what we’re doing. But it really does highlight to the rest of the Harvard community, sort of how it, what it feels like and how it is to organize for Palestine. And that backlash is definitely something that needs to be kept in mind.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Thanks, Nadine. Shraddha, how important is it that a campus newspaper like the Crimson takes a stand in support of BDS, and what does this signal in terms of changing the paradigm on college campuses, especially high profile ones like Harvard, which as we know, and as Nadine pointed out, has relationships with Israeli institutions?

Shraddha Joshi: Yeah, for sure. I think just to echo Nadine, after IAW was over this week, we were really proud about everything that had gone down. But I don’t think anyone really expected that it would be recognized in such a way, especially because just after IAW, the direct article that was written by the Crimson was something along the lines of Israeli Apartheid Week draws backlash. And that was sort of the headline. And that was what was on the front page of the Crimson.

And so a week later for this editorial to come out was really shocking in all pleasant ways, really surprising for us, because we hadn’t expected such an endorsement, just given the years of precedent, you can look at a 2000 article, a year 2000 article that essentially denies apartheid. And then you look at 2020, which says that, you know, maybe human rights violations are happening, maybe there are problems that are happening, but it would still be unfair to divest. And then you look at 2022 and they’re really calling out these issues of apartheid, settler-colonialism, things that we’ve been calling on and things that PSC members have been calling on for decades.

And so I think that the shift is incredible. It shows that what PSC’s actions have been about are not limited to just people who come to our events and people who are very actively part of our community. But rather, I think, for a lot of us, this is sort of like a referendum on the way Harvard students are thinking about the issue in general. And so I think, for me personally, as someone who’s not Palestinian, who has – who is part of a lot of communities that aren’t really engaged with the cause, to see these conversations sort of happening outside of our spaces, outside of organized In spaces, is a validation. And I think that the Crimson editorial has brought those conversations into the mainstream. And so then looking at that, looking at Harvard in relationship to other universities, obviously, the fact that the Crimson was the one that endorsed this has just – the big name of the Crimson has drawn so much attention from outside of Harvard, whether that’s good attention from people like Mohammad El-Kurd, Noura Erakat, people who are really, you know, engaged in these causes, and are sort of at the frontline of this type of advocacy.

And then obviously, the backlash from Zionist media, from politicians and stuff. But I think the fact that the Crimson has given this endorsement shows that something big is happening, and that it’s not just limited to PSC, to PSC at Harvard, but maybe more just, students in general, campus life, campus organizers in general across the country who are bringing attention to these issues and gaining traction. And I think it’s really a testament to the fact that young people are changing the way they think about Palestine. And I hope that, you know, the Crimson editorial will inspire other universities to sort of continue their dialogue about what’s going on in Palestine and how that can be addressed on campus. And, you know, specifically to Harvard, I hope that this can be the starting point for us to re-evaluate our relationship with occupation and for the administration to sort of take the pressure from students and look at what can be done in response.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Thanks so much. Let’s talk a little bit about the backlash, and then I want to bring Emmaia into the conversation as well. Nadine, tell us about the level of vilification of The Harvard Crimson statement, what kind of backlash the editorial board and PSC has been facing and what that looks like.

Nadine Bahour: The backlash has been sort of, at least from my perspective, very similar to a lot of the things that we’ve seen, I think we now live in a world where everything’s happening on Instagram, on Twitter, on podcasts, but so much of it is always at your fingertips at any hour of the day. And I think there’s always been a lot of backlash that has happened towards PSC’s social media and towards PSC as an institution. But what is always so much more disheartening to see is the backlash that students face personally. And I think – as much as I don’t like to say this, but I’ve gotten more used to it. Or at least I see it coming, like you said, it’s as if it comes on cue, and you know that it’s coming and you accept the fact that you have to deal with it. And as much as this shouldn’t be the case, I think PSC members have been doing this for four years, and it’s become a little bit more expected.

But I think the backlash the Crimson editorial members and the Crimson as a whole, that all its members and its president have been facing has been absolutely horrendous. For beginners, the students didn’t think that – you’re right under the Crimson editorial board’s name, because this is an anonymous group of sort of students that can do it. And they get to publish under the editorial’s name. But that security that you get, when you publish about anything else under the editorials name immediately goes away with Palestine. I remember the second day or the third day after the editorial came out, there was this Instagram page of someone just taking screenshots off everyone’s personal accounts, everyone’s social media and exposing them and saying truly horrific things about them. And so many of these people were not even involved in that editorial. They’re just a part of the Crimson, which is a huge organization. And it’s the largest newspaper on college campuses.

And I think that vilification and that personal targeting is just another example of how Zionists, of how any backlash that organizing for Palestine faces is not usually coming for the ideology as much as it’s coming for the people, for making you, for wanting to push you out of doing this work. And it’s absolutely scary. And I think it doesn’t matter, even as someone who expects it every time I publish something under my name, I see some of the comments, I see some of the articles that are written and I’m like, do I really want to keep doing this? Is this gonna be my whole life? And I think it’s really hard to come to terms with that when you’re still finding your identity. And when you’re still finding your footing in college, we might be 20 plus years old, but I think it’s still really hard to figure out where you are, how you want to sort of figure out your relationship with politics and sort of with being publicly like a face and figure. I think that’s one part of it.

I think the other part of it, especially for PSC members who want to voice their opinion, who want to stand in support of the Crimson and who want to publish more op-eds in the Crimson, speaking against the backlash are just unable to do so because they can have their name out there. Because they either want to go back home over the summer, or they are on a student visa in the US and can’t risk that because they want to continue their education. And I think that really always just makes you look at everything from a bird’s eye perspective and realize that the privilege that Zionists have in terms of speaking loudly and proudly, and the power that those voices have, whereas the oppressed voices that do want to speak up in solidarity of Palestinians, and in solidarity with the Crimson are just unable to do so. And I think that sort of from a bigger perspective on Harvard’s campus and specific and in terms of the backlash that students are facing, it’s always I think, specifically this year, been so much more clear how institutionally this backlash is from Harvard, from prominent, loud and very powerful voices on campus, and how we’re – at the end of the day a student organization, and we’re just a group of students that are passionate about one thing and want to call for sort of the liberation of Palestine, and we’re faced by, by people on Harvard’s payroll that are telling us that what you’re doing is problematic, and you’re alienating students, and you are calling for X, Y, and Z. And things that are just not even worth repeating in a space like this.

I think it really puts into perspective how the power imbalance that exists between Palestinian student organizers, and everyone else in the Harvard sphere, which echoes I think most of the Harvard, most of the college campuses in the US, is absolutely very challenging to deal with and very imbalanced. And I think that that backlash will continue to come, even now as we respond to the editorial and as we try to share more of our perspective. But I think one thing that we always talk about in PSC is that doesn’t matter how much of this backlash comes, it doesn’t matter how many editorials are written and how many Instagram accounts and comments and whatever you want comes towards PSC, I think we’ve managed to figure out that the answer to all of this is just a channel into speaking louder, into organizing more events and to holding IAW again, and into writing more. And that’s the most constructive way to do it. And the way that we’ll continue doing it.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Thanks, Nadine. Emmaia, you’ve been tracking the kinds of backlash Nadine and Shraddha were just talking about by Israel lobby groups in the Israeli government itself, and one particular lobby group, working tirelessly to denounce student activism in support of Palestinian rights. has been the ADL, a right-wing lobby organization masquerading as a civil rights group. Its CEO Jonathan Greenblatt has been on a tirade recently trying to smear anti-Zionist activists, anti-racist organizers as racists.

And, as you’ve pointed out, over the last several years, this is not a new tactic, obviously, but his recent actions are becoming increasingly dangerous, as you point out in your latest post on Medium. He said of the Crimson editorial that it is outrageous to equate Zionism with white supremacy and that the editors show no understanding of the region’s past or present. You’re writing a book on the ADL, what are your initial thoughts on that group’s smear campaign against the Crimson editors and against students like Nadine and Shraddha?

Emmaia Gelman: Well, the day before, I think the day before the Crimson editorial on May 1, the CEO of the ADL Jonathan Greenblatt conducted a national meeting, it was sort of a pre-hype national meeting, where he announced that he was going after student groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine, and also a few other organizations, Jewish Voice for Peace and CAIR and also Drop the ADL, which is a coalition of anti-racist organizations. And that he was – he was announcing that the ADL was essentially going to war with organizations that challenge Zionism and that he was sort of walking away, the ADL was walking away from previous claims that it was allied with anti-racist movements.

In fact, one or two years ago, the ADL joined in a letter that had been organized, where several 100 Jewish organizations signed on to identify Black Lives Matter as the new civil rights movement, which was kind of a walk back of a previous round of attacks on Black Lives Matter for making common cause and identifying solidarity with Palestinians against racist policing. So there had been a sort of an effort by the ADL and not just the ADL but major Zionist institutions more generally, to try and make some common cause with anti-racist movement groups as Black Lives Matter and anti-policing protests became the sort of core of civil rights politics in the US. And as they increasingly helped people understand the connections between racism in the US and Israeli racism, Israeli apartheid and Palestinian discussions of what was happening and how it was related. And that all went away.

On May 1, it was gone. The mask was off. Jonathan Greenblatt announced very specifically that he was doing that, that he was categorizing anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism without exception, and that he named these three primary organizations and Drop the ADL as a coalition. And he did it, he did it in language that’s Cold War language. It was really, I mean, it was kind of funny, but not funny. He called the idea that anti-Zionism was a challenge to state violence, “Soviet disinformation,” really echoing the words of the Christian right as it challenges Critical Race Theory, supposed critical race theory in education, calling critical race theory and teaching about racism a Marxist plot and socialist plot. So that was the day before the Crimson editorial. And so it was not a surprise when, when his next move, when the ADLs next move was to smear the Crimson and to call the editorial sort of childish, and I can’t remember what he said exactly.

He called it, he said it was wrong and didn’t understand. And that’s been the ADLs approach, generally, to when, anti-racist statements come out, when organizations or movement groups come out to say, like, look, we have to take a stand on BDS around Palestinian liberation, not necessarily, specifically to Palestinians, but because we have to oppose racism and colonialism and state violence, the ADLs response is, sit down children, you don’t know what you’re talking about, or you’re evil, and you’re anti-Semites. But the effect is the same. It’s not new, the ADL has been attacking the left for a long time. And it’s been attacking civil rights, civil rights groups for a long time, even as it purports to be a civil rights organization.

But the thing that’s really interesting about this moment, and that I think that we’re seeing in the way that the Crimson’s editorial shows a shift is that the whole conversation about race and rights in the US has changed, because of Black Lives Matter and the sort of popularization of ideas like structural racism and colonialism, the ADL has had to, and again, also Zionist organizations more broadly, and especially those who are trying to target millennials, have turned to this language about you know, Jews are indigenous to Palestine, and Jews are not white and Jews must be included in – and if you are anti-racist, and you’re saying that Jews are white, you’re a racist, and this doesn’t make sense. So it’s trying to sort of insert Zionism into the new anti-racist politics, and it fails on its face.

And so then it – I think what that has done is it has made space for people who didn’t previously understand why BDS was important, or why the ADL was wrong to question them. So I think the ADL is in a terrible position right now, trying to enter into that civil rights space. At the same time, as it’s also, as Zionism is becoming more and more a pet of white supremacists, it’s just not working. So I think this the backlash was not a surprise, but also, I think, the PSC approach that we’re hearing from Shraddha and Nadine is absolutely like, it makes total sense, like just keep going – because the ADLs messaging is just, it’s falling flatter and flatter and they’re losing more and more of their audience.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: You also write in your piece that it’s not only wrong, and you know, on its face, as you say, but that it’s also seriously dangerous. That the ADL’s giving a pass to right-wing you know, racist anti-Palestinian organizations will have really, really pernicious, dangerous effects. Can you talk a little bit about that, and, you know, how you see the ADLs war on anti-racists now playing out?

Emmaia Gelman: Yes. The ADL has a long history as an anti-communist and a Cold War organization. And that sounds a little dated and irrelevant maybe, but the nature of US politics right now and the way that white nationalism is defining itself is actually in terms of the Cold War. It’s weird, but it’s true. So the Cold War frame of mind is like the United States and the West against the scary East right, It’s full of anti-communism translates very well into Islamophobia. Because there’s the idea of the United States, it’s capitalist, and there’s a whiteness to it, right and of Christianity, and it’s pitted against this sort of foreign, scary, not Christian, not capitalist East. And that’s the core of white nationalism.

And even though the ADL, in his speech, Greenblatt compared anti-Zionism to QAnon, right, so he was trying to make out that it’s racist, he was trying to play into a trope. But in fact, his base is probably closer to QAnon than anything, we know that Christian Zionists have a very close overlap with QAnon. We know that the ADL is busily fighting, leading the fight against Ethnic Studies in California, and spreading that fight elsewhere across the country. That fight, the people who are opposing Ethnic Studies in California are opposing it on the grounds that it’s Critical Race Theory and Marxist, right.

So these are the idea of calling anti-racism “Soviet disinformation” or calling anti-Zionism Marxist is a way of, of signaling that the ADL is, is sort of giving permission or, or dog-whistling to white nationalist organizations that it’s okay and desirable to target anti-racist movement groups. And we know that white nationalists are armed. We know that not just white nationalists, but also that Zionist nationalists and historically, the Jewish Defense League are armed, that they’re not interested in US law, because they’re – they view themselves as accountable to a higher authority, right? This is dangerous, they’re inviting, and in some ways, inciting violence. Now I want to be really careful about what I’m saying. I’m not saying that Greenblatt said go out and harm somebody. But historically, the organizations that the ADL has demonized have then become the targets of people who have done bombings and murders. So yeah, I’m, I am legitimately terrified. And I opened my mailbox slowly. I’m not kidding. Like, it’s incredibly dangerous.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Thanks for that. We only have a few minutes left, Nadine and Shraddha, how does this level of outright targeting of anti-Zionist, anti-racist organizers on campuses from Harvard to Berkeley, affect students? And how can they and you as members of PSC be empowered to fight back? What are your next steps here?

Shraddha Joshi: So I think like, one of the conversations we’ve been having a lot is when we say fighting back, like, who is our audience, who’s the audience of our activism? Who do we direct our energy and our efforts towards? And I think one thing that we’ve sort of come to realize is that we’re not necessarily trying to respond to the alumni, we’re gonna send letters to the Crimson saying things that are saying things that are racist, saying things that are sort of denying Palestinian suffering, that are just so oblivious to what’s going on on the ground, because in the end, we really do want to capitalize on this movement, which is that students are having these conversations and that students are starting to listen and realize that there is a connection between Black Lives Matter and between what’s going on in Palestine, and that we as Harvard students, as a lot of us as Americans, are directly complicit in this type of oppression.

And so I think trying to focus on solidarity building and to have that at the student level, is something that we can do a lot more tangibly, and something that we can do a lot more effectively, because as we talked about the backlash, and the people that we’re up against, are in places of power, considerable power more than us. And so while we can, you know, look at the Crimson op-eds or look at people who have been tweeting about us, in the end, I think that it’s a lot better and just a lot more effective for us to put our efforts into what’s going on on the ground. And I think something that’s almost heartening is the fact that – so last year, in wake of everything that happened in May 2021, there was a Harvard Stands with Israel petition.

But if you look at the majority of the names, a lot of them were alumni, and more than – there were definitely a lot more alumni than Harvard students. And so while obviously that means that there are people in positions of power who have that viewpoint, it also means that younger people aren’t espousing those viewpoints, and that people who are vocal about, you know, opposing the Crimson editorial, a lot of them are people who graduated from Harvard 20, 30 years ago and are really not connected to the reality of student activism and to what’s going on on campus now. And so while we will always be getting hatred and getting, you know, these sorts of slander and a lot of pushback from people who are extremely Zionist and just don’t hold even the space to sort of have this conversation and have this dialogue, I think we should be dedicating our attention towards the majority who might be unengaged or might be sort of on the fence, say that things are complicated and to show them that, you know, it’s not complicated.

Here’s what Palestinians are saying, here’s the evidence, here’s what human rights organizations are saying. And I think having that standpoint has been a lot more effective. And that’s probably what’s led to this moment, this just watershed moment of the Crimson editorial. And that’s also why it’s just the beginning, and why we want to continue bringing this conversation to students, rather than, you know, worrying too much about what others are saying and from positions of power.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Nadine, did you want to add to that?

Nadine Bahour: I completely agree with all of this, I think the emphasis that I would add is on the point of the students, the current population at Harvard and their current viewpoints. I think it’s an even much faster turnover than you might imagine. I think during my four years here, the conversations I used to have with people in my first year are nowhere near the conversations I’m having now three and a half years later. And I think that the speed at which students are willing to listen to others, the speed at which students are willing to act and show that BDS could work. I think there’s this trip that’s funded by the Harvard Hillel over spring break to Israel, it’s like 10 days of a free trip that’s open to anyone and everyone in the Harvard population.

And we started a boycott campaign this year. And we also launched the boycott campaign two years ago, when we were in person. And that year, no one would have talked to us, no one would sit with us at the table to like, listen to our perspective, and no one would have boycotted. And this year five students boycotted. And they showed you that BDS has the potential to work. Five out of 100 might not be a lot, but five is way more than zero. And I think it’s really important to put into perspective, the students that are listening to other activists on campus, and the students that are willing to listen to student experiences, and lived experiences of Palestinians. And to really center those Palestinian voices.

I think the whole argument that you need to go see this injustice in order to believe it, in order to confirm that everything you’re reading about in the news is real and then you’re going to take a stance is very quickly losing its footing, and as people are just very quickly starting to listen to Palestinian students. And I think we need to also center the fact that Harvard needs to invite more Palestinian professors, more Palestinians scholars, accept students to their community that are willing to share that perspective. And they’ve done a decent job so far, given that I’m here, I think I have to say that. But I think there’s a lot of room for a lot of teaching to be given from a different perspective rather than only accepting students, because student activism is very important and very critical. But like we were saying it’s always met with institutional backed opposition. And that shift needs to happen very quickly.

Shraddha Joshi: And I think one more thing I’d add is that since we are very much tied to the BDS campaign, everything that we do comes from a precedent. And you know, in the 1980s, 1990s, there was a lot of activism around apartheid South Africa, and that was met with incredible institutional backlash, but then there was also faculty support, and there’s also rising basic student support. And so I think if we can use that to sort of guide our activism now, which is what we do, always strive to do, I feel like we are moving in a positive direction, because we’ve gotten a lot of students support, there are faculty who are really excited about this editorial and who are willing to stand with us. And I just can imagine how this will just kind of keep increasing throughout the years.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Thank you Shraddha and Nadine. And Emmaia, did you have anything else you’d like to say about the current moment that we find ourselves in right now?

Emmaia Gelman: Yeah, I just I want to just pick up on this, this sort of dichotomy, that Nadine and Shraddha are talking about where there’s, on the one hand, there’s the sort of incredible gains in understanding of Palestinian, struggle and what’s going on. And on the other hand, this increasing repression from institutions of power, and that’s the case with the ADL as well. So on the one hand, the ADL is losing its credibility, it’s losing its base. And on the other hand, it’s actually been really successful in using the language of hate and, you know, stopping hate. And it’s sort of, you know, cooking the books on discussing anti-Semitism, which, as we know, like stats on anti-Semitism sort of roll in any criticism of Israel, and to imply that that actually that those incidents are incidents that put Jews in danger, which we know is not true. And they’ve been really successful in using that to increase their institutional power. So even as they lose their base, they’re increasing their institutional power.

And one piece of evidence of that is the fact that Deborah Lipstadt was just confirmed as the US anti-Semitism, czar, envoy, whatever her official title is, which is quite a powerful position with no accountability. And one of the things that Greenblatt promised in his speech on May 1, was that basically that he was going to be engaging in lawfare against student groups, and so to have lawfare, you know, up their sleeve and to have a very powerful voice in the US government to have media still consuming these statistics on anti-Semitism as if they are – as if their truth with really no investigation of what they actually mean, the ADL is actually in a – and when I say the ADL, it’s actually in a sort of much larger ecology of organizations, right, I’m not just talking about the ADL, is actually in quite an institutionally powerful position.

And so the building this sort of – building up the base of opposition at the popular level just becomes so incredibly important, and the work of supporting the work of students and supporting their resistance, like putting money into the fighting of the lawsuits, which will definitely have to happen, just is incredibly, incredibly important because we’re in this pivotal moment. So I really want to just big up the work of the students, and also, just a pitch, if anybody wants to look at the materials on droptheadl.org, that is also available.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Thank you so much Emmaia Gilman, you are a – you finished your PhD and you’re actually teaching now at NYU and you have a forthcoming book on all of this research that you’ve been engaging in for the last few years. And Nadine Bahour and Shraddha Joshi from Harvard’s Palestine Solidarity Committee, thank you all for everything you do. Are there any social media sites that you’d want – we have the droptheadl.org website, but if people want to get in touch or support Harvard PSC where can they go?

Nadine Bahour: In the Instagram world, @Harvard PSC is the easiest way, and that’s our username for all social media as well.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Wonderful. Thank you all so much for being with us today on The Electronic Intifada Podcast.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).