Israel’s practices of occupation and colonization show no sign of relenting as the ethnocratic state enters its sixty-seventh year.
While the Israel lobby feverishly attempts to silence dissent on campuses in the United States, Palestinians and international solidarity networks continue to forge creative ways to expose the daily mechanisms of oppression. Such groups are making it increasingly difficult for Israel’s backers to justify the state’s apartheid policies.
Israel-aligned organizations have been unable to provide any evidence to support their spurious accusations against Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters, including claims of anti-Semitism and lack of “civility” — typical attempts to discredit activism and criticism of Israeli policies.
It is clear that SJP is a progressive coalition made up of diverse identities, including strong anti-Zionist Jewish voices. The emergence of initiatives and organizations such as Open Hillel and Jewish Voice for Peace challenge attempts to conflate Judaism with Zionism.
Anti-Palestinian organizations, such as the Israel-based The David Project, have acknowledged that accusations of anti-Semitism have not proven to be an effective strategy in silencing and discrediting Israel’s critics.
Facade of equality
As a result, SJP activists are facing new challenges. Under the guise of “faithwashing,” multiculturalism and “intellectual pluralism,” there has been a resurgence of “person-to-person” projects — dialogue groups that attempt to bring together not only Palestinians and Israelis, but now Palestine solidarity activists and pro-Israel advocates.
Palestinian activists have shown that these projects function as normalization initiatives: activities that aim to create a facade of equality in order to obscure the disparities between Palestinians and Israelis. The attempt is to emphasize co-existence over resistance to Israeli oppression against the Palestinian people.
I have created an infographic, posted below this article, to explain the importance of resisting normalization. This resistance focuses on power structures. It targets racist institutions.
In their efforts to “find common ground,” normalization initiatives whitewash the reality of ongoing occupation, colonization and the system of apartheid to which Palestinians are subjected.
These projects do not acknowledge the military incarceration and violence directed at Palestinian youth. They fail to recognize violence brought on by Israeli settlers and the appropriation of not only land, but of indigenous culture.
Dialogue groups, cultural education and events focused on reconciliation are not the issue — in fact, these methods will be imperative for rapprochement between our peoples.
The problem lies when these events precede reparations of Israel’s violations and the disestablishment of the oppression and racism Palestinians face today. The notion that Palestinians and Israelis can coexist or pave a way to peace through such actions only benefits Israel as it further legitimizes the state’s decades-long violations of international law and nurtures complacency towards the occupation amongst segments of the Palestinian community.
Despite our intentions, when we participate in normalizing activities without keeping in mind their political implications, we undermine efforts challenging the oppressive and discriminatory policies of the colonial state.
These initiatives, directly or indirectly, wrongfully alleviate the conscience of Jewish Israelis while forcing Palestinians into accepting their fate as a colonized people.
Zionist normalization not only perpetuates the notion that Palestinians and Israelis are equals with differences over land and religion, but it is additionally harmful to the psychology of both the oppressor and the oppressed. Normalization lessens the disparity of the relationship in the mind of the colonizer and colonized, which in reality increases the power imbalance between the two.
Zionist groups commonly use Islamophobic and racist rhetoric to criminalize and ostracize Palestinian solidarity organizations. They have also attempted to sow divisions.
Zionist lobby groups have embraced the few Muslims — such as University of California at San Diego student Aisha Subhan — willing to support Israel. Subhan has written of how she felt at “home” in Tel Aviv, while on a trip financed by The David Project, an anti-Palestinian group. While Subhan is presented as someone reasonable and moderate, Zionist organizations have sought to discredit those who support equality between Palestinians and Israeli Jews by labeling them as “radicals.”
Recently, we’ve observed the evolution of this tactic manifested in the form of the Muslim Leadership Initiative’s Israel junket, sponsored by an institute that works closely with the Israeli military and receives its funding from a collection of organizations who support anti-Muslim hate groups in the United States.
Islamophobic and Zionist organizations such as the Jerusalem-based Shalom Hartman Institute are attempting to educate those Muslims, perhaps considered likely to be State Department officials of the future or to occupy other prominent positions, to be sympathetic to Israel and its policies.
Perhaps this introduction to Zionism can serve as an appetizer to the main course of propaganda they will be served at their future White House iftar.
Organizing within the Washington, DC, “Beltway” has unfortunately offered me too many opportunities to resist normalization.
For the past two years, I’ve been working with Muslim Student Association (MSA) and Arab Student Association (ASA) to establish that any event with a Zionist organization is political regardless of its “apolitical” claims or purported causes.
For instance, during my undergraduate studies at George Mason University in Northern Virginia, Hillel and the Israel Student Association co-sponsored an initiative entitled “Slim Peace.” The project claimed that its aims were to facilitate “nutritionally-based dialogues” between Muslim and Jewish women. Its emphasis on diet indicates that Slim Peace is a kind of Zionist Weight Watchers.
As I demonstrated in an article I wrote for Mondoweiss, the project’s advertisement was an archetype of a normalization project.
Thankfully, members of Students Against Israeli Apartheid were able to persuade the ASA and the MSA to refuse the invitation to endorse Slim Peace on our campus.
By challenging normalization, we can understand that an oppressed and colonized people do not enjoy equality with their oppressors and colonizers. Any suggestion that they do is deceptive.
If we are to achieve decolonization, it is essential that we start with our minds.
Tareq Radi is a Palestinian-American organizer based in Washington, DC. A graduate of George Mason University (GMU), he was a founding member of GMU’s Students Against Israeli Apartheid. He hosts the segment on academic freedom for the audio journal Status Hour, where he exposes violations of academic freedom and repression on university campuses.