How students are resisting efforts to normalize Israeli apartheid

In effort to “find common ground,” normalization initiatives whitewash brutal reality of ongoing  Israeli occupation.

Najeh Hashlamoun APA images

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.

Benefiting Israel

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.

Criminalizing solidarity

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.

Resisting normalization

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.




"[A]ny event with a Zionist organization is political regardless of its 'apolitical' claims or purported causes." Does this cover all Hillel events? Hillel is an explicitly pro-Israel organization. But it is also the principal Jewish student organization on U.S. campuses. Does this mean that, e.g., a joint Jewish-Muslim dinner co-sponsored by Hillel and MSA, with no relation to Israel, constitutes normalization?

Also, PACBI defines normalization as a " bring together Palestinians...and Israelis (people or institutions)." Doesn't the reference to Israeli people (not institutions) contradict the statement that "resisting normalization is about targeting racist institutions & their mechanisms, not individuals"?


Your comment quite rightly identifies Hillel as a Zionist organization advocating on behalf of Israel. The political nature of its activities is a given, at least in the arena of the Palestinian struggle for justice. The convivial dinner you postulate- Hillel supping with the Muslim Student Association- occurs in your example for no other reason than projecting a favorable image of Israel and its supporters. That Hillel also claims to be the largest Jewish student organization on US campuses does not militate against its Zionist character. Indeed, Zionism has long laid claim to being the foremost legitimate expression of Jewish identity in this world. If you're prepared to conflate Judaism with Zionism, you've no grounds for selectively claiming Hillel's activities to be apolitical.


"The convivial dinner you postulate...occurs in your example for no other reason than projecting a favorable image of Israel and its supporters."

That's a pretty cynical viewpoint. I'd say the primary reason for such a dinner, like all interfaith events, is to promote interfaith relations, tolerance and understanding. Same as a Muslim-Christian dinner, Jewish-Christian dinner, or any other interfaith combination you like.

I don't "conflate" Judaism with Zionism. But surely you would acknowledge that much (actually, most) of what Hillel does has nothing to do with Israel. For example, providing kosher meals, religious services, social events like Chanukah and Purim parties, etc. This is all about catering to the needs of Jewish students. But yes, Hillel is also explicitly pro-Israel.

If you extend "anti-normalization" to apply to all Jewish institutions that are pro-Israel, even in matters unrelated to Israel, the effect is to attempt to marginalize almost all religiously or culturally affiliated Jews. The main religious bodies of the three major Jewish denominations are all explicitly pro-Israel (URJ, USCJ, OU). Same with Jewish Federations/UJA. And of course, the ADL (which combines pro-Israel advocacy with fighting anti-Semitism).

If you choose to apply "anti-normalization" that broadly, you should at least acknowledge the effect on ordinary Jews.


When a student service org forbids discussion and debate, that organization us not in fact serving students but trying to manipulate them. Hillel has divided the student world in two: pro and con a secular state, and indeed one which refuses to recognize the right to self - determination of 4 million people. This posture is, seems to me, un-Jewish. By supporting apartheid, Hillel disqualifies itself as a legitimate student service organization. Until Hillel changes this posture, student participation requires demeaning self-censorship.


First, in many cases Hillel is the only organization that provides kosher food, religious services and other religious accommodation to Jewish students. That was certainly the case when I was in college. So boycotting Hillel really was not an option.

I agree that Hillel should allow for dissenting viewpoints, and I wish they did. Our Hillel once faced a similar issue regarding whether to allow Jews for Jesus to be involved with Hillel. I supported allowing them, but I was decidedly in the minority.

The problem is that unless and until Hillel changes, the effect of extending "anti-normalization" measures to Hillel and other Jewish institutions is that if such measures are successful, Jewish students will be faced with the choice of either withdrawing from the community, or staying and being increasingly marginalized. And every such Jew that chooses to cease involvement makes it more likely that those who remain will continue Hillel's anti-dissent stance.

I would think that any "anti-normalization" campaign can be accomplished effectively by targeting just the organizations that are exclusively pro-Israel, as well as pro-Israel events sponsored by Hillel, but not Hillel in general.


What if one leades to another? If the students get together for the "wrong reason" they will still communicate. The truth is out there, israeli students will understand. I just fail to see how this condition will help.


Opening the battle between co-existence and co-resistance isn't a way to success. Result oriented resistance also means trying to understand the other side, and politics is not primarily about justice, but about goals and how to achieve them.


I'm starting to get this.
for the commenters who don't: it's the same thing as when white Americans enslaved Black Americans. We told ourselves that God made us superior and that we were good people for giving Blacks work, food, and religious salvation.
It could go on and on and on, and never end like that. The mindset that two people are NOT equal - no matter what the reason - is colonization of the mind. You have to find a way out of it to recover from it. That is kind of like pondering where the universe came from with a brain that is limited because it is just one of many things resulting from the universe. You have to think outside your noggin to get past what you have been spoon-fed since you were born.
If equality and justice for Palestinians were realized and became the norm, then the concept that apartheid and ethnic cleansing should be normalized would be a thing of the past. Then you would look back at the colonization of your mind and see clearly that it is wrong.

I think this concept is really important because people are ready for this phase of anti-zionism. It is a necessary step in the path from the horrible oppression of Palestine to the inevitable future of modern human acceptance of inter-ethnicity within historic Palestine. Just like the transition away from slavery in the US.


I think you made a fair point based on your comparison, but I'm not sure that its applicable. One with rarely hear a pro-Zionist say that apartheid and ethnic cleansing are fine and dandy. The dispute is whether or not those terms are in fact applicable to the Israeli/Palestinian issue. It is primarily a battle of misinformation, not supremacy. The best way to win such a battle is through open communication; the fear of normalization is an obstacle to overcome.

Note: This comment is intended to be conversational, not adversarial. Please respond in kind.


you have a lot more than normalization to overcome! you can't whitewash an ethnic cleansing! the comparison is like this: (can't remember who coined this one) "there are two sides to every story - the side of the pilot dropping the bomb on Hiroshima, and the side of the child being blown up by it"
normalization is when people think it's okay, just a "conflict", and they sleep at night thinking their wars are "nice".


Thanks for the response. This article could so easily be on a pro-Zionist website, arguing the other way of course. It would say something along the lines of "We can't whitewash terrorism". The readers think this makes perfect sense, because they truly believe the narrative they have been told. Even the author would likely believe what he wrote. These are the people that this article is suggesting not to engage, people who have been given a set of 'facts' that makes the premise you are asking for seem ludicrous. How could you ask them to accept a premise that is contrary to everything they have been told if you are not willing to engage them and show them where they went wrong?

The Hiroshima example is an exaggeration ad absurdum; I think we can all agree Hamas is not an innocent baby. Maybe the Palestinian people are, but then the Israeli citizens would not be the pilot that dropped the bomb... the whole comparison seems a bit off.

Note: This comment is intended to be conversational, not adversarial. Please respond in kind.


Excellent article and especially appreciate the normal "code word" warning signs. Already several normalizers have responded and it is important for all to see the sneaky way the operate. "Politics is not primarily about justice" for example, speaks to naive options given to privileged Americans. When I vote or express myself politically I have a choice with multiple considerations on a candidates policies. However, under Apartheid, and any national system where the universal value of human life is secondary to race and religion, politics certainly becomes primarily about justice. Denied justice makes justice central. Understanding the other side, really? I understand the Israeli narrative, really I do. I understand the KKK, I understand the proud history of whites in South Africa, the new right politics in Germany. It's because I understand, that is must act to boycott, divest and sanction.
One thing this article doesn't mention is that normalization is fun, it's rewarding. Holding hands and singing about reconciliation, warm embrace by those in power welcoming your ability to transcend history, peace awards, free trips to Israel, white house invitations, career advancement over your radical friends, all this awaits you if you choose normalization. And yes, you can judge all your former friends as being stuck in the past and not being able to embrace a shared and better future. And if you happen to be so lucky as to live in Ramallah and work for an USAID or EU funded peace NGO, well a good deal for you can be arranged at the local Mercedes dealership. All I'm trying to point out to potential Palestinian normalizers, is that they really need to become educated so as to get the best deal and benefits package from their Zionist friends.


I could not agree with u more, Chris and so sagaciously expressed! I'm reminded of years of theoretical & academic training and subsequent application of the basic rules of engagement when facilitating interface between separating domestic parties in an historically asymmetrical, abusive r'ship: that NO such engagement can be successfully sought as the starting premise - that of the parties' continued unaddressed historical inequality - acts to prevent & pervert honest & efficacious engagement and any durable, equitable resolution. Until of course, there is, as a prima face, condition precedent, unualified acknowledgement by the oppressor/abuser of its antecedent bad acts. Everything else, as u stated, is just more of the same "Kumbaya" sponsored nonsense; a strategy cleverly orchestrated (usually) by the power-wielding Oppressor to distract the abused - and all those other(s) complicit or willfully blind to this pernicious tactic - to its actual desired goal: that of the perpetuation - unmolested - of the cruel & oppressive status quo that always favours the powerful & privileged.


The interesting thing about this conflict is that neither side recognizes the others right to an opinion. Because the other side is so entirely wrong, they need to accept our premise before we begin to talk. Obviously, this is a major obstacle to dialogue (one of the evil buzzwords, I know). There is no doubt that the anti-Semitic claim is overused, but labeling people or organizations as Islamophobic is not helping either. Without dialogue they have the same chance of accepting your premise as you have of accepting theirs.

Note: This post is meant to be conversational, not adversarial. Please respond in kind.


Efforts to resist normalization don't create polarization. Polarization is created when one group of people oppresses another based on racist ideas about reality (zionism).

Oh, and by the way, your first sentence, "neither side recognizes the others right to an opinion." is a great way to rephrase one of the normalization phrases from the infographic, "both sides are wrong".

I don't think the main thrust of anti-normalization efforts is to dialogue with Israelis or zionists. It's to dialogue with other 99% of the world. This actually helps to make Israelis and whatever "power" they wield over Palestinians irrelevant.

Who cares if "neither side recognizes the others right to an opinion." The facts on the ground do not cast Israel in a favorable light: Israeli occupation, Israeli discrimination of their Arab population, Israeli refusal to redress the refugees and land/property confiscations, these are the real issues. The reactions to these facts are just side issues and red herrings (Hamas and other nonsensical smoke screens). These facts on the ground were theorized, pre-planned, implemented and are actively maintained by Israel, the "power" in the Israel-Palestine relationship. Israel controls the land, air and sea borders and resources of Palestinian territories.

An earlier commenter mentioned the similarities in a relationship between an abusive and abused spouse. They're not equal. Neither is Israel and Palestinians. Its oppressor vs oppressed.


Hi Ahmad, thanks for the detailed response. I have to disagree that polarization, in the sense of extreme viewpoints, are the result of oppression. In most cases of oppression it is perfectly clear who the oppressors are and why they are doing the oppressing. The oppressors general don't dispute what is happening, so there is no polarization. Polarization occurs when the two sides point fingers at each other, but refuse to engage one another because of how horribly wrong they are. I am sure this once again sounds like "both sides are wrong." With regard to the conflict, both sides are in fact wrong, but this does not mean they are equally wrong. However, when it comes to the role they have played in the polarization of this issue, both sides are, in my opinion, equally wrong.

"I don't think the main thrust of anti-normalization efforts is to dialogue with Israelis or zionists. It's to dialogue with other 99% of the world."

The vast majority of the world has an opinion on this issue, albeit not necessarily an educated one. The number of people who identify with Zionism enough that they would be unwilling to begin with the premise demanded above is far higher than 1%. By not engaging these individuals, you are limiting yourself to simply reaffirming the beliefs of those who already agree with you. There is value in this too, but more could be accomplished if this fear could be overcome.

Allow me to tweak your analogy of spousal abuse to fit the scenario as I see it. A woman shows up at a police precinct with a large bruise on her face charging that her husband hit her. The husband claims that the woman was coming at him with a knife and he had no choice but to hit her. The court date arrives and the prosecution begins by saying he will not address the jury unless they accept the premise that the woman is telling the truth and the husband's argument is simply a red herring. Perhaps it is a red herring, but with this approach the jury is unlikely to find out.


I absolutely agree, Tareq. This seems like a no-brainer and another treacherous scam by Zionists. Coexistence assumes a moral equivalency where obviously none exists and is therefore a lie-- another manipulative attempt to resuscitate a moribund entity (Israel). There cannot be coexistence between the oppressed and the oppressor--did Jews choose to "coexist" with Nazis while in concentration camps? Perpetuating the lie of coexistence has several possible ramifications, many which were stated in this talk:
1. it legitimizes Israel's right to exist; 2. exonerates them from the consequences of their actions 3. gives them a say in their future (the world will determine that --as it did with the Nazis) and most importantly, imo, disempowers Palestinians just as the power dynamic is beginning to shift to their advantage. The very suggestion that an occupied people should coexist with the oppressor demonstrates contempt for the humanity of Palestinians. In the face of daily atrocities that are ongoing and have continued for 67 years, I would suggest that anyone incapable of understanding that be given a one way ticket to Palestine to "walk a mile in their shoes."


In October, 2013, our community college collaborated with the local synagogue to host the normalization/co-existence project, Creativity for Peace. Two days before the first talk the Register Guard published my letter questioning the appropriateness of such a project in an educational setting where no historical context was provided. Three Jewish Federation members plus the local contact for Brigette Gabriel's Act!4America responded with hateful personal attack letters against me, which showed our community whose interest such programs serve. The R-G published three letters from community members, one Jewish, in my defense. Our local Eugene Weekly paper published a comprehensive critique of Creativity for Peace by Al-Nakba Awareness Project co-director, Jack Dresser, titled "Creativity for Peace or Pacification?" but only in their Internet edition ( The University of Oregon's Hillel collaborated with the Arab Student Union to also host the two speakers. Of course, there are many perks when Palestinians collaborate in such projects, in this case it was a free college education for a year or two.


Thank you, Mariah. Your experience exemplifies why vigilance-- being keenly alert and watchful for treachery-- is critical for any activist for Palestinian justice. Treachery and duplicity define zionism. Personally, my rule for engagement with any organization is that they must support all items on "The One State Declaration"--"a clear, compelling and moral vision of the destination"
If they fail one of these items, I conclude that protecting Israel, as opposed to justice for Palestine, is their true objective. I've found that adhering to this rule exposes many imposters.


Thank you, Vigilance. Our main peace group in Eugene, Community Alliance of Lane County (CALC) recently heavily promoted an event titled, "Ending Mideast Conflict Through Nonviolent Communication."
During the Q/A I held up a good-sized photo showing Palestinians caged at a crowded checkpoint and asked the audience if these were Jews, would we be promoting NVC as a solution. I then read off a list of questions for the presenter about the Israeli participants he worked with:
Did any agree to give up their privileges as a member of the occupying power?
Would they be willing to live in equality with Palestinians in either a single democratic state or two states that are equal between and within - which is very far from any “two state solution” considered in the 2-decades long peace process?
Did they acknowledge the importance of Nakba awareness similar to Holocaust awareness?
Did they advocate the right of return? Or a truth and reconciliation process?
Were restorative justice, restitution, property restoration, or compensation discussed?
Would they support a Nakba commemorative museum similar to Yad Vashem?
Did they recognize responsibility for the Palestinian refugees in Gaza, who constitute some 80% of that population?
Will they challenge the massive power imbalance of Israel's government, laws, institutions and military and security systems against Palestinian citizens as well as those under occupation and blockade?
Do they presume NVC alone is a sufficient remedy substituting for justice advocacy, BDS and enforcement of international law?
Did the NVC workshop motivate, encourage or train Israeli participants to join the Palestinian resistance as allies - real friends - battling for justice?
What exactly was proposed, envisioned and conceptualized? Was "co-existence" an identified goal? If so, this must be defined to consider whether or not this practice is a legitimate tactic leading to compliance with human rights standards,international law...


Mariah--great questions because they are incisive and capable of penetrating any pretense of concern for equality and justice. (Is this the NVC started by Marshall Rosenberg?) And the picture (of a checkpoint) speaks a thousand words. Thank you for sharing.


This is not the first time; previously in the past we have found several protest programs appeared in different countries especially done by students. It shows the power of students and their unity; in most of the countries we have found that student unity and power bring revolutionary change in the society. But in my point view students should engage with studies rather than these kinds of protest programs; which ultimately develop their career growth.