Last week, Robert Fishman, Director of Hillel at The George Washington University, sent an organizational e-mail over the Hillel listserv accusing me of being a terrorist. The claims include that I have “led chants (of) ‘Death to Jews’ ” and “openly admitted to associating with suicide bombers.” Needless to say, I have not done either; in fact, all of Fishman’s accusations are appalling lies with absolutely no basis in reality.
According to The Hatchet, sophomore Seth Weinstein was Hillel’s source for the information; the Jewish Defense League was his. The FBI monitors the JDL’s activities and I’m quite perplexed as to why Hillel would take this hate group’s claims at face value. The JDL has continued to harass me since last week. Neither group has been able to substantiate or explain the insidious and serious claims that they have made.
The damage that the Hillel e-mail has caused to my reputation and my personal life has been debilitating. However, I am not a vindictive person. I believe that Hillel is an important social and spiritual center for Jewish students on campus. My principal concern at this point is to have my name cleared of the entirety of Hillel’s public allegations, which have now gained much currency on blogs and sites throughout cyberspace. I therefore ask Fishman to send a mass organizational e-mail repudiating his erroneous claims and apologizing immediately. However, if he declines to do so, he has left me with no choice but to pursue other options to exonerate myself - i.e., via legal means.
The final message of the Hillel e-mail was to encourage Jewish students to protest my talk last Thursday at the Law School, in which I advocated for divestment from Israel. The motive of the e-mail was to discredit this campaign not by forwarding arguments against it, but by resorting to attacks against the messenger. There is no more efficient way to silence an Arab in America today than by casting him as a terrorist. Of course, these tactics are reminiscent of the measures taken by Senator Joseph McCarthy to brand anyone he disliked a communist. Hillel has sacrificed my reputation by hurling a dangerous accusation throughout the student body so as to stifle free speech on campus.
I, however, refuse to be silenced and will continue to work toward a just resolution between Israelis and Palestinians. Divestment is a powerful vehicle to work towards such a peace. In the 1980s, hundreds of campuses and communities in the United States divested from Apartheid South Africa. The international boycott of that regime led to its isolation and eventual capitulation to principles of freedom and equality. Such an approach is equally appropriate toward Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. Countless churches, non-governmental institutions, human rights groups and prominent anti-racism leaders agree.
Ronnie Kasrils and Max Ozinsky, both heroic anti-Apartheid activists of Jewish descent, argue, “It becomes difficult, particularly from a South African perspective, not to draw parallels with the oppression experienced by Palestinians under the hand of Israel and the oppression experienced in South Africa under Apartheid rule.” In 1961, Hendrik Verwoerd, South African prime minister and architect of the “homelands” system, took note of the resemblance in blunt terms: “The Jews took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.” In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “If Apartheid ended, so can the (Israeli) occupation, but the moral force and international pressure will have to be just as determined. The current divestment effort is the first, though certainly not the only, necessary move in that direction.”
Israel holds the monopoly of power in this conflict. As a result, it has been able to dispossess Palestinians (nearly 1 million in 1948), destroy Palestinian villages (over 400 in 1948), occupy the West Bank and Gaza Strip, illegally transfer over 400,000 of its citizens onto this land, build an illegal barrier through this territory, expand its settlements and network of settlement roads, demolish Palestinian houses (over 12,000), uproot Palestinian olive trees (over 360,000), and imprison Palestinians within ghettos restricting them from traveling from one village to the next. Meanwhile, Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, have expressed the state’s plan of annexing roughly 50% of the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians with a series of disjoined Bantustans on only 12% of their historic homeland.
Only the international community can balance the inequitable distribution of power and pressure Israel, like its apartheid predecessor, to capitulate to principles of freedom and equality. Divestment is one means of achieving this.
Certainly, many on this campus, among them members of Hillel, object to divestment. However, discussions on issues exactly like this should be encouraged in academic settings. I therefore invite Hillel members to an open debate on divestment. Attempts to stifle this discourse through libel and character assassinations, though, have no place at George Washington University.
The writer is a third-year law student at George Washington University. This article, which first appeared in The Hatchet, an independent student newspaper, is reproduced with the author’s permission.