PSLS and Students Speak on the Role of Israel Advocacy Groups in Censoring Speech on US Campuses
Palestine Solidarity Legal Support Director Dima Khalidi addressed a packed room of about 300 politicians, academics, and other professionals at the Israel Lobby Conference on Friday, April 10th. The panel, Is Freedom of Speech Encouraged on American Campuses?, discussed the role of Israel advocacy groups in silencing discourse on Israel/Palestine in US institutions of higher education. Khalidi was joined on the panel by former students Amani Al-Khatahtbeh and Ahmad Saadaldin (graduates of Rutgers University and University of South Florida, respectively), who spoke passionately about their experiences facing censorship and repression in their advocacy for Palestinian rights. The conference, sponsored by the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy and hosted at the National Press Club in Washington DC, examined the role of the Israel Lobby in US institutions and its effects on discourse and policy on Israel/Palestine and the region as a whole.
Khalidi elucidated the tactics used by Israel advocacy groups to pressure universities into censoring and punishing students and faculty who openly support Palestinian rights, which trample on student and faculty free speech and academic freedom rights. Khatahtbeh and Saadaldin students brought life to these tactics with personal examples. Khatahtbeh spoke of her experience as the opinions editor of the Rutgers student newspaper, where she was repeatedly accused of being biased, and prevented from telling her story at the end of her tenure. Saadaldin told the story of how the University of South Florida repeatedly thwarted student attempts to bring a divestment referendum to the student body, first claiming that the referendum was unlawful, and then ignoring a petition of 10,000 students calling for transparency and ethical investment. Giving several other examples of ways that students and faculty have been targeted by Israel advocacy groups’ efforts to silence Palestine activism, Khalidi said:
The incidents we’re documenting point to an apparent “Palestine exception” to the First Amendment, a situation in which public officials find it acceptable to muzzle a certain viewpoint in order to appease a strong political constituency, and often big donors…. Universities, think tanks, policy makers and media outlets forsake their responsibility to address one of the most prolonged human rights issues of our time when they accede to pressure campaigns and inhibit people from speaking, protesting and taking collective nonviolent political action to effect change.
The conference drew speakers from across the United States and from Israel, including former UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk, Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy, and human rights attorney and activist Huwaida Arraf.
For a full recording of the panels, see below or click here.