In Case You Missed It: A Summer Full of Censorship for Palestine Supporters

 Top left and bottom right: footage from a leaked Al Jazeera documentary exposing Canary Mission's funder. Bottom left: Professor Rabab Abdulhadi. Top right: former Riverdale teacher Joel Doerfler. 

Top left and bottom right: footage from a leaked Al Jazeera documentary exposing Canary Mission's funder. Bottom left: Professor Rabab Abdulhadi. Top right: former Riverdale teacher Joel Doerfler. 

As fall gets under way, we wanted to highlight some of the censorship and legal bullying that supporters of Palestinian rights have experienced this summer.

As Israel passed its nation-state law solidifying apartheid, as Israeli snipers continue to gun down Palestinian protesters in Gaza, and as the Trump administration continues its assault on Palestinians by vowing to no longer fund the refugee agency UNRWA, we have seen a parallel escalation in the U.S. by Israel and its proxies attacking people of conscience who oppose these actions.  

Despite intense smear campaigns and legal bullying, the movement for Palestinian rights achieved some important victories this summer, from the rise of progressive political candidates vocally supporting Palestinian rights to singer Lana Del Rey and other artists cancelling scheduled appearances in Israel after fans called on them to respect the Palestinian call for a boycott.

In case you missed it, this summer:

  • A 25-year veteran teacher resigned after complaints from big donors led an elite NY private school to cancel his seminar on Israel-Palestine.
     
  • A graduate student at CUNY was investigated – and cleared – after being accused of antisemitism because he criticized Zionism on a campus listerve.
     
  • Lawyers for Professor Rabab Abdulhadi and San Francisco State University challenged a third attempt to restrict the speech of students and faculty who support Palestinian freedom.
     
  • A Palestinian student at Stanford was forced to resign from his position as resident assistant amid backlash over a Facebook post critical of Zionism.
     
  • The Lawfare Project tried to claim a Barnard College event featuring a Palestinian human rights group was tantamount to supporting terrorism.
     
  • Investigative reports and leaked footage revealed new details about shadowy entities using deceptive tactics to target the movement for Palestinian rights.
     
  • Israel groups went after a professor at Tufts for teaching a course called “Colonizing Palestine.”

A 25-year veteran teacher resigned after complaints from big donors led an elite NY private school to cancel his seminar on Israel-Palestine.

In August, an article was published in the Huffington Post detailing the pressure that influential parents and donors put on Riverdale, the elite NY prep school, to terminate two teachers who expressed support for Palestinian rights in the wake of Israel’s killing of dozens of Palestinian protesters in Gaza. In May, Joel Doerfler, a history teacher of 25 years at Riverdale, posted an article outside his classroom about Israel’s killing of Palestinian protesters, along with a note that read: “I support Palestinian human rights.” This prompted pro-Israel students to post notes and articles around Doerfler’s note, some with anti-Arab and Islamophobic messages. A group of influential parents first held a private meeting to lobby school officials and then a choreographed public assembly, claiming that their students were being unfairly persecuted and having their speech suppressed by leftist faculty. After the meeting, Doerfler’s seminar was canceled and he quit “‘on principle’ after administrators did not provide an ‘intellectual, pedagogical or ethical reason(s)’” for cancelling his popular Israel-Palestine seminar. Another long-time teacher was also terminated after a student alleged he made inappropriate remarks about Israelis. The claim was not substantiated by other students who witnessed the incident. Despite petitions from alumni and other support for the two teachers, pressure from influential donors active in pro-Israel groups dictated the school’s actions, and the chilling effect that the incident has had on students and teachers alike.

A graduate student at CUNY was investigated - and cleared - after being accused of antisemitism because he criticized Zionism on a campus listerve.

A June 1 fellowship announcement sent to the Earth and Environmental Sciences listserve at City University of New York (CUNY) stated that Israel “embraces people of all religions, cultures, ethnicities, and nationalities” and that it is “surrounded by the extraordinary hospitality embedded in middle-eastern culture [sic].” In response, doctoral student Rafael Mutis wrote: “Thanks for passing this on, but this is some sick zionist propaganda.  Is this a Trump initiative? Maybe there are post docs in Palestine? Free Free Palestine!” A debate ensued, and weeks later, Mutis learned he was under investigation based on a listserve member’s charge of discrimination. Palestine Legal wrote CUNY on July 13 warning that punishing Mutis would violate the First Amendment, which requires public colleges to protect free speech. In August, CUNY’s Chief Diversity Officer/Title IX Coordinator wrote Mutis that CUNY found “no basis” for the complaint and affirmed that Mutis’ comments were protected by the First Amendment. Though he was cleared, Mutis said that the whole process was “emotionally taxing. It really hung over my head this summer while I was trying to write my dissertation.”

Lawyers for Professor Rabab Abdulhadi and San Francisco State University challenged a third attempt to restrict the speech of students and faculty who support Palestinian freedom.

Lawyers for Professor Rabab Abdulhadi and San Francisco State University (SFSU) appeared in federal court in August to fight a lawsuit to compel the university to restrict the speech of its students and faculty who support Palestinian freedom. The Lawfare Project, a right-wing anti-Palestinian organization, first filed their lawsuit in June 2017. After two complaints that were amended and dismissed, their third attempt alleges that speech critical of the political ideology of Zionism and advising a Palestinian student group created a hostile environment for Jewish and Israeli students at SFSU. The judge indicated at the beginning of the hearing that he was inclined to dismiss the complaint again because it didn’t meet the legal standard to state a claim.

A Palestinian student at Stanford was forced to resign from his position as resident assistant amid backlash over a Facebook post critical of Zionism.

In July, after reading that the Israeli legislature passed the nation-state law enshrining the state’s privileging of Jewish citizens over its indigenous Palestinian minority, Stanford junior Hamzeh Daoud, a grandson of Palestinian refugees, posted an article about the law on Facebook, writing that he would “physically fight zionists on campus,” using the millennial phrase “physically fight” ironically. He quickly edited the post and explained his intent. The next day, Stanford College Republicans disingenuously described Daoud’s comments as a “threat of violence,” omitting any reference to Daoud’s edits and clarification. The story was shared by alt right blogs and media outlets, and Daoud received a barrage of harassing messages, threatening to shoot him, beat him up, and have him deported. Daoud was forced to resign from his position as a resident assistant in the college dorms in the face of overwhelming pressure and harassment.

The Lawfare Project tried to claim a Barnard College event featuring a Palestinian human rights group was tantamount to supporting terrorism.

The Lawfare Project also targeted Barnard College this summer, claiming that the school could be criminally liable for supporting terrorism because it allowed students to host an event titled “Breaking Bars: Fighting Incarceration from U.S. to Palestine,” featuring speakers from the Palestinian human rights and prisoner support group Addameer. The event went on as planned despite the intimidation tactics.

Investigative reports and leaked footage revealed new details about shadowy entities using deceptive tactics to target the movement for Palestinian rights.

Canary Mission, an infamous website that blacklists and harasses activists who support Palestinian rights, has operated anonymously since its founding in 2015. This summer, significant revelations pierced the site’s veil of anonymity. In August, the Grayzone Project identified the owner of Canary Mission’s domain name as Howard Davis Sterling, a little known “wealthy lawyer who is a fervent supporter of Israel.” Then, Electronic Intifada published segments from a censored Al Jazeera film in which a former employee of The Israel Project names Adam Milstein, an Israeli-American real estate investor, as the funder behind Canary Mission. Milstein has a history of using his vast real-estate wealth to smear Palestine activists. With these new revelations, we encourage those who have been affected by Canary Mission to share their experiences with us as we zero in on new strategies.

Other leaked excerpts from the censored Al Jazeera film shed light on tactics used by Israel and its proxies to try to stem the tide of support for Palestinian freedom. An article published by the Grayzone Project revealed how right-wing groups sent employees to an on-campus protest to compensate for a lack of grassroots support for Israel on campus. In another article, the Grayzone Project described the Israeli government’s response to Black-Palestinian solidarity. One Israeli official described her efforts to drive a “wedge between established black community leadership and the new generation gravitating towards Black Lives Matter” after the Movement for Black Lives declared its support for the Palestinian call for boycott.

Israel groups went after a professor at Tufts for teaching a course called “Colonizing Palestine.”

Israel groups targeted Thomas Abowd’s course at Tufts University entitled “Colonizing Palestine.” The course, offered in the Colonialism Studies department, features readings from Palestinian and Palestinian-American artists and scholars such as Mahmoud Darwish, Edward Said and Suheir Hammad. A Jewish News Syndicate article attacked Abowd, citing his profile on the blacklisting website Canary Mission and calling his advocacy for Palestinian rights “anti-Semitic.” A number of Israel advocacy groups complained to the university about Abowd’s course. The Hillel chapter at Tufts was quick to exhibit a double standard when it comes to free speech, stating that it supports academic freedom but calling the course description “unnecessarily provocative.” And Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt also exhibited a Palestine Exception when he tweeted, “We support academic freedom but @TuftsUniversity must ensure that classes…are not one sided platforms for propaganda that demonize Israel.” Greenblatt failed to explain how a course exploring Palestinian scholarship, poetry and art expressing a desire for freedom and justice is a one-sided platform for propaganda.