Backlash from US, Israel Against Palestinian Solidarity Activism Shows We’re Being Effective
Last week, it was reported that Israel passed a law punishing people who advocate for a boycott of the settlements. The law is definitely not only a blow to freedom of speech in Israel but also another act of repression against Palestinian solidarity activism in Israel. [The Washington Post published an op-ed yesterday on the “censorship” that this will likely produce in Israeli civil society.]
Also, last week the Committee to Stop FBI Repression put out a statement in solidarity with activists who have engaged in flotillas to Gaza. The group of antiwar and international solidarity activists, who have each been subpoenaed by the FBI to appear before a grand jury over the past months, all for exercising their freedom to associate, assemble and organize, condemned the State Department for seeking to make delivering humanitarian aid to Palestinians a crime. They called out the State Department for “threatening arrests, trials, and lengthy prison sentences for Americans on board the solidarity boat named, “The Audacity of Hope.”
I spoke with Maureen Murphy, a journalist and Palestinian solidarity activist who has done work for Electronic Intifada. You can follow her on Twitter @maureen_70. She is one of the twenty-three activists given a subpoena to appear before the grand jury.
Part 1 of our interview was posted last week. Now, here’s part 2.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: How did you come to be subpoenaed and a target in a grand jury investigation?
MAUREEN MURPHY, Electronic Intifada Editor: I work from home and on the Tuesday before Christmas someone rang my buzzer in the morning, which is unusual. I thought something might be up because it was December, and the FBI had been visiting people throughout the last few months, people that I work and organize with in Chicago. I answered the buzzer and it was the FBI and they said that they would like to speak with me. When I declined, that’s when they said they had a subpoena. I then went and got the subpoena from them.
We really can tell from the subpoenas issued in December that this is just a straight up fishing expedition. There was nothing written on my subpoena except to show up at this court date at this time. It didn’t say bring these documents or this potential evidence so they really wanted to question us about our political associations and our beliefs. This has also been confirmed. The FBI mistakenly left behind documents in one of the homes that was raided in September. The documents were discovered in April and are now available for download off of StopFBI.net. They included questions that they wanted to pose to activists that day, had anybody cooperated. The questions were all about: people’s affiliations, how they organize, who they know.
The FBI wanted everyone to name everyone they knew, who has ever traveled to the Middle East or South America. Imagine trying to answer that in a situation where, if you mistakenly leave something out or if the FBI says you were lying or covering something up, you could be convicted or charged with perjury or a contempt charge. That is why none of us have participated in this because we see this is just a naked attack on people because of the organizing they do, not because they pose any threat to public safety.
GOSZTOLA: Would you be able to talk more about how the Obama administration is going after people engaged in Palestinian solidarity activism?
MURPHY: I think there is going to be heightened repression of the Palestine solidarity movement in the United States just because it is truly challenging the status quo right now. I think the case of the twenty-three of us that have been subpoenaed and the investigation into us because of our Palestinian solidarity work and this new law that has been passed by Israel to criminalize boycott of Israeli settlements that calls for boycott for the state of Israel show that they’re pretty freaked out about this international movement to hold Israel accountable to international law. And, they are afraid of how it’s really effectively changing things.
I think they can try to prosecute people and they can try to pass these laws, but more and more we’re seeing people standing up in support of call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), which was made in 2005 and endorsed by the full spectrum of Palestinian political parties in Israel, the full spectrum Palestinian civil society both in Palestine and in exile and people are increasingly organizing around this call inside the West Bank as well.
I think the BDS movement—the marches on the boundaries with Israel from Lebanon and the march on the occupied Golan Heights from Syria, the marches from occupied territory currently controlled by Israel, and the Arab uprisings, which we’ve all been watching with awe since January have provoked these futile and desperate attempts to try and change the tide of popular opinion. And, popular opinion is firmly against apartheid and occupation and the United States’ bankrolling of Israel.
GOSZTOLA: Is there anything that you have to add in the aftermath of Palestinian solidarity activist Hatem Abudayyeh having his bank accounts frozen and everything? It seems the US government has really come after him. Can you speak on that?
MURPHY: It’s still unclear who the targets of this investigation are, although he was the first Palestinian to be targeted as part of our case. I think what’s worth noting about our case is historically Palestinians in the Muslim community, who have been organizing and speaking out and raising money for charitable assistance to Palestinians under occupation, have been the targets of repression. It’s been those groups and individuals, who have been targeted in the past, and now they are going after people who organize in progressive circles. They are going after people who do progressive Palestinian national organizing in the United States.
Palestinian organizing has been under attack ever since the first wave of emigration from the occupied West Bank/Gaza Strip following the 1967 war and it’s been ongoing ever since. So, it’s not a new thing for Palestinian activists to be under attack, but in the last ten years it’s been mainly people who are organizing with the Muslim community, who have been targeted. Now, non-Palestinians, who stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, are being targeted as well.
GOSZTOLA: Would it be fair to say that because more people didn’t speak up when Muslims were targeted after 9/11 and, since they’ve effectively been able to go afte Muslims and frighten that community, now they are moving on to others who speak out because Muslims have been sufficiently repressed?
MURPHY: I think the Muslim community in the United States is certainly under attack. It’s outrageous these fake bomb plots the FBI cooks up and then tries to entrap young Muslim Americans into these bogus traps so it can get a couple of terrorist convictions under its belt. I don’t want to say that no one stood up for that community but I think what’s different with our case is that the individuals who have been subpoenaed or raided (or both) are long time activists who have been working in mass movements for years so we were able to mobilize massively and broadly. And, we’ve had demonstrations in more than 60 cities across the US. We’ve been able to show quite strongly that a lot of people think what is going on is wrong, people shouldn’t be criminalized for their political work and international solidarity is not a crime.
GOSZTOLA: Finally, the Stop FBI Coalition put out a press release in solidarity with the flotillas to Gaza that were eventually halted and blocked. Why is such solidarity important?
MURPHY: We should speak out when the United States threatens other activists, who are doing Palestinian solidarity work. It’s important for all of us to raise up our voices and stand up because the more people who do so, the harder it is to go after them. I think it is important for all of us to keep doing the work we do because frankly I think we’re winning. Even when the situation on the ground seems worse and worse, I think the tide of public opinion in the United States has irreversibly changed.
The BDS movement is all about presenting a different vision. It’s a right-based. This is about Palestinians’ historic rights and meanwhile the Israeli government doesn’t have any vision to promote. And all it does is try to attack people and it’s public image is at a new low point after the 2006 bombing of Lebanon, the summer massacres in Gaza in 2006, the massacres in Gaza in 2008 and 2009 and the attack on the Mavi Marmara last year.
I think people get that Israel is an apartheid state and I think we are watching Israel behave much in the way that apartheid South Africa did in the last days of apartheid there by going after Jewish-Israeli activists who are standing in solidarity with Palestinians. I felt like there was a kind of kinship between the 23 of us and the Israeli activists who are being called in to report to the Shin Bet so they can be interrogated about the solidarity work that they do in the West Bank. So, there’s definitely an attack by both government on solidarity work with the Palestinian people but I think we can be optimistic that we’re changing things for the better and even though there is going to be a backlash it means that we’re being effective.