A legal organization, which responds to reports of suppression of Palestinian advocacy in the United States, recorded an increase in false accusations of anti-Semitism and terrorism in 2016. The accusations were “based solely on speech critical of Israeli policies.”
Of 258 incidents, according to Palestine Legal, 149 of them involved accusations of anti-Semitism. The organization confirmed 103 incidents of false accusations of terrorism.
In a statement, Palestine Legal director Dima Khalidi declared, “As [President Donald] Trump carries out his promises to curtail civil and constitutional rights, we have an exceptional responsibility to make sure that dissent is protected.”
“Now is the time for people who believe in a free and democratic society to stand up and ensure that all of us, especially the most vulnerable, can exercise our rights, without exception.”
Examples of suppression include the David Horowitz Freedom Center, which “plastered posters on at least a dozen campuses accusing individual students and professors of having ‘allied themselves with Palestinian terrorists.'” Horowitz is a far-right activist, who Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions considers to be “brilliant.” He is known for his work promoting racist, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim propaganda as well as his efforts to promote “academic freedom” by demonizing left-leaning student groups and scholars.
Students at multiple campuses were subject to “lengthy investigations” as a result of false accusations.
At San Francisco State University, an “impartial investigator” interviewed several witnesses and reviewed documentation related to a protest against Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat in April. It determined the protest never targeted Barkat or any other individuals for “their Jewish identity.” He was protested for his “policy positions.”
The General Union of Palestine Students (GUPS), which was accused of disrupting the campus, reacted, “The real disruption was the mayor of occupied Jerusalem coming to campus. His explicit agenda is to remove Palestinians from the city and he was given a platform to whitewash and propagate his policies. Not only were we subjected to this hate monger, but we were investigated for months and publicly smeared as violent and anti-Semitic. The report proves that these allegations are false.”
Students at the University of California Irvine (UCI) faced allegations for protesting outside of a film screening, which featured Israeli soldiers. They were falsely accused of “terrorizing” Jewish students. An investigation found the Students for Justice for Palestine chapter was locked out of the screening by Anteaters for Israel and Students Supporting Israel. That fueled the protest immediately outside the screening.
The City University of New York (CUNY) disciplinary committee cleared two Brooklyn College students, who were falsely accused of making “anti-Jewish comments” at a meeting by the college’s president and provost. A task force spent six months investigating and found there was a “tendency to blame SJP for any act of anti-Semitism on any CUNY campus.”
The emotional toll on Aly, one of the students falsely accused of anti-Semitism, was significant. According to Palestine Legal, she “comes from a working class, immigrant background,” and “received a barrage of harassing, Islamophobic communications falsely accusing her of antisemitism and discrimination.” She was called “Muslim trash” and “scum” for engaging in “heinous acts.”
Last year, at least 38 pieces of legislation were introduced to suppress activism or advocacy for Palestinian human rights. These bills, prompted by pro-Israel groups, conflated criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Semitism and attacked the First Amendment right to boycott, according to Palestine Legal. “Seventeen measures became law.”
The efforts, as Palestine Legal recounted, included: “(1) state-sanctioned blacklists; (2) prohibitions on state contracts with entities supportive of BDS; and (3) prohibitions on state investments in companies supportive of BDS.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, issued an executive order with a a provision to blacklist companies or groups, which boycott or divest from Israel. Khalidi described it as a clear violation of the First Amendment.
“It’s very clear that this is being precipitated by pressure from Israeli advocacy groups in the U.S., even by Israel itself. These groups are trying to stop the BDS movement from growing, and they are finding eager folks in legislatures around the country to do their bidding,” Khalidi added.
Palestine Legal contends the patterns of suppression will definitely intensify, particularly because the Trump administration is “openly hostile to the First Amendment and to Palestinian rights.”
“Meanwhile, Israel advocacy organizations continue to invest tens of millions of dollars in heavy-handed tactics to thwart student activists.” That will fuel suppression of the BDS movement in state legislatures and on college and university campuses throughout the year.