Dozens of journalists, academics, writers, and activists signed a statement, “Against the Blacklisting of Activists and Writers,” after the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter at the University of North Carolina canceled an event for independent journalist Rania Khalek due to complaints about her views on the conflict in Syria.
The statement comes as Khalek said another student group, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) at Concordia University, rescinded her invitation to appear on a panel about Palestinian rights on March 9.
The statement, signed by Glenn Greenwald, Noam Chomsky, Colonel Ann Wright, Medea Benjamin, and many others, states the cancellation of Khalek’s lecture at UNC “raises important issues of tactics and strategy within movements for social change.” SJP invited Khalek to speak about the intersection of Palestinian rights organizing and the Black Lives Matter Movement, but canceled the lecture under pressure from some individuals, including advocates of the Syrian rebels, who complained about Khalek’s views on the Syrian civil war.
The statement points out no one ever stated precisely what it was that disqualified Khalek from speaking at UNC. It argues the lecture was canceled “based on assertions about her views made by others” and “based on the notion that there is a political litmus test of views on Syria that are requisites to have a public voice in the Palestinian rights movement.”
Some of the individuals who pressured SJP to cancel the event have proclaimed their desire to destroy Khalek’s reputation and livelihood “using many of the same tactics that Palestine solidarity activists have faced from pro-Israel organizations, and with many of the same targets.”
According to Khalek, a few days after SJP canceled the event, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) Concordia canceled her appearance on a panel for Israeli Apartheid Week. They told her they no longer had funding to bring her to the campus.
“I told them I had sponsors willing to cover the costs, but they still declined to host me,” she said, adding she heard from someone within the organization it was “related to ‘concerns’ about my views on Syria.”
A representative of SPHR Concordia denied the decision was related to Khalek’s views on Syria. They said SPHR did not receive complaints and cited a “financial difficulty which resulted in our inability to receive Rania.”
Khalek said attacks have escalated beyond attempts to blacklist her to threats made to her safety. Some individuals have posted personal information about her on social media, including her family’s home address.
Those who signed the statement represent a range of views on Syria and some of them strongly disagree with Khalek, yet they share the belief that when a Palestinian rights group subjects members or speakers to a litmus test for their views on Syria, “it inevitably leads to splits, silencing, confusion, and a serious erosion of trust” and “runs contrary to the possibility of people learning from one another, changing their minds, and educating one another through their activism.”
“Disagreements about political issues exist inside every movement coalition,” they write. “They must not be made fodder for targeted vilification of activists in the movement.”