Workers Vanguard No. 1018
22 February 2013
UC, State Assembly Crack Down on Pro-Palestinian Protest
Zionist Witchhunt on California Campuses
(Young Spartacus pages)
LOS ANGELES—House Resolution 35 (H.R. 35), passed in the lower house of the California legislature last August, is another step in the campaign to smear, censor and set up for persecution student activists who protest the crimes of the Israeli state. H.R. 35 upholds the age-old slander that any criticism of Israel equals anti-Semitism. Furthermore, it terrorist-baits student groups, alleging they “encourage support for terrorist organizations” and “openly advocate terrorism against Israel and the Jewish people.” Even while it does not make new law, this resolution by the California State Assembly retrospectively commends past attacks by the University of California (UC) administration against Palestinian rights advocates, while urging the prohibition of even the tamest protests that students are undertaking or may attempt in the future.
H.R. 35 approvingly cites language from the European Union—an imperialist-dominated alliance for the exploitation of Europe’s working class—as a model for slandering pro-Palestinian protesters. The resolution embraces the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights’ working definition of anti-Semitism as “certain language or behavior [that] demonizes and delegitimizes Israel.” It specifically refers to “anti-Semitic discourse...to falsely describe Israel,” “including that Israel is a racist, apartheid, or Nazi state, that Israel is guilty of heinous crimes against humanity such as ethnic cleansing and genocide.”
Thus the bill aims to suppress the truth: the Zionist state is guilty of heinous crimes against humanity. Recall the Israeli-organized 1982 massacre of some 2,000 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon; the 2010 massacre of nine activists onboard the Mavi Marmara ship carrying humanitarian aid for the virtual concentration camp of the Gaza Strip; Israel’s bloody November 2012 offensive against Gaza, where more than 1,000 air strikes reduced homes to rubble and slaughtered 162 men, women and children. On an “ordinary” day, Palestinians are subjected to hunger, unemployment, humiliation, fear and forced confinement behind a separation wall. Defend the Palestinians! All Israeli troops and settlers out of the Occupied Territories now! Down with the starvation blockade of Gaza!
The passage of this provocative bill did not go unopposed. Notably, the UC Berkeley graduate student assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn H.R. 35 in a resolution passed last November. Jewish Voice for Peace also condemned the bill in a 29 August 2012 statement. H.R. 35 is aimed explicitly against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists, but it also represents a threat to the entire left, as it gives campus administrations the green light to censor and repress political activity. Down with H.R. 35!
The bill absurdly tries to portray an atmosphere of widespread anti-Semitism on California campuses. The truth is that Arabs, Muslims and pro-Palestinian activists of all backgrounds—including Jewish students who are anti-Zionist—are the ones under the gun. When UC Irvine student protesters stood up during a February 2010 speech by Israeli ambassador and war criminal Michael Oren, correctly calling him an “accomplice to genocide,” they were arrested and sentenced to three years’ informal probation, community service and fines. Appeals are still ongoing. (See “Overturn the Convictions of the Irvine 11!” WV No. 995, 3 February 2012.) The administration also extended its witchhunt to the Muslim Student Union, suspending the group at UC Irvine.
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) groups on UC campuses have received death threats, including a 2008 e-mail that reads, “The day the world finally nukes all you subhuman sand monkeys will be a day to rejoice.... Die.” In the spring of 2012, UC Davis students sought the administration’s protection after Zionist supporters of StandWithUs (SWU) used pepper spray against pro-Palestinian protesters. In response, UC president Mark Yudof sided with SWU and equated the political speech of Palestinian rights advocates with racist attacks. These are just a few of the incidents cited in the “Letter to University of California President Advising Him of Need to Protect Pro-Palestinian Speech on Campus” (Center for Constitutional Rights, 3 December 2012).
For years during the annual “Israeli Apartheid Week,” the SJP at UC Berkeley has set up “mock checkpoints” to protest the very real ones that harass, detain and terrorize Palestinians daily. With college students playing the role of soldiers and wielding toy guns, this simulation of Palestinian reality deeply disturbed the local Zionists, who mobilized to ban such political theater as well as other SJP events. In 2011, Jessica Felber—a paid employee of the Hasbara Fellowships program that trains students on how to oppose pro-Palestinian activism—filed a lawsuit against UC. In it she claimed that criticism of Israel is “anti-Semitic” and that allowing such speech abets a “hostile environment” for Jewish students. Although the charges against the university were dismissed, Felber’s lawyers filed another complaint with the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education. This “investigation” is ongoing.
Abolish the Administration!
While contesting Felber’s accusations, the UC administration threw its weight behind the Zionist witchhunt, utilizing its “President’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture, & Inclusion” that produced a July 2012 “Campus Climate Report” based on allegations of anti-Semitism. These accusations were pushed mainly by the university-sponsored Jewish Student Task Force led by the chief education chair for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The ADL has worked as an unofficial adjunct to the FBI and other state agencies for more than 50 years in a slew of anti-communist and other reactionary causes, providing extensive information to the FBI as well as to apartheid South Africa and Latin American death squad regimes (see “Zionist Fingermen for Apartheid, Salvador Death Squads: ADL’s Massive Spying Operation,” WV No. 577, 4 June 1993).
The Zionists and the UC administration share common interests in support of the U.S. alliance with Israel (which has long served the imperialists’ strategic interests in the Near East) and in support of the so-called “war on terror.” Begun under Bush and continued under Obama, the “war on terror” is used to justify colonial wars abroad and domestic repression at home. When the Zionists slander these SJP and MSA demonstrators as “pro-terrorist” and aligned with and funneling money to Hamas, as they have in the Felber suit, they are attempting to bring down on these students the whole weight of the capitalist state—which has used the label of “material support to terrorism” to justify imprisonment, torture, disappearance to a military brig, or even drone assassinations of citizens and foreign nationals.
The universities have never been the “ivory towers” of intellectual freedom they claim to be. Rather they are capitalist institutions whose functions include developing new techniques of production in order to maximize profit, as well as training bosses, managers, bourgeois ideologues and also socially useful technicians and specialists. University administrations serve as the representatives of the bourgeoisie, defending its class interests. Thus the UC administration is only doing its job when it acts on the Zionists’ complaints in order to intimidate into silence those who speak out against the Israeli state or its U.S. imperialist backers. Pro-Palestinian activists must not fool themselves into relying on university officials for protection against Zionist provocations. Abolish the administration, for student/worker/teacher control of the universities!
UC President Mark Yudof actively worked to craft H.R. 35. According to the 3 December 2012 letter to Yudof written by the Center for Constitutional Rights and others protesting H.R. 35, the UC president was in contact with state assemblywoman Linda Halderman, encouraged the introduction of the bill after having reviewed a draft, and proposed changes including language that urges UC administrators to actively condemn so-called “anti-Semitic activity.” H.R. 35 grotesquely equates actual incidents of anti-Semitism (such as swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti on Hillel Houses and elsewhere on campuses) with political protest against atrocities of the Israeli state. The bill falsely accuses these activists of the “suppression and disruption of free speech that present Israel’s point of view.”
For years many reformists and liberals have called for bans on “hate speech” in response to racist provocations. We oppose liberal calls for laws and bans to suppress racist ideology. Such calls logically lead to appeals to the university administration and/or the bourgeois state to regulate what people can and cannot say. H.R. 35 is an example of how “hate speech” bills strengthen the powers of the state and administration to further their attacks against leftists and perceived opponents of the capitalists’ interests. An NYC law from 1845 against wearing masks, which was upheld in a 2004 appeals court ruling against the KKK, served as the legal basis on which masked Occupy Wall Street protesters were arrested in September 2011.
BDS: An Obstacle to Palestinian Liberation
The political positions cited by H.R. 35 as “actions that could create a hostile anti-Semitic environment” and from which students must be “protected” include “student- and faculty-sponsored boycott, divestment, and sanction campaigns against Israel that are a means of demonizing Israel and seek to harm the Jewish state.” We staunchly defend proponents of BDS against any attempt to censor, ban or persecute them for their political positions.
We oppose all U.S. aid to Israel and we uphold the right of return for Palestinian refugees. But we do not agree with the BDS campaign, which appeals to the U.S. imperialists—the most blood-drenched ruling class on the planet—to act on behalf of the Palestinians through trade and other sanctions against Israel. Furthermore, the BDS campaign invokes the United Nations as an ally against the Zionist rulers. The UN presided over the 1947 partition of Palestine, and its “peacekeepers” disarmed Palestinian fighters in Lebanon in 1982, thereby setting up the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps for the massacre that followed. Looking to the “good will” of the U.S. or the UN is not only utopian, it also fosters the worst illusions in “human rights” imperialism, which is simply a propaganda cover used by the imperialist powers for their wars of colonial subjugation.
Usually consumer boycotts are moralistic gestures with little or no effect. But if they were actually successful, BDS campaigns would hurt the Jewish and Arab working class of Israel, causing layoffs and thus weakening its social power. This would be a blow against the only social force that ultimately has the potential to smash the Zionist state from within through socialist revolution. Standing boycotts and campaigns for divestment and sanctions are an obstacle to the international working-class struggle that is necessary for the liberation of the Palestinians. (See “For Proletarian Internationalism, Not Appeals to Imperialism!” Spartacist Canada No. 166, Fall 2010.)
The root cause of the oppression of the Palestinians is that in Israel/Palestine two peoples have legitimate, conflicting claims to the same sliver of land—a problem for which there is no just solution under capitalism. Every bourgeois “solution” either perpetuates the oppression of the Palestinians or envisions a reversal of the terms of oppression, denying rights to the Israeli Jews. What is necessary is joint class struggle of both Jewish and Arab workers extending beyond the confines of that territory to the whole region—including the multiple countries where Palestinians are oppressed by Arab regimes.
We have no illusions that breaking the Israeli working class from its Zionist overlords will be an easy task. Indeed, it will likely require working-class upheavals elsewhere in the region in order to win the Jewish proletariat away from the ideology of Zionist chauvinism. But if there is to be any future free of exploitation and oppression for all the peoples of the Near East, the only solution lies in workers revolutions against the Zionist butchers, Arab dictators, mullahs and monarchs as well as against the paymaster of oppression in the Near East: the American bourgeoisie.
Such a task requires the construction of Trotskyist parties throughout the region and critically in the U.S. The Spartacus Youth Club—as the youth auxiliary of the Spartacist League, U.S. section of the International Communist League—is dedicated to the perspective of forging a revolutionary workers party here, in the belly of the imperialist beast.