Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here: Speaking Against Israel, Then and Now

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Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here: Speaking Against Israel, Then and Now

Recently I watched a short interview with Noam Chomsky in which the eminent Linguistics and Philosophy professor responded to a statement made by Hillary Clinton during her unctuous address to The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) earlier this year.

AIPAC, as we all know, superintends the notorious Israel lobby, a broad coalition of Zionist (though not necessarily Jewish) organizations that wield a tremendous amount of influence over the legislative and executive branches of our government. Thus, should one wish to become a player in Washington, whether it be in the Senate or the Oval Office, one would do well to pander to the belligerent views of Howard Kohr and his small army of pro-Israel hawks.

Clinton has been doing so for many years now—specifically since 1998, when her own political ambition took shape. A look at the transcript of her speech to AIPAC on March 21 makes plain just how far—or low—she is prepared to go to curry favor with the Israel lobby.

In the bit to which Noam Chomsky responds, Clinton takes aim at the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which exists to put pressure on business entities providing material support to the ongoing theft of Palestinian land and resources by the Israeli government. BDS is a peaceful campaign that draws inspiration from the Anti-Apartheid Movement, the latter having helped bring to an end to the apartheid era in South Africa.

Here’s what Clinton had to say:

I’ve been sounding the alarm for a while now. As I wrote last year in a letter to the heads of major American Jewish organizations, we have to be united in fighting back against BDS. Many of its proponents have demonized Israeli scientists and intellectuals, even students.

To all the college students who may have encountered this on campus, I hope you stay strong. Keep speaking out. Don’t let anyone silence you, bully you or try to shut down debate, especially in places of learning like colleges and universities.

That was met by a standing ovation. How inspiring! One wonders whether Clinton is conscious of the weapons-grade irony contained here. Probably she is, but you never know (she did, after all, select Timothy Kaine as her running mate). Anyway, the irony certainly wasn’t lost on Chomsky, who has been speaking—or trying to speak—about the Israel-Palestine issue at universities for decades.

“I’m very happy,” Chomsky said, dripping with characteristic sarcasm, “that she has agreed that one should not shut down debate on this issue on campus. She’s about 40 years too late.”

He went on to describe the fraught environment typical of his numerous talks on campuses across the country: “Police protection,” “airport-style security,” and violent disruptions of presentations which then had to be shut down. Until very recently, he added, “police insisted on walking me back to my car, just because of the threat of violence.”

So indeed, “it’s very nice that Mrs. Clinton has finally decided that yes, maybe it would be nice to have free and open debate on campus, as there is now for the first time.”

I think it’s safe to say that Chomsky was being a little over-optimistic when he said there’s now free and open debate on college campuses. Indeed, he qualified the remark by adding that the situation is “not perfect by any means.”

Censorship on campus (and elsewhere) is a red hot issue these days, which is a good sign. It means the public is coming around to the notion that the rights guaranteed us by the First Amendment should never be abrogated.

That said, most of the coverage of this issue misses the mark. Oftentimes we see articles ridiculing hysterical students who demand “safe spaces,” condemn their cafeterias for serving insufficiently authentic foreign cuisine, and try to get people fired for uttering “microaggressions.” The rise of liberal intolerance on college campuses is a disturbing phenomenon, yes, and it should be addressed, mocked, whatever, but it simply doesn’t rise to the threat level of Zionist censorship, which is more organized and which comes from powerful right-wing institutions.

A comprehensive report by Palestine Legal details the unrelenting campaign of censorship waged against those who attempt to speak about Israeli government policy from a Palestinian perspective. They cite numerous examples of how suppression of this particular brand of activism has been institutionalized.

Naturally, a favorite tactic of the censors is to conflate legitimate criticism of Israel with antisemitism. Indeed, “of the 152 incidents Palestine Legal responded to in 2014, 76 involved accusations of antisemitism based solely on speech critical of Israeli policy; in the first six months of 2015, 83 of 140 incidents involved false accusations of antisemitism.”

This, of course, is nothing new; it’s been used by the Zionists for decades. In their vital book, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” geopolitical experts John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (themselves defamed as antisemitic) lament the exploitation of antisemitism as an instrument of propaganda:

The charge of anti-Semitism remains a widely used weapon for dealing with critics of Israel, especially in the United States…. The charge of anti-Semitism is one of the most powerful epithets one can level at someone in America, and no respectable person wants to be tarred with that brush. Undoubtedly, the fear of being called an anti-Semite discourages many individuals from voicing reservations about Israel’s conduct or the merits of U.S. support [for that conduct].

This particular strategy has quite literally been institutionalized. According to the U.S. State Department, examples of antisemitism (i.e., hatred of Jews) include attempts to “demonize Israel,” “delegitimize Israel” and impose a “double standard for Israel.” In other words, our government has effectively stripped the word of its meaning, giving official license to anyone wishing to smear Palestinian rights activists as sinister Jew-haters.

There are several examples of this erroneous new definition of antisemitism being used by pro-Israel organizations to shut down debate on college campuses. In one case reviewed by Palestine Legal, the student government at Northwestern University “blocked the student body from voting on a divestment referendum because students, backed by Israel advocacy groups, argued that discussing divestment would in and of itself create and antisemitic climate.” Sound logic!

Moreover, university curriculum has been attacked on the same grounds. In 2015, AMCHA—an organization “dedicated to investigating, documenting, educating about and combating antisemitism at institutions of higher education in America”—lobbied to have a course at UC Riverside, the point of which was to study “Palestinian voices through contemporary literature and media,” canceled. Why? Because, according to AMCHA, the course had a “clear intent to politically indoctrinate students to hate the Jewish state and take action against it.” AMCHA explicitly cited the State Department’s redefinition of antisemitism to buttress its case. While the course ultimately went ahead as planned, the instructor “became the target of anti-Muslim hate mail and misogynistic cyberbullying as a result of the campaign.”

Often accompanying the charge of antisemitism is one of support for terrorism (the kind of terrorism we don’t like, obviously). Despite their nonsensical premise, charges of sympathizing with terrorists “lead many scholars and students to self-censor out of fear of endangering their careers.” And understandably so. Accusations of support for terrorism are not trivial, particularly when they come from powerful organizations with political and/or legal clout.

If you’re not careful, you may be blacklisted by one of the many Israeli propaganda groups masquerading as human rights watchdogs. To take one example, there’s an anonymously-run website called “Canary Mission,” whose express purpose is to “document the people and groups that are promoting hatred of the USA, Israel and Jews on college campuses in North America.” Published on their site is a list of over 600 individuals, most of them current or former college students, who are ostensibly guilty of promoting such hatred. Each name is accompanied by a headshot—presumably lifted from social media—and a link to the individual’s offending activities and relations.

For instance, the website accuses one female college student of having “organized a protest on November 16, 2012, to ‘call out Israel’s war crimes against the Palestinian people.’” Furthermore, her “Twitter feed is filled with anti-Israel and anti-Zionist posts.” Therefore, obviously, she has been “outed” by the Canary Mission as someone who spreads hatred of America and Jews in general. Again, impeccable logic—not to mention ethics.

One can only imagine how bad things were 40 years ago (when Chomsky had to have a police escort walking to the parking lot) if the circumstances today are auspicious by comparison (as Chomsky assures us they are). In any case, it’s plain to see that activists for Palestinian rights still face severe backlash for even attempting to express solidarity with the victims of Israeli expansionism. And it’s no wonder, really. After all, our next president (does anyone doubt at this point that Trump is throwing the election?) enthusiastically lends her unconditional support to Israeli atrocities and shamelessly demonizes anyone who dares speak out against them.

Toward the end of her speech to AIPAC, Clinton quoted the late Elie Wiesel (side note: read this), who apparently asserted that “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” And how right he was, as every Palestinian living in Gaza or the West Bank will tell you.