On April 5, 2019, there was an op-ed published in the Daily called “Real justice in Palestine” that attempted to portray Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) as hypocritical for hosting a drag show as part of its “Deadly Exchange” campaign. It engaged in quite a lot of victim-blaming of innocent Palestinians, stereotypical discrimination and rampant Islamophobia in the form of an op-ed that the Daily never should have published in the first place.
The Deadly Exchange campaign rose up again this year in order to hold the Tufts administration accountable for sending Director of Public and Environmental Safety and Tufts University Police Department (TUPD) Kevin Maguire to Israel for “counter-terrorism training,” after the trip was brought to the campus’ attention last year in a Daily article. According to past itineraries from these “National Counter Terrorism Seminars,” officers have visited prisons where children are killed and the Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank. The Boston Police Department (BPD) also attended this counterterrorism trip which is especially concerning because, only last year, the Boston Globe revealed that BPD was using social media spyware, Geofeedia, to track Muslim-identifying individuals in the Boston area. If police departments that attend these trips in Israel are also surveilling Muslims, who is to say that TUPD is not doing the same to brown and black students on campus? If students of color and minority groups on campus already feel targeted by our police, and there are known instances of racial profiling of black students by TUPD at student events, including instances of TUPD officers parking outside of the Africana and Women’s Center potentially with the intent of surveilling them, then of course, military training makes students feel less safe.
The writers of that article, who completely ignore the rampant racism that is infiltrating Tufts’ campus, sought to diminish the importance of the Deadly Exchange campaign. The audience of their op-ed was liberal students who are uninformed about the Israel-Palestine conflict. The authors spewed hatred against marginalized groups in the form of lies that cannot be backed up in order to fuel their perspectives.
Now, if there are some people who disagree with what I’ve just said and thought the op-ed had plenty of evidence to back it up, let’s examine the content of the article. We have established what the Deadly Exchange actually is, so let me explain my concerns with Islamophobia. The writers call SJP’s use of a drag show “tone-deaf” since there are anti-LGBTQ practices in Sharia Law, but what’s even more tone deaf is to call Israel “an oasis of LGBTQ rights in the Middle East.” Israel is not an oasis. It’s another arid part of the homophobic desert. To criticize the government of Hamas for being homophobic when same-sex marriage is illegal in Israel is inherently biased. In fact, in only 2017, Israel’s high court rejected the National LGBTQ Task Force’s petition to make same-sex marriage legal, and Israel ranks low in tolerance of LGBTQ people compared to 17 other countries, according to the European Social Survey. Additionally, in 2005, Israel’s Foreign Ministry started a marketing campaign called “Brand Israel,” which was intended to rebrand the country’s image as “modern” but tokenized LGBTQ people in order to further The Israel Project’s agenda of stressing Israel’s “commitment to peace and democracy.” The New York Times released an op-ed from Sarah Schulman, an opinion columnist, which said that the Israeli government paid for an international campaign to boost Tel Aviv as “an international gay vacation destination.” The Israeli government seems to be regularly used as the one and only source for New York Times articles. The growing movement to brand Israel as a modern hub of gay life, which has been called “pinkwashing,” hides the violations and abuses of Palestinian human rights. These tactics ignore the fact that homosexuality has been decriminalized in the West Bank since 1951, ignore the existence of Palestinian gay-rights activist organizations, ignore LGBTQ and Muslim-identifying individuals, and ignore their allies.
This is not to say that life for LGBTQ individuals is easy in Palestine, but that it is hard anywhere. Not only is it hypocritical to say Israel is a oasis for gay life, but it is also Islamophobic to then say that “[Sharia Law’s] fundamentalist interpretations have resulted in the persecution of LGBTQ people elsewhere in the Muslim world.” Assuming that Muslim populations are somehow more queerphobic than any other demographic or that religion plays into anti-Arab and anti-Muslim ideologies that are completely unsubstantiated and racist. Homophobia is prevalent, widespread and disgusting — no matter the extent and who perpetuates it. Homophobia exists everywhere, and queer resistance exists everywhere. Whether LGBTQ people are not allowed to marry, or whether they are prosecuted, homophobia is real. We shouldn’t be comparing Israel and Muslim countries as ‘better’ or ‘worse’ because there is simply no scale when gay rights are fundamental human rights.
Regarding the authors’ viewpoints on Hamas, the most important thing to note here is that criticizing Israeli apartheid does not equal support for Hamas, and criticizing Israel does not equal antisemitism. I was at the event with Lama and Amel Abed, a mother and her daughter from Gaza City, who spoke about the struggle of their daily lives, dealing with the violent Israeli police force and oppressive apartheid wall. A Tufts student disrespectfully asked them a question about living under “Hamas’ authoritarian regime,” which their chaperone declined to let them answer. This question was not only insensitive to the guests, but also a red herring, as the main topic of discussion and threat to Palestinians’ human rights is Israeli violence. Their government is clearly flawed — not everything the Hamas government does is in the interest of the citizens there, just like not everything any government does is in the interest of their people. An individual is not the same as their government, and there are plenty of people here who don’t think that President Donald Trump and our current government represent them, so why are we applying an unfair standard to innocent Palestinians? Instead, let’s discuss the fact that the number one thing Palestinians are facing right now is the 11-year Israeli blockade on Gaza and Israel’s crimes against humanity, like shooting unarmed Palestinians. In 1947, the United Nations voted to split the land into two countries, and Palestinians, who saw the plan as a push to get them off of their land, rejected it. The UN partition had promised Israel 56% of British Palestine, but Israel took 77%. This left Israelis with their own state, and Palestinians with nothing.
According to Amnesty International, “two million Palestinian people are living under an illegal blockade imposed on Gaza … they can’t enter or leave Gaza freely, to see family or friends or even to get life-saving medical care.” Israel claims that they are defending their civilians, but Palestinians are killed every week for peacefully requesting to return to their homes. The United Nations reported that 189 Palestinians were killed last year in the Gaza demonstrations that happened every Friday, where Palestinian refugees and their descendants seek to end the economic blockade that suffocates their people and reclaim their rightful property.
Just like the U.S. needs to be held accountable for the colonization of Native Americans, let’s not shy away from making Israel take responsibility for human rights violations in Palestine. Settler colonialist states, like the United States and Israel, do not create space to imagine what a ‘free Palestine’ looks like. So, let’s talk about all the historical injustices Palestinians have been put through and make up for those first before we start writing articles like “Real justice in Palestine.”