Op-ed: University politics when it’s convenient

On Wednesday, April 22, the Office for Campus Life (OCL) awarded Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) the Student Organization Collaboration Award in recognition of the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-racial coalition of activists we built as part of our campaign to end the Deadly Exchange at Tufts. We are deeply disappointed that instead of celebrating SJP’s coalition building, activism and fight for social justice across cultural, racial, ethnic, religious, socioeconomic and international boundaries, the Tufts administration, in a statement by University President Anthony Monaco, Provost and Senior Vice President Nadine Aubry, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences James Glaser, Dean of Student Affairs ad interim Nancy Thompson and Dean of the School of Engineering Jianmin Qu, launched a disparaging, shameful smear campaign. In their statement, they stated that they “strongly disapprove of this award in light of SJP’s concerning policy positions, including its association with the [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)] movement, elements of which [they] view as anti-Semitic.” We embrace the call for BDS; therefore, by describing BDS as antisemitic, the university is also accusing SJP of antisemitism.

SJP’s policy positions and work are focused on raising awareness of the many injustices that Palestinians face in their daily lives, supporting the BDS movement and ending the Deadly Exchange. These are not “concerning policy positions”; they actively pursue peaceful pressure on Israel to protect and reclaim the human rights of Palestinians.

As Palestinians, Arabs and people of color (POC) from all different backgrounds and religions, we believe that we can speak for many of the marginalized students on campus when we say that we do not feel safe. The Tufts administration’s actions show that the identity of Palestinian students is not accepted on this campus, that activism and advocacy for some people goes unheard and can even be punished and that expressing Palestinian voices is antisemitic. In addition, the administration’s statements have caused us to suffer from racist and Islamophobic attacks from social media trolls and publications.

While the campaign to end the Deadly Exchange at Tufts affects many students, it affects black, indigenous and POC communities the most. With no transparency, former Tufts University Police Chief Kevin Maguire attended a military and law enforcement training trip in Israel. During these trips, police officials, such as Maguire, have met with the Israeli Defense Forces, Israel National Police and other defense organizations which have harassed, incarcerated, tortured and discriminated against Palestinians, many of them children. These officials were also taught Israeli “counterterrorism” tactics, which historically include racial-profiling, state-sanctioned violence against civilians, expanding surveillance and forceful repression of public protests. Even worse, some of the fatal police shootings that have happened in America are through the departments that have sent their officers on this Deadly Exchange trip. While this does not mean these trips are the sole cause of harmful police forces, it is clear that police brutality and racial profiling should not be encouraged, taught or tolerated. Ending the Deadly Exchange is consistent with the goals of the BDS movement that seeks to ensure the safety and rights of the Palestinian people.

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There is a bigger picture in which this trip affects all of us. This is not just about Israel — the referendum we are introducing into the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate calls for the end of all foreign military training trips for the Tufts University Police Department (TUPD), not just trips to Israel. Allowing TUPD to be a military-trained police force is not going to combat terrorism or make us safer, nor is it the best use of Tufts’ time and money. Rather, this trip causes police officers to become desensitized to violence, arms discrimination and racial-profiling against POC students on campus. Police officers should be trained to protect communities. Militaries are trained to fight against an enemy. When our police are trained by the military, we have to ask ourselves: Who will they treat as the enemy?

At these “counter terrorism” seminars, police witness and learn harsh and discriminatory military tactics that have been practiced on Palestinians. Palestinians have constantly had Israeli police authorities unreasonably target them. Now they are treated like zoo animals as police authorities from around the world attend seminars to learn tactics that have been practiced on them. In addition, Israel is under investigation for its alleged war crimes against the Palestinian people. Would you feel safe under the protective gaze of a police force trained by military and security authorities that are being investigated for war crimes against your people? We know that we do not.

We are disappointed by the fact that Tufts has chosen to go out of its way to defend an ideology that is predicated on the erasure of Palestinian culture and identity. Zionism is a modern political ideology that advocates for the establishment of a Jewish state in historic Palestine, with its leaders affirming from its inception that a Jewish state necessitates strategies of demographic engineering such as population transfer. Even today, the municipality of Jerusalem pursues a policy of demographic engineering that aims to prevent Palestinians from exceeding 40% of the city’s population. This broader strategy of demographic engineering manifests in a variety of ways — most notably, by making life for Palestinians as difficult as possible to encourage emigration. Since 1967, Israel has demolished over 25,000 Palestinian homes in Gaza and the West Bank, displacing over 160,000 residents, and has uprooted over 800,000 olive trees to disrupt the economic livelihoods of some 80,000 families who rely on the harvest for their income. The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Adalah, hosts a database of over 65 laws in Israel that directly and indirectly discriminate against Palestinian citizens of the state. A more recent and egregious effort to further cement this reality of discrimination came in 2018 with Israel’s passage of the Nation-State Law, which denies non-Jewish people “the right to exercise national self-determination.” Palestinians have resisted the colonization of their homeland and the brutalization of their people for decades amidst imprisonment, massacre, land expropriation and so much more. President Monaco’s statement is another example of Palestinian struggles being dismissed and the voices of Palestinians and their allies who have been marginalized being ignored. Now, more than ever, Palestinians need their allies to show up and resist alongside them.

The 2005 call for BDS was a reflection of that need for solidarity around the world. The BDS call is widely supported, including at Brown University where, after student outcry, the university has already begun the process of divesting from companies “identified as facilitating human rights violations in Palestine” by passing a recommendation in the university’s Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Practices. The support spans many Palestinian civil society organizations and is even present at Tufts University where the TCU Senate overwhelmingly voted to pass a resolution in support of BDS at Tufts in 2017. It is an effort to pressure Israel to respect the basic human rights of the Palestinian people and comply with international law — nothing more, nothing less. It is a movement modeled after the rich mosaic of struggles for liberation throughout history, such as the Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa. Amid Israel’s continued violation of human rights, with impunity, the BDS movement’s fundamental demands for freedom, justice and equality have been recognized as such, drawing support from student governments, trade unions, labor unions, academic associations, churches and even celebrities around the world. People of conscience around the world are standing up to declare that BDS is a non-violent movement for justice. Today, Israel has violated the most United Nations Security Council resolutions of any country in the world.

Attempts to smear BDS as antisemitic rise from the fear that giving Palestinians equal rights would lead to the “destruction of the state of Israel” due to a large number of Palestinians who are currently being denied their rights. These smears attempt to delegitimize a legitimate human rights movement by undercutting its motivations and are a common tactic used to suppress the voice of marginalized and oppressed groups. For example, Colin Kaepernick and other NFL football players were slandered as unpatriotic and unamerican for kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and to fight for gun control, women are smeared as bossy, stubborn and hormonal when pushing for women’s rights reforms and advocates against wars and interventionism are smeared as terrorist sympathizers.

Tufts SJP condemns any and all antisemitic and racist beliefs and actions. SJP seeks to give a voice to the Palestinian people as well as their basic human rights and freedoms. We not only advocate for the rights of the Palestinian people, but we support rights, justice and freedom for all. The administration’s statement distracts from the real issue of antisemitism on campus and absolves university leadership from its responsibility of addressing it. We reject the university’s false accusation of antisemitism that distracts from the actual fight against antisemitism, silences the voices of marginalized communities and erases the fight for Palestinian liberation.

We are truly grateful for all the support and solidarity SJP has received over the past few weeks. We encourage all who support freedom and rights for all people to send an email to the Tufts administrators and ask them to revoke their statement. This is an act of solidarity, not only with SJP but with all the student organizations supporting SJP and all marginalized communities on and off campus. Our Facebook statement has an email template as well as other ways to show support. We will continue this fight together to pressure the administration to retract their statement and issue a public apology.


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