USC Lecture: Why Palestine Matters to American Studies

Viet Thanh Nguyen, along with other USC professors and graduate students, come together to host a lecture on Palestinian liberation and the importance of including Palestinian Studies in pedagogy amidst the global Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Read transcript below.

Sarah: I’d like to begin with some opening remarks and then turn things over to our panel. We come together today as professors and graduate students with different ranks and areas of expertise to urge you to be involved in the global movement to support Palestinian liberation. A precondition for a liberation is the demand to stop the killing and naming of Palestinians by the Israeli apartheid state. The human rights violations that make up the Israeli apartheid structure, rigid segregation, systematic oppression and domination, denial of political rights, draconian restrictions on movement, and seizure of property, to name a few have been well documented by Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem among other organizations.

Sarah: Their reports underscore that while there is a cease fire in place, the underlying conditions degrading Palestinian life remain unchanged. In the latest spectacular round of violence disproportionately inflicted on the densely populated area of Gaza, Israeli bombardment killed 241 Palestinians and displaced over 90,000 people from their homes, they remain besieged and blockaded. As SC university discusses its restart plan after a year of COVID and as it seeks to implement the calls for justice of the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police one year ago today. We call on all academic to recognize that the disruption to education has been a daily fact of life for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and subjected to its violence. The brutal bombing campaign on Gaza by the Israeli military damaged 51 educational facilities, upending the population’s access to education and indeed their lives.

Sarah: It is routine for Palestinian teachers to have their students shot, teargassed, and disabled by Israeli police and military. What is happening in Gaza, in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and other parts of historic Palestine is not new. It is part of an ongoing project of dispossession enacted by the Israeli state upon Palestinians. It has been continuous for 73 years. Writing in 1977, that is 44 years ago, Palestinian scholar Ibrahim Abu-Lughod wrote, “Quite clearly, Israel is a colonial settler country. It is similar and dissimilar from other known settler societies.” We are calling on teachers and educators across the university to make Palestine part of your pedagogy. Palestine is not only a topic for Middle East scholars and Arab Americanists, it is also an American studies issue. Ethnic studies organizations within the American studies have been at the forefront of calls for solidarity with the Palestine freedom struggle. The central commitments of the field, including the transformation of knowledge production and the dismantling of racist and sexist systems of inequality are Palestinian issues. Residences and connections between Palestine and American studies are everywhere.

Sarah: If you teach about restrictive covenants that denied Black and Asian residents access to home ownership in major U.S. cities, you can teach about Palestine and the way the Israeli legal system expels Palestinians from their rightful homes. If you teach about migration, incarceration, and border policing, you can teach about Palestine where mobility is so constrained by hundreds of checkpoints and bypass roads. The Palestinians liken their experience to being in an open-air prison. If you teach about ethnic cleansing and settler colonialism, you can teach about Palestine. If you teach about joy that emanates in spaces of creative resistance to oppression, you can teach about Palestine.

Sarah: You can teach about Palestine, not by claiming an expertise that you do not have, but by engaging with close to 100 years of scholarship and knowledge production by Palestinians and allied non-Palestinian scholars who have produced a vibrant literature across the humanities and social sciences. We know that many of you already do, but there is so much work to be done across every department of our university. Here’s why it matters. Avoiding Palestine because it’s too complicated or out of self-censorship contributes to a dispersive practice in which Palestinians are erased. It further dehumanizes them and renders their suffering into passive voice and newspaper headlines that refuse to name the aggressor. Avoiding Palestine allows Israeli propaganda to continue to dominate the narrative based on false equivalencies and both sideism. The USC administration claims it wants to be at the forefront of anti-racist pedagogy that bolsters inclusion and equity.

Sarah: How can it be when students who are allied with the Palestinian anti-apartheid struggle are marginalized, harassed, and censored? How can it be when a major student organization on campus proudly supports students undertaking birthright Israel as, “A once in a lifetime opportunity for Jewish college students to go to Israel for a ten-day free trip.” While Palestinians living under Israeli occupation are dehumanized, caged, and brutalized. It’s time for this university to acknowledge and redress the harm it has caused by being silent in the face of Palestinian dispossession. Today, we seek to amplify the voices of those who are working in solidarity in shared struggle for Palestinian freedom.

Sarah: I turn now to our panelists who will speak on a range of topics, including Palestine and ethnic studies, academic freedom, the moral imperative of the Boycott Sanctions and Divestment movement, and youth mobilization in Jerusalem. Our first presenter is Sulafa Zidani, who just finished her PhD dissertation in communication at the Annenberg school at the University of Southern California, where she studies global creative practices in digital civic engagement. She’s the co-editor of the forthcoming and anthology the Intersectional Internet II: Power, Politics and Resistance Online. Sulafa is defending her dissertation tomorrow and will start a position as Assistant Professor of Global Civic Media at MIT’s Comparative Media Studies department in the fall. Sulafa.

Sulafa Zidani: Hi everyone. Thank you, Sarah, for the space and for that introduction. I’m going to be sharing my screen. Let me see. Are you all able to view my screen?

Sarah: Yes.

Sulafa Zidani: Three Bus Lines. So I was racking my brain about what to talk about today, and I figured that the best would be to take you on a few bus rides with me. I’ve been a student most of my life, and I had to take money buses. And as Sarah mentioned, today is my last day as a student, since I’m going to be defending my dissertation tomorrow. So we’ll be making some stops and revisiting some fragments of my memories of home. So this is going to be my personal experience of being Palestinian in the state of Israel. We start on Line 19, a route I took frequently when I studied for my MA. My first stop was on Mount Scopus, southern in Burwood, the mount of the onlookers, maybe the mount of surveillance, the main campus of my alma mater, the Hebrew university of Jerusalem.

Sulafa Zidani: In my China studies and communication programs, I was the only Palestinian in classrooms full of IDF soldiers. When my friend Hannah visited from the U.S., she remarked that the campus looked like a stormed spaceship that landed on our planet. Out of place indeed, my university on my stolen land. At the amphitheater behind the law library, one could cast their gaze all the way to the shores of the Dead Sea. Step off campus and you find on one side, the Mount of Olives [foreign language 00:09:23] in Arabic, land seized in 1967 and converted into a military base. And on the other side, a microcosm of the Israeli pastoral state, the heavily policed neighborhood of Isawiya. In a few stops, the line rudely arrives in Sheikh Jarrah, it makes less stops in this East Jerusalem neighborhood, but now the whole world means. I’ve been in to one of these home zones, was it bad and cold? Truthfully, I cannot remember which family I visited because Sheikh Jarrah families have been battling settlers taking over their homes for as long as I can remember.

Sulafa Zidani: I must have been 18 or 19, when my activist friends took me along with them to visit a house half-occupied by settlers, the Palestinian family lived in the other half. And this was supposed to be some kind of ordinary. We sat, we drank some tea, it felt like a vigil, and then we left. During my MA I didn’t live in East Jerusalem, I lived near the Mahne Yehuda market that I frequented on my way home to get inspiration for cooking and be interrogated about my ethnicity. This was a predominantly Jewish and Orthodox religious neighborhood. At first, my landlord Nisi, a middle-aged Yemeni Jewish man didn’t want to rent to me. Fine, I retained it, I didn’t want to give my money to a racist anymore. But the Israeli filmmaker who was breaking his Lu to move out at the time was desperate. So Nisi agreed to interview me.

Sulafa Zidani: This involved me taking a train to Telavi where I sat in Nisi’s home with his wife and sister. “My sister’s intuitive,” he told me, “She looked into your eyes and she saw that you’re a good person.” I wonder if she could sense that they made me feel unsafe, but he added, “We can’t have an Arab tenant.” I told Nisi I wouldn’t lie to him, and that he either counts on me or he doesn’t fine. “Fine,” he said, “But your name has to be the only one on the lease.” I lived there for two years and Nisi started slowly lying to himself and to me, “It was never me, but the neighbors, they didn’t want an Arab in the building.” Nisi began to see himself as a peacemaker and as a hero. I brushed it off, “What’s the point?” Walking distance from my apartment in Mahne Yehuda was the main bus station in Jerusalem. Here, I could conveniently escape this abusive city to return home to Haifa, to breathe the air blowing in from the open horizon of the Mediterranean Sea and to eat some of my mother’s food.

Sulafa Zidani: I usually took the bus on Thursdays since the weekend in Israel is centered around Shabbat. Friday night until Saturday night, there’s no public transportation and everything is closed. Thursday was also the day. Many soldiers got to go home for the weekend. And regardless of your age, gender, or cuteness, these soldiers would aggressively shove you aside on their way in. I missed the bus at least twice because of this. I told myself that I had to make my elbow game stronger. Once, a soldier tried to flirt with me and honestly, I have nothing else to say about that, I shut it down pretty quickly. Line 940 took the new freeway called Highway 6, much of which Israel built by seizing Palestinian olive trees. The same type of olive trees whose bountiful harvest provides the olive oil my dad sends me once a year in recycled Coca-Cola bottles.

Sulafa Zidani: I’m still not sure if this is just his way to say he loves me, or if it’s his way of reminding me to stay connected to the Palestinian earth, to our culture, to our plan. The Zaydani’s are a proud bunch, I’ll tell you why. We love reminding people that we are descendants of Zahir al-Umar al Zaydani, an independent Palestinian leader who resisted Ottoman rule. The bus lurches to a stop at the main terminal. Unlike much of the buildings in the area, the terminal was there because the British said so, but at least it was next to the sea. I usually spent my weekends and Haifa doing laundry, eating mom’s food and hanging out with my sister and friends. And then I took line 940 back to Jerusalem to get ready for another week of school. But the last bus line I want to take with you today is one that I’ve never taken. Images, often circulate of this bus line between Haifa and Beirut or other bus lines between locations that for now are no longer connected.

Sulafa Zidani: Kuwait, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine. My generation has never been on this bus ride, but it’s part of our past and the future we dream of. My uncle Hamid used to drive to Lebanon all the time in the late ’70s. Auntie Fatima, who became his wife, lived there. While we sipped coffee in my father’s village in the gallery, auntie Fatima reminisces to us. I’d sit on the swing, outside my house every weekend, waiting for Hemi to come see me. Last week, I was talking to M and T, who has family in the West Bank and Gosling. She asked me what the oppression of Palestinians looked like in Haifa. We’re all oppressed differently, like our towns or dispossession is fragmented, it’s cut off. My British stepsister was in Beirut during the Second Lebanon War. She had been taking Arabic classes at the AUB when the war broke. Months later, my Israeli college friend Asaf would tell me he can’t sleep because he still has nightmares from his military service during that war. Unsympathetically I responded, “That’s what your government does to ESL and you have choices.”

Sulafa Zidani: My grandpa and his cousin went to school in Lebanon in the ’40s. In 1948, they came back to their village Shish to see their family. Instead, they found everybody massacred and their house in ruins. He and his cousin were the only two left. And why did I only hear about this six years after my grandpa’s death? In Israel, there’s a hill called screaming hill. Since the village is so close to the Lebanon order, families that were partitioned by the war would go to that hill and scream at each other from across the border. And I wonder what were the conversations that could never be uttered on the screaming hill?

Sulafa Zidani: So I want bus lines that connect our bookstores, our record stores, our artists. I want to commute from my home to a film debut or a music show. I want bus lines where people won’t move seats when they hear me speak Arabic. I want to ride a bus without soldiers, without the remnants of scorched and uprooted olive trees. Bus routes that uncle Hamid could take to visit auntie Fatima on the swing. I want a bus that connects home to Palestinian home, a bus that traces over the fragmentation of Israel and sketches out the fullness of the land that I call home. Thank you.

Sarah: Thank Sulafa.

Sulafa Zidani: Thanks Sarah.

Sarah: Yeah, our next presentation is from Layla Zbinden. Layla is a third year PhD student in American studies and ethnicity at USC. They are also a member of the Palestinian Youth Movement, an anti-Zionist grassroots, Arab and Palestinian led organization working towards the liberation of Palestine and the right of return for Palestinian exiles. I’ll turn the floor over to you Layla. Thank you.

Layla Zbinden: I want to first thank Sulafa for going. That was a really powerful introduction. I think starting with the personal and expanding out into the larger systemic is always a fantastic, beautiful entry point. So thank you for giving us that flesh to this thing that we’re talking about. So I’m going to focus on something a little bit different. I’ll be looking at kind of a timeline of more recent events and kind of why we’re thinking about Palestine now in this moment. What is the context that brought this panel together? What is the context that is really pushing us to make sure that Palestine gets taught in ethnic and American studies? So that is what I’m going to try and dive into.

Layla Zbinden: So first really briefly, I’m a member of PYM, which was introduced a few seconds ago. And so that’s kind of where my entry point to this is. I am going to be speaking primarily about not only what is going on, but how we know what’s going on in Palestine. And also what is being done on the ground here and on the ground there and the conversations happening between activists and organizers in Palestine right now and in the U.S. and abroad as well in other countries. So, that’s kind of where this is going to be situated. So to start off, I’ll show this brief one minute video, just to kind of introduce Sheikh Jarrah in its current context.

Speaker 1: You are stealing my house.

Yakub: And if I don’t steal it, someone else is going to steal it.

Speaker 1: No, no one is allowed to steal it. Yakub, you know this is not your house.

Yakub: Yes, but if I go, you don’t go back. So what’s the problem? Why are you yelling at me? I didn’t do this. I didn’t do this.

Speaker 1: But you-

Yakub: It’s easy to yell at me, but I didn’t do this.

Speaker 1: You are stealing my house.

Speaker 1: You are stealing my house.

Yakub: And if I don’t steal it, someone else is going to steal it.

Layla Zbinden: So to pull a few things from that out, I want to talk about the fact that it’s a hashtag #SaveSheikhJarrah, that’s really important. I want to highlight that this is seen as an ongoing Nakba, and we’re going to start there. So with Sheikh Jarrah, Israel has eminent plans to force Palestinian families out of of their homes and occupy East Jerusalem. It’s really critical, I think for everyone to understand that Israel, even if you’re looking at a liberal human rights framework, doesn’t have legal claims to East Jerusalem. Under UN law, they are quote unquote, “Relegated to west Jerusalem.” East is specifically designated for Palestinians, and that’s of course, understanding that all of Jerusalem should be for Palestinians. So any and all actions essentially taken by Israel challenges to challenge the status quo of East Jerusalem are unprecedented and illegal.

Layla Zbinden: Pushing families out of their homes is a war crime and the most basic ask is that these families have a right to stay in their homes, ousting them should not be allowed at all. So this is part of a larger plan for Israel to remove Palestinians from Jerusalem at large, which is a city where many Palestinians were born and raised or where many Palestinians moved to after being exiled from their towns and villages in other parts of Palestine. This is part of an ongoing Nakba. These families were often displaced once by the original Nakba in ’48 and are now being displaced again generations apart. So history of kicking Palestinians out of their homes is not an isolated incident, it is the act that founded Israel in the first place. So that is Sheikh Jarrah in a super brief nutshell.

Layla Zbinden: I’m going to go to what was happening in April and May in the Al-Aqsa mosque and during the end of Ramadan, which is the holiest month of the Islamic calendar. So at the Al-Aqsa mosque, Israeli police were attacking Palestinians in Jerusalem, including journalists, medics, children, worshipers. They were attacking with teargas and rubber chipped bullets and stun grenades. Al-Aqsa is the holiest site for Muslims in Palestine. And during the last ten days of Ramadan, the violence and vandalism escalated, which is significant because the last ten days of Ramadan are the holiest days of the month. It’s important to note that also on May 2nd, Israeli police also attacked and brutalized Orthodox Christian Palestinians who were celebrating Orthodox Easter. So I think the narrative that gets spun a lot is always Jews versus Muslims, but no it’s Israelis versus Palestinians at large, regardless of religion.

Layla Zbinden: So one of the things that came out as, I think the most shocking for the world to see online, was Israeli settlers marching through the streets chanting, “Death to Arabs.” Continuing to harass and brutalize Palestinians, breaking into homes, beating people up, by attacking streets with mobs. And it was very reminiscent of, I think a lot of the vices and things that we’ve seen in the U.S. The IDF obviously was very supportive of the mobs. And I think a lot of liberal people online were like, well, that’s the far right? It’s not real. It’s real, but we know that that is in fact very real.

Layla Zbinden: So the plan to sort of take over Al-Aqsa mosque is a plan to literally take it over, to erase its Islamic components and to reestablish it as a synagogue. And to do that would be to also erase more history and more claims to the land and to the city that Palestinians and Muslims have. So that is what happened towards the middle of May. Okay, so on May 9th, something that happened that was really important was Maryam Afifi was visibly… Or was arrested. And this was happening at a time where I think a lot of social media visibility was gaining. And I think most of us that follow what’s happening on the ground were following it via Instagram live, Instagram stories, live tweets, Facebook posts, etc. So when all of this started Maryam’s image of her being dragged by her hijab and smiling back at the camera, which she didn’t know was there, went viral. And it went viral at a really, I think unique point where because there was so much visibility around it, she was released I think almost the next day.

Layla Zbinden: And she didn’t know why she was being released until she got out and saw her picture all over the internet. And I want to tie this to the censorship that was happening at the same time. On the right of my screen, you’ll see a screenshot of my own Instagram. What was happening was that Instagram was going back and creating these blank gray spaces over what was previously stories or posts shared about Sheikh Jarrah and Palestine at large. So this censorship was happening deliberately, I would say, to make sure that the visibility that’s needed to keep Palestinians alive and safe or as safe as they can be, would be as limited and minimal as possible. The censorship is a way for Zionists to ensure that the atrocities of this video go unnoticed because when they are unnoticed it stops processes.

Layla Zbinden: Okay. So on May 12th, Gaza comes into the picture in a really mainstream way. Media shifted from Sheikh Jarrah and exiles to Gaza and Hamas. So this did two things. It really, really shifted emphasis publicly away, which I just said away from exiles and more towards this idea of terrorism. This unfolded in the media in really interesting ways where before you would have a protest or a rally and people would be interviewed and they’d be asked, “Okay, what is going on? What are you protesting?” After that, after May 12th in Gaza, it became why are you not condemning Hamas? Why are you on the side of terrorists? What about the two sides? Both sides are causing damage and pain when it ignores the entire reality. That one side is defending themselves against settler occupation and the other side has a literal military funded with billions of dollars.

Layla Zbinden: So this rhetoric of two sides on the other sides is happening at a time where Gaza is perpetually being bombed and perpetually being brutalized. And the instances where Palestinians are fighting back are so few and far between in terms of where they actually lead to death, like it’s not comparable. And so this is a really I think tired narrative that gets pushed, which minimizes the systemic violences that happen and create the context that, what policy needs to be in place for them to defend themselves? On May 15th, this was the 73rd anniversary of Nakba, the way that a lot of protests, which happen every year in the U.S. and around the world and a lot of Palestinian Arab diaspora communities hop in. It was framed as look, this is not something that’s in the past, this is something that we are still dealing with today, this is something that is still unfolding today. This is not a historic event, but an ongoing process that Palestinians are always subjected to.

Layla Zbinden: Then came May 18th. Palestinians in Palestine asked for a global strike. And so this was an instance where you have an ask from occupied land that is reverberated worldwide. And the strike led to a lot of protests and visuals that gained unprecedented visibility. I’m going to read a quote from the actual ask. It says, “We ask our people and allies in the diaspora, Palestinian and Arab organizations, unions, and social justice movements to heed the call for a day of action in

PART 1 OF 4 ENDS [00:29:04]

Layla Zbinden: Unions and social justice movements to heed the call for a day of action in support of the general strike of Palestine on Tuesday, May 18th, 2021. We urge you to join Palestinians in this global day of action by organizing actions at Israeli embassies and consulates holding vigils for Palestinians killed by apartheid Israel, releasing solidarity statements, and calling on your governments to enact sanctions to the apartheid State of Israel.

Layla Zbinden: On May 18th, the world really, really showed up. Tens of thousands showed up in protests from Pakistan to Turkey and Malaysia, the UK, Ireland, Syria, Jordan and San Diego specifically PYM and other Palestinian, Arab of organizations and solidarity orgs too, like Jewish Voice for Peace organized rallies across the country. LA had almost 25,000 people take the streets. New York had upwards of 50,000. In San Diego, which is where I’m based we had 1500, which is the most we’ve ever had for Palestinians in San Diego.

Layla Zbinden: I think this was a moment where this year number of people who are in solidarity or who are aware of the atrocities going on is more than like we’ve ever seen before in the U.S. Which takes us to May 20th, which is when the ceasefire was declared. PYM released a statement, that essentially acknowledged that, this is a step, it’s framed as a victory to have other countries intervene and say, “Stop killing each other.” It is a small victory, but it’s not the end of process, and we know that even though there is a ceasefire, more Palestinians are going to die. Israel still enact violence on marginalized people like this is, it’s not real in the ways that I think a lot of maybe people who aren’t so familiar with the conditions every day might think so.

Layla Zbinden: And then literally last night, as I was check to make sure this PowerPoint was up to date, Israel announced that they are launching an operation law and order. So, there’s a hashtag right now, #48underattack. 48 is referring to the Palestinians who live in what is like formally Israeli State. They have Israeli citizenship, but as apartheid so second class always. So, the declaration of, sorry… This Operation Law and Order is essentially where thousands of IDF soldiers are going to take the streets of 48 of Jerusalem and seize and incarcerate Palestinian youth that have been actively organizing and protesting violences in Gaza and SheikhJarrah and other neighborhoods. So this is like essentially it’s a mass sweep of anyone that’s politically outspoken and active.

Layla Zbinden: And it’s not just an attempt to intimidate and discipline, like the people who participated in this unity and uprising for justice and liberation, but it’s the settler Colonial’s project way of attempting to crush people’s spirits, resilience and resistance. Over 1400 people have already been arrested since May 9th. This would be an additional 200 people, sorry, 500 people to that 1400 already. And so that’s where we are right now. That is the most recent thing that is happening. And I think since the ceasefire, the visibility or the movement of like, Okay, this is an atrocity that needs to end has really died down enough that this operation law and order can unfold without much lashback. This is happening, I’m going to wrap up really quick, the same day that the US Secretary of Defense is in Palestine, attempting to do a peace deal of brokerage that we know is always going to uphold silence violence over Palestinian life. That’s my talk. Okay.

Sarah: Thank you, Layla. Thank you for that timeline it’s really important. And also, I just wanted to reiterate one of the key concepts and terms that you shared with our audience. It may not be familiar to many of you, but I want place it again in the space of the Zoom, which is the ongoing nakba, the ongoing catastrophe. So nakba is the Arabic word for catastrophe, which is how Palestinians refer to their dispossession in 1948 and the process in which they were made into refugees. So it’s very important that we hold onto that term and not think of it as a term that’s useful for the past, but as a term that must continue to be used and understood in our contemporary moment. Thank you, Layla. I turn now to Viet Thanh Nguyen who is a novelist and scholar who teaches literature and American studies at the University of Southern California.

Sarah: And although he was too modest to put it in his biographical a note to me, I will mention again that he is the 2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner for fiction for his novel, The Sympathizer. Thank you, Viet, I turned things over to you.

Viet Nguyen: Thank you, Sarah, for the opportunity to speak here in this company, and to have a chance to talk about Palestine and Asian American studies, which is my area. I think the first thing to know is that the Association for Asian American Studies passed a resolution in favor of BDS in 2013. And I believe we were the first US academic organization to pass that resolution, but Palestine has not always been at the forefront of Asian American studies thinking. So I just wanted to lead us through a genealogy of how the Association of Asian American Studies got to this point in 2013 and why Palestine has, I think now actually really has come to the forefront of a lot of Asian American studies thinking.

Viet Nguyen: And the root of it, I think is in the fact that for Asian American studies, one of our core texts is Edward Said’s Orientalism. The text that’s obviously rooted in Palestine, but that issue of Palestine itself was not something that Asian American studies was thinking about. Instead what Asian American studies focused on in Edward Said’s Orientalism was the argument about power and fantasy and the construction of the orient and orientals in the Western imagination, but Said was obviously talking about a particular version of Orientalism. He was dealing with British and French imperialism and their versions of Orientalism as applied and as came out of their experiences in the near and middle east or west and southwest Asia.

Viet Nguyen: He was focused on Arabs, north Africans, Muslims, but in Asian American studies, the adoption of his thinking of Orientalism turned the focus away from south and southwest Asia towards east and southeast Asia, part of the world that occupied only a small bit of Said’s Orientalism. You really have to turn to the afterward in Said’s Orientalism, where he starts talking about anti-Muslim representation in political and cultural discourse to see that there’s a brief mention of American Orientalism in the Vietnam War.

Viet Nguyen: But I think what he was drawing out there was that there was a distinct parallel between the ways that the United States was representing Vietnam and the Vietnamese, as well as other, southeast Asians during the course of the Vietnam War and in his Hollywood fantasies, that there would be a parallel between those kinds of representations and what the United States and other Western countries were doing to Muslims at the level of representation as well. So Asian American studies focus this view as an idea of Orientalism and has combined it for most of the history of Asian American studies with a focus on immigration, on the question of Asians coming to the United States as immigrants or as refugees.

Viet Nguyen: And in Asian American studies, what this has meant is that there’s been a particular direction of Asian American studies that has been dominant up until about 9/11. We’ll get to 9/11 in just a moment, but the emphasis before 9/11 in Asian American studies was very much on the questions of nation on belonging, on citizenship and on representation. With the construction of the Asian American, this sort of fictional political identity and political construct has being counter to the oriental. And some of the exemplary cases where we see the Asian, Asian American formation being put forth as a counter against orientalist ideas would be for example, in the production and Miss Sagon and in David Hwang’s Butterfly response to that. And in the narrative, for example, of Japanese Americans interned in concentration camps, the case of readjust and reparations, and the emphasis placed on Japanese American patriotism with Nisei soldiers during World War II. So this focus on nation and belonging, this is really powerful in Asian American studies throughout the 80s and the 90s and into the 2000s.

Viet Nguyen: But I think 9/11 really started to shift things for Asian American studies, because obviously with 9/11, we are forced to confront whether we went to or not ongoing questions of American imperialism, the history of colonialism, indigeneity and the question of decolonization. So with 9/11, obviously we start to see south Asians, Muslims, and Asians who appear to be south Asian or Muslim being targeted as a consequence of 9/11 in the rise of Islamophobia in the United States. So Asian American studies had to respond to this rise in Islamophobia, and this targeting of south Asians. And Asian studies had to think more about the inclusion of south Asians under the Asian American Coalition and how that would challenge and force Asian American studies to rethink some of its paradigms. And I think part of that means recognizing that south Asians bring with them the history of British imperialism and colonialism, which through 9/11 is going to be connected to American imperialism in the middle east and the ensuing forever war that takes place.

Viet Nguyen: So the questions of imperialism, colonialism and war are going to become more paramount in Asian American thinking, dis planting to a certain extent, this focus on nation, immigration and belonging. And I think there’s been an increase in recognition within the American studies of Asian Americans as not just being immigrants or refugees or transnationals, but as being settlers in a settler colonial society. So, so much of Asian American studies has been focused on this question of claiming belonging to the nation. And we still see it today in the rhetoric of many Asian Americans moment of stop Asian hate and standing up against anti-Asian violence, making a distinct claim to national belonging, but this claim to national belonging, implicates Asian Americans in settler colonialism, especially when we start to think about Asian Americans in their place, in the continental United States in relationship to indigenous populations, and also, especially in Hawaii and the Pacific Islands where Asian Americans may be a racial minority in the relationship to the continental United States, but are settlers in the case of Hawaii.

Viet Nguyen: So I think there are three factors that have brought Asian American studies increasingly closer to Palestine. One has been the question of war. Another one has been indigeneity and the third has been colonization. So the US forever war in the middle east, I think for me is clearly an extension of a century long campaign that the United States has waged in east and Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands that is now just continued expanding further westward into the middle east or southwest Asia. The US support for the Israeli military is I think increasingly impossible to avoid for Asian American studies and the recognition that there are parallel military tactics and strategies deployed by both the United States, military from Vietnam onwards, and deployed by Israel as well. So when I saw images of, IDF fighter jets, bombing, apartment buildings and office towers in Gaza, I couldn’t help, but think of US military tactics in Vietnam as well.

Viet Nguyen: This idea that would be possible to do these kinds of actions in total disregard of civilian life with a focus on some kind of larger military strategy in which it’s the Vietnamese or the Palestinians or the natives who have brought this violence upon themselves. I think there’s also increasing recognition following on Steven’s latest work, that Palestinians are an indigenous population occupied by Israel, supported by the United States as a settler colonial society, in which again, Asian Americans are implicated. So Asian American resistance to US settler colonialism has to extend to Israeli settler colonialism and Palestinians as well. And back to Said as way of inclusion, Said has been recognized as the founder of post colonialism, but as anyone who’s followed the thinking around postcolonial studies over the last couple of decades understands the post and post colonialism is rather optimistic. And what I think, Said really needs to be recast or rethought of as a critic, not of postcolonialism, but it’s a critic of ongoing colonization. And to counter this, we need decolonization. And this decolonizing impulse in my view must also be the heart of any kind of Asian American studies project. Thanks.

Sarah: Thank you so much, Viet. And I just wanted to return to something you mentioned at the beginning of your remarks, which was the resolution passed by the Asian American Studies Association. I believe you said in 2013 in support of the boycott divestment and sanctions movement. There have so many statements issued very recently by academic organizations and indeed by north American universities. But it’s important that we think about the prehistory of these statements, including the one that Viet mentioned at the beginning of his presentation. I turn now to our colleague in American studies, Adrian De Leon, who is an assistant professor of American studies and ethnicity, where he studies the histories of indigeneity and migrant labor from the Philippines and across the Pacific. He is the author of two poetry collections and co-editor of a literary anthology and is the co-host of the PBS mini series, a people’s history of Asian American. Adrian, welcome.

Adrian De Leon: Thank you. Today I’m going to speak on settler colonialism and the idea of diasporic return. The State of Israel plunders the land of the Palestinian people. And in that plunder settlers argue for a rightful claim to the eighty five fifty square miles they call Israel. Through settler genealogy they claim birthright to the territory and the monopoly to root themselves onto Palestinian land by uprooting its indigenous people on the declaration of ancestral right. To the law, settlers lay claim to the right of return as Oleh officially as immigrants, but more specifically as a return diaspora. A people once dispersed from their ancestral homeland who have now “come home”. In ethnic studies, we pride ourselves in studying diasporic life. But what if diasporic return particularly non-indigenous capital I return migrates through the infrastructures of empire. We write on diaspora and the wake of its early etymology Jewish dispersion from the Roman conquest of Palestine and two millennia of longing for the homeland.

Adrian De Leon: But what are the violent realities inscribed into those dreams of homeland return? And what if that homeland is built on stolen land? We broadly understand settler colonialism through what Australian scholar Patrick Wolf has called the logic of elimination. That is the systemic liquidation of indigeneity to the varied strategies of genocide, assimilation, displacement, and colonial uprooting, but to paraphrase indigenous feminists, the logic of eliminations does not quite capture the affect of relationship of the diaspora to a settler colonial homeland. As Goenpul scholar, Aileen Moreton-Robinson and Kānaka Maoli scholar, Maile Arvin clarify the central logic of settler colonialism is not just elimination, but the creation of casts of humanity that hold property, become property, or are inevitably property lists, specifically settler colonialism operates through a logic of possession, the claim to possess stolen land and water. The claim to gentrify Palestinian towns, the claim to the free use of Palestinian dwellings, Palestinian culture, Palestinian labor, Palestinian food, Palestinian ideas, Palestinian death, and Palestinian life.

Adrian De Leon: The claim to making better use of Palestinian land, the Palestinians themselves, the claim of a settler state to minoritized the indigenous people of the territories that occupies the claim to the biopower of a necropower over so-called Arab citizens of Israel. The claim to stolen land as homeland. I want to pause on the homeland. When the modern State of Israel claims to be the transhistorical Jewish homeland, the practices behind that claim are settle colonial. As a spacial practice, its borders cannibalize the rightful homes of Palestinians from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. It gazes upon Palestinian dwellings and declares them terranullia. It follows those gazes with conscripted terror squads of gentrification, which have chipped away at the formal borders of the Oslo Accords. It makes and remake an ongoing nakba into the enclosures of so-called settlements. It deploys courts and laws like the 1970 legal and an administrative matters law to hand Israelis the property of Palestinians.

Adrian De Leon: To quote a prominent Zionist it demolishes before it constructs. As a temporal practice it makes trans historical claims to an originally displacement that supersedes the dispossessions of today. The imagined homeland to which the diasporic returns is caught in a time before and beyond history. And the material destination of that return is built on stolen Palestinian land. And as a biopolitical practice, the settler state perpetuates, anti-miscegenation laws, grants birthright citizenship to new Israelis and their descendants conscripts every Jewish Israeli of age and deploys them for the protection of the fatherland. The birthright and the right to return are predicated on the settlers claim to the right to kill as IDF soldiers, as settlers, as terror squads, as police, as gentrifiers, as swaths of Jacobs from Long Island stealing the dwellings of Palestinians. In the case of Israel from the onset of Zionist Movement through the 1948 Nakba until today, that diasporic imagined community is an ethnonationalism that builds an aspirational ethnostate and thus the imagined community of that homeland circulated through the transnational sinews of diaspora is the affective fuel that energizes the ongoing dispossession of Palestinian people.

Adrian De Leon: And I say fuel because this imaginary literally mobilizes diesel, steel, capital, labor, construction, equipment, police, and settlers, to sustain the infrastructures of such an aspirational ethnostate. On July 5th, 1950, the Knesset passed the law of return, which grants a visa to “every Jew who has expressed his desire to settle in Israel unless they are engaged in an activity directed against the Jewish people,” likely to endanger public health or the security of the state. Since then almost 50 million of annual capital have been pumped into a veritable birthright industry. Also since 1950, the terms of Jewishness included in the law of return have been expanded beyond Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law. And as a consequence holders of tourist visas and birthright returners have more rights than Palestinians in their own homes.

Adrian De Leon: The law of returns primary motivation as is diasporic return then is settler colonialism. And the broad coalition of us based professions we now call ethnic studies, many of us, right on, and from disperse communities and there, and our relationship to myriad homelands, Asian American history calls this the two shores approach. American study is calls this the transnational term. Speaking to non-indigenous diasporic people we must reckon then with how the manufactured affective relationship with imagined homelands materially works to dispossess indigenous people in those places. And by looking at global diasporas, including the transits we capture in our field of ethnic studies, we see how the settler colonial imaginary that fuels the dispossession of Palestinians might operate in what other diasporic communities have come to call the home country or the homeland.

Adrian De Leon: Following the late 20th century hardening of ethnostate projects fueled by the violent potential of settler colonial longing for a return migration, it is no coincidence then that on November 26th, 2002, George W. Bush weaponized the Homeland and the first move of launching a trans border endless “war on terror” was the declaration of an endless war on the domestic front maintained through what he called a Department of Homeland Security empowered by the settler state’s co-optation of imperial blow back as an injury to a white ethnonational community. 9/11 de spatial harm to the unbridled phallic verticality of the financial capital of the world, the cosmological synchronization of national trauma and the Fana political post 9/11 regime of ethnic cleansing from Islamophobia to indigenous genocide, to the mass murders of black people and anti-Asian violence, to the incarceration of trans oceanic and hemispheric refugees, to the exacerbated inequities of neoliberal capitalism under the COVID-19 pandemic to birth certificates to ICE, to DNA tests, to passports the biopolitical declaration of a 21st century American Homeland.

Adrian De Leon: Recall that our fields declared our transnational turns in the wake of this imperial nativism, therefore scholars of American Studies and Ethnic Studies must center Palestine and global indigenous sovereignty in our work because our questions of diaspora and homeland must participate in global anticolonial struggle. In the ongoing catastrophe of exile that is in the ongoing Nakba.

Adrian De Leon: The Palestinian people not only have a right to return home, but that return is at its core a decolonial return. The liberation of Palestine and solidarity movements therein must imagine an anticolonial future that can bring global Palestinian’s home. It must trace an anti-imperial infrastructure of transit that all ultimately sustains Palestinian life and from here, the lives of invited guests, including Jewish guests, invited into the dwellings of the homeland, imagined and declared on Palestinian terms. And lastly, it must overthrow the settler colonial regimes, that perpetuate Israeli apartheid, the carve color lines into the bloodied and bountiful earth. Thank you.

Sarah: Thank you, Adrian, for that powerful commentary. And thank you most especially for underscoring the fuel, the material world that underscores and sustains the ethnonationalist project, that is the State of Israel. Thank you, and I know you have to, at some point soon step out to teach, so we are very privileged to have you been with, be with us. I turn now to Professor Laurie Brand, who has chaired the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association for 15 years, specialized in inter-era politics. She has just retired from her position as the Robert Grantford Wright professor of international relations in middle east studies at USC. Laurie, I turn the floor over to you.

Laurie Brand: Thank you, Sarah. And thank you to everyone who’s participating and to all who are in the audience. So, as the chair of the Middle East Studies Associations Committee on Academic Freedom, I wanted to use my time today to highlight some of the threats to academic freedom, that those who work on Palestine and or Palestinian rights have had to face. Now, some might think that this is an issue or problem only for a certain part of the community of middle east studies students and scholars. For those, I would say that’s important to keep two things in mind. One is that academic freedom should be viewed as indivisible in the sense that infringement on the right of some is in fact, a threat to all regardless of the area in which one will works. Second and a number of my predecessors in speaking today have highlighted this, the current movement underway among activists concerned with combating racism, discrimination, and injustice against indigenous people and people of color as this is growing and as it’s becoming, as people are hearing it in a new way, and as it’s asserted itself with greater visibility have been allowed greater visibility.

Laurie Brand: The forms of solidarity across groups, including the Palestinians now have continue to grow and so one would anticipate that the number or in range of students and faculty likely to be targeted by attacks may also increase. Now, there have been, and there are today, a variety of organizations, websites, initiatives, that engage in different kinds of attempts at intimidation of those who study or engage in campus advocacy work on Palestine. I want to focus on one in particular, that is Canary Mission, but I also want to highlight several others that have had important roles in the past or continuing roles today. Just briefly, Canary Mission is a secretive, but clearly non-academic political organization that uses its website to engage in defamatory attacks against college students who advocate for Palestinian rights student and other organizations that are engaged with this issue and faculty who teach or speak publicly about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of, or from perspective that those who have founded and operate Canary Mission oppose.

Laurie Brand: In part, this is not new, for decades pro-Israel advocacy groups, many based outside the university have sought not only to influence how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is taught and discussed on campuses, but also to stifle education on and activism and support of Palestinian rights on campus. Over the years, those of us working in this field have seen many high profile, others perhaps less high profile, but certainly disturbing defamatory attacks on educators and researchers. Some of us have been targets of those attacks directly. And a number of these organizations have engaged in what amount to blacklist practices through a number of websites, initiatives, projects, and institutions. So I want to mention here several of these previous initiatives or institutions or websites, just to give a sense of what has gone on in the past. It’s also important to mention that those have been targeted are not-

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Laurie Brand: To mention that those who have been targeted are not by any means limited in their ethnicity. I mean, there are Arabs, Arab-Americans, American and Israeli Jews, and a range of others who have participated in Palestine teaching and research and activism. They’ve all been subject to targeting by these organizations. And in fact, one that began quite a while ago, Masada 2000, target particularly Israel Jews, American Jews, and other Jewish professors who it labeled as self-hating, Israel threatening. And if you take the first letters from each of those four words, you can see what kind of a list they claimed they were putting together. Their Facebook page appears no longer to be active, but it claims to carry the names of over 7,000 people that it has listed as self-hating and Israel threatening. Another organization in the Middle East forum is a conservative American think tank, which was founded in 1990 by Daniel Pipes.

Laurie Brand: Perhaps it’s best known for the website and project that it initiated, which monitors faculty research and university programming, it’s called campus watch. According to its website, campus watch reviews and critiques Middle East studies in North America with an aim to improving them. What it’s clear that campus watch does do is that it encourages students and faculty to submit reports about college professors and specifically about their views regarding Israel and Israeli policies. In 2002 campus watch created a controversy when it compiled these reports into dossiers on individual professors at institutes of higher learning in the US, in which it then detailed their supposedly anti-Israel statements.

Laurie Brand: It then posted these dossiers online and then many of these professors who have been profiled were subjectively harassed with emails and phone calls and so on for their views, for the content of their teaching and statements in the media. This particular initiative by campus watch was condemned broadly for engaging in what were clearly McCarthy [inaudible 01:00:10] forms of intimidation. Another series of institutions, they’ve had several names. The David Horowitz Freedom Center is the current one, and it has engaged in publishing, calling out professors, academic institutions and organizations that they charge with either supporting terrorism or antisemitism, opposition to American values and so on.

Laurie Brand: One of the best known of these, which was by the predecessor to the freedom center, was a 2006 book entitled The Professors, the 101 most dangerous academics in America. The majority of those professors who were listed were working on the Middle East, many on Palestine, but not all of them. Some of them were engaged in critical studies of various sorts. The Southern Poverty Law Center described this center, this David Horowitz Freedom Center as a far-right organization and an anti-Muslim hate group. Another project, the David project, in 2004 produced a documentary film, which is entitled Columbia Unbecoming. The film interviewed pro-Israel students at Columbia University who had complained the professors had intimidated or been unfair to them over their political views. The release of that film then led to an inquiry. It also led to the subsequently disgraced US representative, Anthony Weiner to call for one of these professors who was involved, who was covered in the film, Mifsud to be fired. The inquiry found in effect no evidence for the complaints and the political motives of the students filing these complaints were then called into question.

Laurie Brand: The final initiative that I want to mention was established more recently, the Amcha Initiative, it’s an American campus group, and it calls itself an antisemitism watchdog group. It was founded in 2012 by a lecturer from UC Santa Cruz and a professor, [inaudible 01:02:01] from UCLA. In 2014, Amcha began compiling a list of professors who publicly supported the academic boycott of Israel, which Amcha equates with antisemitism, and whom therefore they seek to discredit or silence. Now before closing out this push on my remarks, I’ll just say that in 2011, the Center for American Progress published a comprehensive report on the links between these organizations and the rise of Islamophobia in the United States. And I would just say that while many of these organizations look interested in Islamophobia, there’s a great deal of overlap in organizations that promote Islamophobia and that also seek to discredit or intimidate those who are working on a Palestinian issues in Palestinian human rights.

Laurie Brand: Let me then turn to conclude with some remarks about Canary Mission in particular. What’s new and different about Canary Mission is that the primary targets of its campaign are students, rather than professors. And that makes it particularly insidious. It also is, though it… The people who run it, they’re carrying out its work of defamation in character, assassination remain completely anonymous. But it’s clear that they’re ideologically aligned with the far-right end of the Israeli political spectrum. I think it’s fair to say, with the far-right end at the American political spectrum as well. So Canary Mission first appeared in the Spring of 2015, with a series of online attacks on undergraduate student activists who had spoken out about the denial of Palestinians human rights.

Laurie Brand: Its website declares that it documents people and groups that promote hatred of USA, Israel and Jews on North American college campuses. As of 2018, I haven’t seen more recent statistics. It had profiled some 2000 individuals, mainly undergraduate and graduate students. Also some professors and organizations. Now it claims that every individual and organization that it profiles has been carefully researched and sourced, but in fact, Canary Missions profiles are filled with falsehoods, misrepresentations and errors. Its accusations that those that it targets are guilty of antisemitism support for terrorism and are hatred of the United States are particularly dangerous in the current climate. And certainly in previous climates. And despite repeated annunciations by faculty, Canary Mission continues to broadcast these false incendiary allegations about the student’s faculty, and organization at targets.

Laurie Brand: Now targeting anti-Semitism, combating anti-Semitism and combating terrorism may seem like reasonable goals. But in fact, those behind the website rely on very broad, vague and misleading definitions of anti-Semitism and for support for terrorism, in order to further what is actually a fairly narrow political agenda. So in effect, Canary Mission contends that any criticism of Israeli policy in the west bank Gaza, or 1948 territories, or of Zionism as a political ideology. Any form of support for Palestinian human rights, for the boycott investment and sanction movement, as a way to secure those rights. And any criticism of US policy in the Middle East are all tantamount to antisemitism and support for terrorism. Now, Canary Mission does not engage in any substantive or reason debate about these issues. So for Canary Mission, unsubstantiated accusations for antisemitism and support for terrorism are a way then to discredit, marginalize and attempt to silence those who are engaged in these discussions. And to silence any free and open campus discussion of, and teaching about the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

Laurie Brand: There’s some additional elements of Canary Mission, which are also new and which make it particularly problematic. Its mode of attack generally involves three distinct dimensions. There is a website which displays profiles on individual students, faculty and organizations that features personal information, quotes, photos, videos, institutional affiliations, and so on. And the material in each profile is framed to make the individual or organization appear to be monstrous, guilty of raving antisemitism, and or support for terrorism. In addition, some individuals may be subjected to Twitter trolling campaigns, which have been linked back to Canary Mission. Now, Canary Mission, also openly proclaims that it seeks to prevent the employment of former students it defines as radicals. That also makes it new, so that when an employer Googles a prospective candidate and a prospective employee. One of the first things they’re likely to find is this profile, which contains false defamatory accusations about that person from the Canary Mission website.

Laurie Brand: And think about yourself as a potential former employee or an employer. If you see someone accused of antisemitism or support for terrorism or anti-Americanism. So this makes it again, particularly insidious. And the Civil Rights Group Palestine legals reported that there have been numerous students who have been questioned by employers and prospective graduate schools about their profiles on Canary Mission. So let me conclude by saying the campaign of vilification, which Canary Mission and these other organizations, which have preceded it, have engaged in, should alarm educators.

Laurie Brand: Anyone who values academic freedom and free speech rights in their classrooms and in their campuses. It should also alarm Deans and other university officials whose job it is to ensure the safety and the wellbeing of their students, particularly the most vulnerable students. And we often find that the students who tend to be targeted are the most vulnerable. Muslim students, Arab students, students of color, and so there should be mechanisms put in place to protect these students from that kind of targeting. So it really is imperative that college and university administrators step up and take the lead in responding to these direct threats to their students and to their educational communities. Thank you.

Sarah: Thank you so much, Lauri. And thank you for reminding our audience and indeed the panelists of the really entrenched campaign and vilification that is particularly affecting undergraduate students. I mean, I can’t underscore enough how that is such an important dimension of your presentation, that we’re not just talking about faculty being targeted. This is old hat in the tactic, it’s now going after undergraduate students, creating these websites that target and harass. And thank you for reminding the audience that Deans and university administrators need to be attentive. More attentive to this harassment. I turn now to Evelyn Alsutany, who is an associate professor in American studies and ethnicity. She is the author of Arabs and Muslims in The Media: Race and Representation After 9/11. And of a forthcoming book, tentatively entitled How Muslims Get Included In Diversity Politics. Welcome, Evelyn. I turn the floor over to you.

Evelyn Alsutany: [inaudible 01:09:36] like to thank my colleagues, Sarah [inaudible 01:09:38] for organizing this and all of my panelists for doing this together. We’re going to build on what professor Laurie Brand was talking about. I’m going to address two ways that Zionist organizations silence the atrocities that the Israeli government commits against Palestinians. One is antisemitising, which is classifying any and all criticisms of Israeli state violence as antisemitic. And another is law fare, which is the use of law as a weapon of war. In January 2014, Yazan, a Palestinian student at the University of Michigan posted to his Facebook page, a photo of himself wearing a keffiyeh that covers his face, and holding a knife to a pineapple with the caption “it’s on.”

Evelyn Alsutany: It was a joke to his friends who played on a basketball team called on ananas, pineapple in Arabic, with whom he would be competing. Two months later, while he was engaged in Palestinian Rights activism to pass a divestment resolution with Central Student Government. The conservative political website, The Washington Free Beacon, published this photo speculating that the pineapple was symbolic of Israel and Jewish people. And that Yazan was threatening them and contributing to a culture of fear on campus.

Evelyn Alsutany: The website claimed, and I quote, “anti-Israel activists are bent on using US college campuses as a means to foment hate for the Jewish state,” end quote. It characterized students who advocate for Palestinian rights as threatening the civil rights of Jewish students and associating with anti-Israel extremists. Yazan clarified that the photo was intended to be a satire of Arab stereotypes that was then used against him to distract from the message that he was trying to convey in his activism, which is that complicity in Israel’s human rights violations has to stop. As the result of this article and others, Yazan received hate messages on social media, calling him a jihadist and an infidel slayer. This incident caused Yazan a great deal of distress. He was blacklisted on the Zionist website, Canary Mission. And Google searches of his name yielded multiple articles portraying him as a violent threat to Jewish students, potentially impacting his future career of prospects.

Evelyn Alsutany: In what has become a common occurrence on college campuses across the US, advocates for Palestinian Rights are accused of promoting antisemitism. Those who are Jewish, for being in self-hating Jews, and those who are Arab, South Asian and Iranian or Muslim as terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. In addition, they’re not just called antisemitic, but Zionist organizations launch campaigns to harass, defame and ruin the futures of these students and professors to Arab American studies. Dollar Steven Salida, who lost his tenured position as the result of tweets that criticize the Israeli government during the 2014 Israeli invasion of Gaza, points out that Zionism has achieved normative status in the US. And as a result, it is positioned as apolitical while advocacy for Palestinian Rights is positioned as political, the wrong kind of politics unless objectionable.

Evelyn Alsutany: Those who are active in these campaigns strategically mobilize anti-Arab and anti-Muslim tropes, violent jihadists, threatening to smear and discredit supporters of Palestinian Rights and normalize the Israeli government’s illegal military occupation and violent dispossession of Palestinians. This is not just a matter of Zionist organizations smearing student activists, but a matter of law fare. The US government has not only supported the Israeli occupation of Palestine for over 70 years and gives military aid to Israel. 500 million in missile defense and 3.3 billion in foreign military financing, which is more military financing than the US provides to the rest of the world combined.

Evelyn Alsutany: But legislation has been drafted to combat the boycott divestment sanctions movement because it is successfully challenging the uncritical support of the Israeli state. As of January 2019, 26 states including New York and Texas, have regulations to force companies to make a choice. If you participate in boycotting Israel, then you forego doing business with a particular state. In 2018 speech pathologist, [inaudible 01:14:23] refused to sign her contract with the Floresville Independent School District in Texas. When she noticed a new clause that required she could not boycott Israel during the term of the contract. She refused to sign. And as a result, her contract was not renewed.

Evelyn Alsutany: Another legislation involves targeting and criminalizing activism for Palestinian Rights, particularly on college campuses. Kenneth Marcus, who was nominated by Donald Trump to become assistant secretary for Civil Rights at the US Department of Education has helped file title six discrimination complaints. With the department of education against Palestinian and Palestine solidarity activists on a number of college campuses, such as UC Irvine. Where 11 students were convicted by a court for disrupting a meeting and at Fordham University, the administration banned the Palestinian Rights student group on campus. Kenneth Marcus admits that the law is being used to suppress speech. He said in 2013, and I quote, “at many campuses, the prospect of litigation has made a difference. If a university shows a failure to treat initial complaints against activists of Palestinian Rights seriously, it hurts them with donors, faculty, political leaders, and perspective students. No university wants to be accused of creating an abusive environment,” end quote.

Evelyn Alsutany: Furthermore, he writes that the option of filing a civil rights complaint has a chilling effect on Palestinian Rights activists, given that no one wants to be the target of a civil rights complaint. And that it is not a good way to build a resume or impress a future employer, as professor Brand pointed out earlier. Attorney Dima Khalidi, founder and director of Palestine legal. An organization that has responded to over 1700 incidents of suppression of Palestine advocacy in the US over the last seven years. She states that the objective of this legislation is to make it too costly for students to engage in this type of activism.

Evelyn Alsutany: Sociologist, Tom Pessah, has coined the term antisemitising to capture how every criticism of Israeli government policies is stifled and suppressed. He cautions and I quote, “antisemitising comes at a serious price. It derails any serious conversation on Israel, Palestine since opponents of the status quo can easily be dismissed as potential terrorists. It desensitizes people to genuine antisemitism and it keeps much of the Jewish American community in a permanent sense of panic as if a new Holocaust is imminent,” end quote. To be clear, antisemitism is indeed on the rise in the US, given [inaudible 01:17:18] the right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. Where white supremacists chillingly chanted, “Jews will not replace us.” And a white supremacist gunned down 11 Jewish people at the Tree of Life Synagogue, in Pittsburgh, in October 2018. However, in contrast, antisemetising distorts the arguments of those who criticize the Israeli government for demolishing Palestinian homes, building settlements on Palestinian land, upholding the military occupation of Palestinian Territories and violation of international law, and Instituting apartheid system.

Evelyn Alsutany: Instead, such critiques are misrepresented as claiming that Jewish people are not deserving of safety, security, and estate. That the Palestinians likewise deserve safety, is silenced or to be more accurate, deemed antisemitic. Law fare and antisemitisng criticisms of Israeli state violence effectively silences many of us. By leading us to believe, even those of us who are experts on settler colonialism, militarism and racial violence, that we don’t know enough about a complicated situation to speak on it. We don’t want to be accused of promoting hatred. No one wants to be the target of hate mail, smears to their character, placed on a blacklist or embroiled in a protracted lawsuit or other kind of controversy. When I was a professor at the University of Michigan, my department would notify the campus police whenever I received hate mail or hate voice messages to ensure that there was no physical threat to my safety.

Evelyn Alsutany: I was on a first-name basis with one of the police officers, Theo, who responded to several of the calls. And at one point made it part of his rounds to stop by my office to check in on me. Such experiences made me fearful to speak out, which is the purpose of such tactics. However, the way to challenge this culture of fear is to cultivate safety through solidarity, to refuse the term set by the Israeli government and Zionist organizations that only one group can have safety. And to insist that Palestinians are deserving of rights, safety and security. Thank you.

Sarah: Thank you, Evelyn. And thank you also for sharing that brief personal experience while you were faculty at the University of Michigan. I think it’s fair to say that every person on this panel has experienced this overt intimidation, but also more subtle forms as well. And so just coming to the space is indeed an affirmation, how we will not be silenced. So thank you for sharing your comments. I turn now to Deena Ziad Nai, who is a third-year graduate student in American studies and ethnicity at USC. Her primary focus is on Arab American feminism and women of color feminisms more broadly. Deena.

Deena Zaid Nai: I, first and foremost, thank you all. Thank you, Sarah, for putting this panel together and thank you to everyone for being here. So today I’m going to speak to a potential framework through foundational Middle East and Arab American studies concepts to provide the tangible approach to think through language in media. And for our students to understand critiques of the occupation of Palestine. So I want to start by building on the idea that any critiques of the Israeli apartheid state are spun by media to appear as inherently antisemitic. This is what Dr Evelyn Alsutany, has just referred to as anti-semitisng. While the critical analysis of such a process as anti-semitisng is clearly layered, one important dynamic to first attend to is that of the Muslim or Arab versus Jew binary that dominates the media coverage.

Deena Zaid Nai: So first and foremost, we can draw on the scholarship of Alicia [inaudible 01:21:35] who reminds us that the quote-unquote, “conceptual schism” between the Arab and the Jew can be traced back to colonialism and the emergence of racialized tropes, orientalist fantasies, and Eurocentric epistemologies. Which ultimately, quote-unquote, “whitened” the Jew. One particularly relevant note here is that the idea of anti-semitism also came from a Western and predominantly European context and was actually placed onto the Southwest Asia and North Africa region.

Deena Zaid Nai: Through these aforementioned processes, there is an erasure of the Arab Jew, as well as the long history of Jewish and Muslim relations, cohabitation and shared cultural practices. This erasure of the Arab Jew has set the foundation for the Muslim and the Arab versus Jew dichotomy to continue to thrive in the media for decades. This brings me to present-day coverage of the Palestinian struggle for affirmation visibility in life. Palestinians on the ground have been carefully documenting the ongoing destruction of life on social media platforms over the last few weeks in particular.

Deena Zaid Nai: From the brutalization of Palestinians and [inaudible 01:22:50] to the attacks on Palestinians, praying in a [inaudible 01:22:55] mosque. Folks have taken to social media in order to transparently represent life under occupation and the terrorism that comes with it. Nonetheless, media coverage continues to paint the situation as, quote-unquote, “clashes” between Palestinians and Israelis. As a quick aside, Palestinians and allies have pushed back against these reports as terms such as, quote-unquote, “clashes” or conflict implied that there is a back and forth struggle. They are aiming to replace this misrepresentation with terms that more accurately describe what is happening that is colonization, ethnic cleansing, military occupation, apartheid, et cetera.

Deena Zaid Nai: These quote-unquote “clashes” as the media represents, place a huge emphasis on [inaudible 01:23:47] being sent into occupied territories. And the Israeli apartheid states destruction, terrorization and systematic killing of Palestinians in densely populated areas. I won’t get into the fact now that the US is funding the Israeli occupation forces or discuss the Iron Dome. Though, Dr Evelyn Alsutany already addressed that. And if you have not looked into these things further, I strongly suggest that you do. So, I just want to use this opportunity instead to discuss how the apartheid state is executing this process of occupation through systemic erasure of culture, destruction of homes and properties and businesses. Blockades, curfew, spatial segregation, and ethnic cleansing to name quite a few. But they continue to be seen as quote-unquote, “defending” themselves against Hamas.

Deena Zaid Nai: To understand the success of these media headlines and stories. I’ll bring us back to the binary of Arab and Muslim versus Jew. As well as Dr Evelyn Alsutany’s work on the media representation of Arabs and Muslims as terrorists. The media coverage of Palestine and the representation of Hamas as a terrorist organization and the Israeli Occupational Force, that the Israeli occupational forces must defend themselves against, thrives on the stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims as terrorists. We all know how many holes there are in this argument as scholars of American or critical ethnic studies. However, this is precisely the type of foundational analysis taught in introductory Arab American studies materials that would be worthwhile to begin to teach our undergraduate students.

Deena Zaid Nai: This simple media analysis alone sets the stage for students to think more critically about headlines and encourages them to do their own research. While also making the conversation of Palestinian liberation more tangible to people who would otherwise either steer clear of it or get caught up in the process of intellectualizing and remaining quote-unquote, “neutral” or refusing to engage with it. Ultimately this representation of Hamas further limit critiques against the Israeli apartheid state by pushing the Muslim versus Jew narrative. When we situate this in conversation with a larger framework of the era of Jew as Ella Shaha discusses, and the stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims in the media. However, we can easily disqualify those claims of antisemitism and return to the essential critique of settler, colonialism, ethnic cleansing, the apartheid state militarization, and so on.

Deena Zaid Nai: Thank you all.

Sarah: Thank you, Deena. And thank you also for making that intervention in terms of a call for curricular change, which I think is very important.

PART 3 OF 4 ENDS [01:27:04]

Sarah: … which I think is very important for the introduction of material related to the Palestine question as a settler colonial question, that that material can be introduced into undergraduate classrooms in a way that simply is not happening right now. And that it should not just be the work of small siloed departments or scholars who are working in these fields. So thank you for that intervention. One of our panelists, Megan [Awad 01:27:39] is not able to join us because she’s teaching and was delayed and is not able to join the call. So this ends our formal presentations in the teach-in today. We do have about 10 or 15 minutes if there were questions from the audience that could go into the question and answer function. And if not, we can adjourn. But I’ll just hold for a little bit to see if there are any questions coming in from the participants.

Sarah: It’s true that this has been recorded and we will be in conversation with the departmental chair of American studies to see about sharing the recording. There was also a list of resources that the panel has shared with each other that we put onto a document and circulated it in the chat at the beginning of the session. So I just wanted to alert participants to that as well. All right. It looks like we are adjourning. Thank you… [crosstalk 01:29:17] Oh, sorry?

Layla Zbinden: Sorry. There’s a question in the Q&A.

Sarah: Okay. I didn’t see it.

Layla Zbinden: Oh, I can read it. It’s by Darcy Keon. They say, “Is there anything about the current situation that gives you hope?” I can also answer that. I think that the number of people that are showing up in person during a pandemic at rallies, it’s the most that we’ve ever seen in the US, hands down. I think each time Palestine ends up in the headlines in such a consistent way that it has been, more and more people come. And this has been the most so far. I find that when I’m having conversations with people on the ground, the starting point is, it’s not as far back as it was.

Layla Zbinden: So I do feel like there is a lot of growth that’s been happening. And I also think that if you look abroad in Palestine right now, the amount of people that showed up did end up delaying the evictions by a month because of how many people around the world were protesting it. So I think that a delay is not a guarantee that it’s not going to happen, but it’s a starting point that shows that our presence and our demanding is impacting realities abroad.

Evelyn Alsutany: I can address that too.

Sarah: Yeah.

Evelyn Alsutany: So given that today’s the one year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, I’m reflecting on the last year of what has transpired. Many other black people have been murdered. So it hasn’t exactly stopped that, but it does seem like there has been some kind of culture shift in terms of how we all talk about Black Lives Matter and police violence. And so that gives me hope. Even though we don’t know yet where that’s landing, that gives me hope that with what’s happening with Palestinians, that there’s a possibility to shift the conversation. And Leila and I actually have been collecting articles in the newspaper that reflect a kind of shift that’s happening right now. So prominent Palestinian academics writing op-eds in The Washington Post and in the New York Times and having big platforms to share their point of view when that was not common 10 years ago or 20 years ago. So I’m noticing a bit of a culture change, which is better than none.

Sarah: Anyone else want to address the question? Any other comments related to future prospects? There’s a question that has come in. I’m going to read it out loud. It’s quite long though. This is a question from Michael Zalta, “I wonder if anyone can speak to the claims by many Zionist aligned thinkers and speakers that we are recently seeing is that American racial dynamics and politics are being grafted onto the context of Israel-Palestine. Obviously this claim is part of a larger series of claims that attempt to obscure the interrelations scholars of Palestine, decoloniality, feminism and other critics of the nation seem to launch to obscure critiques of settler coloniality. But I do wonder, as we are thinking about what American studies can take from Palestine, if the transmission of American studies to Palestine studies proper can invade this discursive bind. Anyone want to address the question? Evelyn, I saw you nodding your head. Did you want to say something or?

Evelyn Alsutany: I can just continue with what I was saying before, which is that I do think that the links that were made between Ferguson and Gaza 2014 and onwards, and other moments have provided an opportunity for solidarity activism in new ways. And I do think that that presents an opportunity to think about the connections. No, they’re not exactly the same. But the kinds of connections of having the U.S. police force be trained by the Israeli military. And thinking through that, thinking about all of the issues that you list here, Michael, in terms of settler colonialism and I think part of what our panel today wanted to do was to say, “Hey, if we’re studying settler colonialism, we’re studying military occupation, we’re studying racial violence, and we want to encourage other people in the field not to shy away from including Palestine in the rubric.” And it doesn’t mean it’s exactly the same as what’s happening in the US, but that there are important comparisons and important opportunities to examine through these lenses and frameworks.

Sarah: If I could just add briefly, I think this is a really important question because I think it is touching upon a problem that we encounter, particularly in the academic space but in other locations as well. Which is a kind of liberal claim to diversity that is being deployed particularly by pro Israel liberals. So not the kind of Yakovs that we were referencing at the beginning, the very overt, avowedly anti Arab settler colonialists, but rather a kind of liberal pro diversity proponent that says, “Well, we have these issues of discrimination in Israel, but we are addressing them.” And I encounter this a lot in my classes, where there’s an attempt to kind of reroute a discussion around Arabness and Jewishness together, an attempt to reroute that, to say, “Well, look how diverse Israel is.” Right?

Sarah: And that’s not the goal of that kind of discussion that Dina was referencing earlier in the work of [foreign language 01:36:29]. It’s rather to put into the centrality of this discussion, terms and categories through which and by which Palestinians narrate their liberation. Right? And so that’s why I think if just at the end of the day, we could get into this space, these categories, these concepts, these demands, right? The really eloquent dream that Solafa began with, right. Which is to go from Beru to HAFA, right. To put these dreams into this space and to kind of clamp this rerouting and this attempt to use particular kinds of very ossified concept and categories to tell the story of this, what is called the clash, right. It’s not a clash, it’s a project of dispossession and secular colonialism. It is rather simple, right. The complication is the attempt to obfuscate. So yes. Thank you for that question. Were there any other comments or?

Laurie Brand: Yeah.

Sarah: Yeah.

Laurie Brand: So I wanted to just sort of add to that. Because for those people who’ve worked on Palestine for years, this concept of PEP, progressive except for Palestine, has been something that’s it’s beyond frustrating. It’s outrageous. And I think one of the things that the movements currently underway today are doing is forcing people who want to see themselves as progressives to confront what is a contradiction, that you cannot be truly progressive and not be supportive of Palestinian struggle. It’s just, you can’t do that. And I think that there has been this attempt, and it’s sort of on the political spectrum, the kind of the liberal, left of center sort of or center or left of center, which has for a variety of reasons, which we could talk about further, it just simply had shut that down.

Laurie Brand: And so on all other sorts of issues, people are willing to sort of stake out what is seen as a progressive standpoint, but when it comes to Palestine, Palestine, no. because that’s that’s off limits. That’s different. And I think so to the extent that the walls around Palestine, sort of literally and figuratively, in those kinds of discussions can be broken down. And people can be shown that even if it’s not a perfect match with some of these other examples of dispossession, and repression, and discrimination around on the world, that there are important similarities. And therefore, if one really seeks to espouse progressive causes or a progressive stance, this is a position you can’t avoid. And not only can you not avoid it, but you cannot then take a different position in support of forces and structures that continue to repress Palestinians and occupy them.

Sarah: Thank you, Lori. There is a question that has come in from Zayna, which is, “Thank you for a wonderful discussion. What concrete steps do you think universities should take to protect speech regarding Palestinian rights and issues on campus? How can we push universities to take those steps?”

Laurie Brand: I mean, one… Sorry.

Evelyn Alsutany: No, you go.

Laurie Brand: I was just going to say quickly, when it comes to groups that are working on Palestinian rights, Palestinian advocacy, they deserve the same protections for their activities as other groups do. And I think it’s clear that in a lot of places, that’s simply not the case. Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voices for Peace. I mean, these are groups which end up oftentimes having to overcome hurdles that other advocacy organizations don’t have to. People need to bring to the awareness of university administrators, but then also hold their feet to the fire and insist that they be given the same sort of space, the same sort of opening, the same sort of freedom to express themselves as other groups on campus. That they can’t continue to implement what’s in effect a double standard. Sorry, Evelyn.

Evelyn Alsutany: Thanks. So to build on what Lori said, I think that the university administration can do a lot more to protect Palestinian students. In my talk, I mentioned examples of students who have to go to court, activists who were banned from doing any activism on campus. I do think that the university should try harder to take down Canary Mission. I looked up the case of the student that I was talking about, and I was actually really surprised to find that there was a high level university administrator who contacted the newspaper, The Washington Free Beacon and asked them to take down the photo of the student. Which I did not expect from the university administration, but they did try to do that and The Free Beacon did not comply. But I think more of an effort to protect students.

Evelyn Alsutany: The good news is that most of the students that I’ve had who are listed on Canary Missions are having a good life. They’re at Yale doing law school and at Stanford doing med school. And it has not actually impacted their future careers, but it did really, really scare them. I think that universities should not criminalize speech. And should really get to know the dynamics of this conflict more intimately so that they don’t fall into pressure that a Zionist organization sets the term and they cave in and they deem everything antisemitic. So I think a little bit more effort on the part of university administrators is needed.

Sarah: Just to add to this. I have been serving as chair of a small department middle east studies. And that means I attend chairs meetings and we have presentations in those meetings from different units in the university. And we had just a few weeks ago, someone come in who is a mental health practitioner at USC and was talking about the new plan to have a mental health unit within Dornsife, within our college. And students could effectively leave a class and they wouldn’t need an appointment. They could just drop in for conversation with a mental health professional.

Sarah: And I thought then, and I continued to think, if I had a conversation with a Palestinian student, with a student who is facing harassment or simply grieving at the loss of life or has family members who are being incarcerated, targeted, and penalized, brutalized by Israeli military authority and police, there’s nowhere I could send that person on our campus and have some confidence that their pain could be adequately addressed. I just don’t have that confidence. And that speaks to really what I think is a much wider problem which is systemic, which is institutional, which is that there is very little space, not just within the curriculum, but very little space within university cultures for the recognition for the upholding of Palestinian life.

Sarah: So I think there needs to be really broad scale interventions at all levels of university and academic culture, curricular, medical, institutional, decennial. And it’s time, I really believe, for our university to take some formal leadership in this area. I remember very clearly, I had two Palestinian students in one of my classes several years ago, and we met each other in the parking lot. I had driven to campus and we were happened to be in the parking lot to together. And they had cardboard boxes that they were using in front of the administration building to erect a tech point.

Sarah: And I remember that there was me and there was the two students, and there was maybe a couple of others that came. It was so small and yet right there was a security officer to ostensibly protect the students. I think the message was actually quite different. Somebody asked about hope. I would hope for that to be that kind of demonstration, that kind of support for Palestinian self-determination would be a site that the university administration could embrace. Right? And have it be seen as viable, life affirming, rather than be seen as a threat worthy of scrutiny and oversight by security officers.

Layla Zbinden: I think one thing to this too, just really quickly, is that specifically to USC, USC funds people to go on birthright. I think just de-normalizing that idea that a university can fund a direct pipeline from one settler colonial state to another, just making that weird. Just not having that be such an okay, cool thing is one small material systemic change that would make actually the world of difference.

Sarah: We have one last question and I’ll read it out and then we’ll adjourn. The question is, do you think the large numbers of US protests will impact the democratic party platform and future elections? From [Leila Howshe 01:47:49] who is with the Association for Arab American Studies. Can we turn to you Lori? Our political science-

Laurie Brand: Well, I mean, certainly there’s a much larger percentage now of people in the house of representatives and then also in staffs. A statement was issued yesterday of a huge number of democratic staffers, not on the hill so much but out in the states, in support of the change in US foreign policy. So we’re seeing a variety of things which are unprecedented and that’s important. But it’s also important, I think, to realize the magnitude of the problem, particularly at that level. Which means a significant shift in effect, the kinds of things that [Adalon 01:48:44] was talking about in her presentation, the type of aid, military aid, aid, economic aid, and so on. My feeling is at this point while the efforts are clear and they’re tangible and they’re really important and they’re growing, I don’t know that we haven’t reached a tipping point yet. But that doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t draw hope from what has happened, seemingly relatively…

Laurie Brand: I mean, if one stretches back to the long history of the US-Israel relationship, then it’s not. So it’s not so sudden. But I think in a relatively short period of time, there’s been a huge growth in the openness of people to a different story about Palestine. And to a growing rejection of the way that the US has been dealing with the kinds of things that we have been supporting either I know, sort of overtly or covertly. So I don’t know whether I would look for a change in the democratic platform, sort of in the immediate future. But perhaps going through to 2024, we might see some beginnings of changes that would be more than just cosmetic. We’re in a really ugly environment now in not just the US, but worldwide with a kind of right wing populism, which is affecting domestic politics of various countries in a variety of ways.

Laurie Brand: And so I think we need also to understand the kinds of forces that continue to need to be battled back in order to not only to maintain the progress that’s been made, but also to prevent there from being any sort of retrenchment. So I think it’s, again optimistic, somewhat. I mean, more optimistic than I had been, I think. But I think that for me, the real changes I think have to be pushed through, and this is what’s been happening. It’s what happened in Gaza, it’s what happened in West Bank, it’s what happens inside of 48 territories. The changes that Palestinians have taken in hand themselves and they’ve pushed for this and the world has then responded to that.

Laurie Brand: And I think that we need to pay a lot of attention, not just to what changes may be happening in the US political scene, but what’s happening among Palestinians. Because people had basically written off anything happening in this area when the Biden administration came to office because the Biden administration clearly wasn’t interested in what was happening there. They said they were interested in foreign policy in the middle east, it was basically on the JPCOA, the US policy versus Iran and trying to reenter the nuclear deal. So what’s happened on the ground, forced them to pay attention. And I think that that’s a key to trying to understand what the possibilities are for change going forward.

Sarah: Thank you, Lori. I think that’s perhaps a good note to close on. Thank you for paying attention. And to close with some guarded optimism, I thank everyone for being here today. To our participants, to our panelists, this has been a really powerful and productive conversation, I believe. And I’m happy to say that the idea for this teach-in was supported enthusiastically by the chair genre of American studies and ethnicity. And so I do want to acknowledge the space that our department has played in encouraging this conversation to go forward. Thank you again. And we will reach out to participants with information on the recording after we have a clean version of it. Take care.

Laurie Brand: Thanks for putting this together, Sarah.

Sarah: Thank you.

Speaker 2: Thank you, everyone.

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