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Colleges And Universities Collaborate With The State To Silence Protests

Above photo: Columbia University President Minouche Shafik on testified at a congressional hearing regarding antisemitism on college campuses on the same day that Columbia threatened to suspend students participating in the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment”.

On campuses across the country, students and faculty are finding various ways to take action against the unfolding genocide in Gaza.

In response, colleges and universities operate in collusion with the state to repress that resistance.

As we have seen over the past few months, colleges and universities across the United States have shown a dangerous willingness to punish their students for speaking out for Justice for Palestine on their campuses. The very institutions that claim to be the centers of intellectual rigor, freedom of thought and expression, and developers of critical thinking skills for America’s post-secondary school development, even claiming to be the groomers and shapers of America’s future generations of leaders, are today the institutions that call the police on student protesters. They evict them from their campus housing, expel them from school, and solely because they have chosen to exercise their rights by standing up for Palestine. Specifically, administrators of higher education institutions have equated demanding an end to the genocide being carried out against Palestine by Israel as anti-Semitic, claiming that the students are disrupting regular operations on campus as the justification for punishing these students’ democratic rights to expressions of solidarity. But all we need do is look at Columbia University’s disparate response to an attack by retired IOF soldiers on pro-Palestine activists on campus in January of this year, and compare their lack of concern for those students’ safety to their Gestapo-like response to more students standing up for Palestine in recent days, or Yale University’s similar actions , or any of the many degrees of repression taking place on America’s college campuses everywhere in this country.

We must also notice how right-wing rhetoric about Israel and Palestine eerily aligns with statements from these institutions of alleged higher learning. We expect Fox News to twist and manipulate the narrative of the student protests by writing, “Antisemitism on campus surges as agitators take over ,” but we should further note that college administrators and presidents are conveying the same sentiment, equating standing up for Palestinian lives in the midst of genocide with anti-semitic beliefs. Politicians–Democrats and Republicans–are putting immense pressure on university administrations to crack down mercilessly against pro-Palestinian protests because every aspect of the state needs to be kept in alignment with the state’s ideology. And since Zionist lobbying organizations like AIPAC and Jstreet, etc., pay a lot of money to influence (buy) US politicians so that the US government always votes to send money and weapons and provide ideological cover to Israel, the pressure on universities to silence student dissent against the genocide of Palestinians is coming not just from college presidents or local, state, or federal politicians. Rather, the pressure on all of them to ensure this response to popular protest against genocide is coming from Israel. So universities are taking the side of wealthy foreign donors–which is supposed to be illegal–and the state itself and hope to escape retribution if they dutifully crush the solidarity movements of their own students on their own campuses.

This is an alarming problem not only in America’s largest and most prestigious education institutions. The academic backlash against pro-Palestine/anti-genocide student actions occurs across all education levels, from elementary school and high school , as well as smaller colleges and universities.

One such effort is underway at Montgomery College in Maryland. Montgomery’s president, Dr. Jermaine F. Williams, has been engaged in repressing the freedom of speech of Gustavus Griffin, a Professor at Montgomery College, a member of the campus group Faculty for Justice in Palestine, and a member of the Black Alliance for Peace Mid-Atlantic Region.

This issue at Montgomery College initially emerged in early February at the beginning of the Faculty for Justice in Palestine event series. As the weeks and several events passed, it became clear to BAP Mid-Atlantic that a coordinated and intentional effort to silence and punish not just Professor Griffin but all the members of Faculty for Justice in Palestine and the student body was underway.

Professor Griffin organized the virtual event “Palestine and Africa: the Historical Relationship” on March 7, 2024. Over 50 participants participated in the event, including a small number who were openly hostile toward the panelists and other attendees. Although they had the opportunity to present their questions or concerns to the presenters and the moderator, these individuals did not. Instead, they submitted complaints to Dr. Williams, who then emailed the entire college community to condemn the panel discussion claiming that it advocated violence against Israel.

However, Dr. Williams’ email did not reference the actual content or context of the lecture. Instead, it was a screed against any discussion that analyzes U.S./Israeli policy.

BAP Mid-Atlantic is deeply troubled by Dr. Williams’s stated intention to collaborate with law enforcement in response to faculty and students exercising their First Amendment rights on a college campus where the exchange of ideas is allegedly respected. This knee-jerk response to unsubstantiated rumors about the event with threats of law enforcement involvement and concerns about “greater security” are remnants of McCarthyism and the Counter Intelligence Program, COINTELPRO , the FBI program which surveilled and infiltrated liberation movement organizations.

Now justice-seeking protesters are being silenced, accused of hating Jews when they are simply in solidarity with Palestinians and their human rights and their liberation from oppression. This claim that criticism of Israel is an expression of “anti-Semitism” is historically and egregiously false, and the criminalization of college faculty, staff, and students for engaging in solidarity with Palestinians and their human rights is tremendously violent, deeply unjust, and a wholly undemocratic and deeply immoral response to the exercise of Free Speech on the campus and in response to students wanting to stop genocide. But it is also very similar to the way the state delegitimized every Black radical organizing for liberation in the history of Black liberation struggles in this country.

Understanding history is vitally important, and we would assume university faculty would appreciate any efforts to do so. However, it is obvious that history and truth are not valued in American educational institutions as we see this wave of student repressions on college campuses grow. Some of this history was discussed in the March 7 event, in which Africans’ and Palestinians’ very long history of supporting each other’s struggle for liberation and self-determination was highlighted. Martin Luther King, Jr. was invited to Israel several times but never went because of Israel’s incessant oppression of Palestine. Kwame Ture explains the immoral basis of Zionism . Malcolm X talked about the problematic nature of Zionism in his essay “Zionist Logic .” Huey P. Newton , co-founder of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, visited Palestine and declared unending support for the Palestinian liberation struggle, as have many other revolutionary African figures in the US and abroad. We have inspirations like Afro-Palestinian Fatima Bernawi, who militantly opposed Zionist occupation and abuse and was imprisoned for years for her activism by Israel. We have Ethel Minor, who played a key role in the education of Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) members and those in the wider civil rights movement on Palestine, Zionism, and the connected civil rights struggles in the US with the Palestinian struggle for liberation. The anti-war actions of the 1970s often connected the struggle against imperialist war in Vietnam to the struggle against imperialist oppression in Palestine. So not only have we Black radical organizers been clear on settler colonialism, Zionism, and Palestine, but we have been in solidarity with each other for generations. How are students and activists in general now being accused of making up lies about Israel’s brutality when we have been talking about it for decades?

And, as the ideological descendants of these heroes, BAP Mid-Atlantic understands that settler-colonialism is, according to Cornel Law School, “…a system of oppression based on genocide and colonialism, that aims to displace a population of a nation (oftentimes indigenous people) and replace it with a new settler population. Settler colonialism finds its foundations on a system of power perpetuated by settlers that represses indigenous people’s rights and cultures by erasing it and replacing it with their own.”

Zionists–not Jews–established Israel by massacring and displacing the Arab population of Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others who were already in Palestine, and then gave those stolen homes to European and American settlers who claimed they were Jewish but happily moved into homes stolen from Arabs just months, weeks, days, sometimes hours before. In merely this, we can differentiate between Zionists and Judaism, as there is NOTHING in the Jewish faith that condones stealing land and homes from people who have done nothing to you, slaughtering them so it is easier for you to take their land, laying claim to their stolen abodes, and illegally building more homes for the settlers on the land that was stolen from Palestine. Land and homes that Palestinians have an internationally recognized right to return to, but the Zionist entity Israel refuses to allow that and continues to build more illegal settlements on Palestinian land, in direct violation of multiple international laws, and murders Palestinians for resisting all of this and more. This is the truth, the history of the establishment of Israel. None of what Israel has done is condoned in Judaism. And organizers condemning Zionism are not condemning Jews. So who, we wonder, are universities protecting and siding with when they silence pro-Palestinian protests?

In that vein, we understand that the settler-colonial process that established Israel was the same process at work in the development of the United States, Australia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. African people in the US are traumatized and are often violently constrained when we rebel against our oppression. The settler-colonial project in the US has given us massacres, reservations, slavery, discrimination, convict leasing, mass incarceration, and an unequal society in which we live with unequal access to everything that produces unequal outcomes for us to this day. So, of course, we sympathize with the Palestinians for the very same practices being unleashed upon Palestinians who are besieged with the same settler colonial practices used to steal land and murder populations around the world. Palestinians have the right to not only defend themselves but to resist by any and all available means from erasure and extinction, just as all oppressed people do. Israel is violently denying Palestinians every internationally recognized human, social, and civil right and has done so for decades.

So BAP Mid-Atlantic does not believe the state of Israel has any legitimate claims to self-defense when it is the aggressor–along with the United States and its European former colonialist enablers. Since before 1948, too many world leaders refused to address Israel’s crimes against Palestine due to their well-deserved guilt for doing too little too late to save Jews and other victims. To be clear, just as millions of Jews were massacred en masse, deported from European countries to be delivered to concentration camps or the ovens at the crematoriums, so were masses of queer people, physically and mentally disabled people, Roma people, intellectuals, artists, Socialists, Communists, and most notably the Herero and Nama people of modern-day Namibia. This article in The Times Of Israel presents the history of the German holocaust in Namibia, which was the precursor or practice-run on genocide that Germany carried out against Africans. The idea that Africans would be engaged in calling for the extermination of Jews is ludicrous, considering our people were also victims of Nazi genocide! They “practiced” on us! Jews were fighting against white supremacist imperialism too, and we recognize that in their historical struggle, but this does not mean that the state that was established on non-Jewish principles of a political system based on the supremacy of European & American (i.e., white) Jews over everybody else (including African & Arab Jews & Christians in Israel) is above criticism. States are never above reproach, especially when they commit land theft and genocide.

Despite the clear history and connections presented in these events validating the need to tell this history and the legitimacy of the people providing it, Professor Griffin learned that someone in the college administration has initiated Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on all of the staff involved with the Faculty for Justice in Palestine. This makes Dr. Williams a modern adherent to COINTELPRO tactics against his own faculty and students at Montgomery College. This is bad enough, but Dr. Williams also seems to be considering further limiting Free Speech on the campus.

In a letter sent to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a Free Speech defense organization that was also concerned about the college’s response to the Faculty for Justice in Palestine events, Dr. Williams provided conflicting values for the university, saying in one paragraph that the college values Free Speech and the need to have robust conversation, but went on to say he thinks the answer to the problem is maybe silencing political speech on campus by potentially declaring that the university may change their policy to reflect that it is politically neutral on “controversial” issues.

To prove the point, Dr. Williams has gone further in his latest response to a planned event by Faculty for Justice in Palestine by condemning the film The Occupation of the American Mind , an eye-opening documentary exposing the Israeli lobby’s efforts to suppress American criticism of the Zionist state’s criminal actions and the US government’s involvement.

BAP Mid-Atlantic is appalled that US college and university presidents are willingly violating the First Amendment rights of their faculty and students. Instead, students of conscience and faculty are maligned, publicly condemned, or punished with job losses, school suspensions, and false accusations without any due process. This is a vile response to the global demand to protect Palestinians while nearly 40,000 of them have been massacred and nearly two million have been displaced from Gaza by Israel since October 7. These seemingly unbelievable numbers are realistically an undercount as thousands of people are buried under rubble and are unable to be excavated because Israel is still bombing Gaza, now in the north.

BAP Mid-Atlantic communicated our demand that Dr. Williams issue a public apology correcting the record for maligning Professor Griffin’s reputation, that of every member of the Faculty for Justice in Palestine organization, and that of the panelists who participated in the March 7 discussion, and cease any efforts to continue to silence the members of FJP or the students who have a right to hear what they have to offer.

Dr. Williams and other college presidents are unconcerned about how oppressed people on their campuses and the community surrounding them see their willingness to deny students the right to speak out in support of justice for certain oppressed people. How will they explain refusing to hear the voices of embattled Palestinians and their supporters in order to appease the people who support and are carrying out their obliteration? More pressingly, if this genocide is not stopped, if the occupation is not ended, if the apartheid wall and system do not end with haste in Palestine, what course or event will Dr. Williams and Montgomery College or any of this country’s academic leaders approve a few years from now when students start asking, “What happened to the Palestinians?”

Or will we need to have another series of campus protests to demand that history be told accurately then, too?

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