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The Dirty Tactics Of Zionist Censorship Against Pro-Palestine Voices

Above photo: Activists take part in a silent demonstration at the Capitol Building stairs to demand a ceasefire and urgent humanitarian action for Gaza and the Palestinian people on November 8, 2023, in Washington DC, US. The activists also showed support to the Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib after the House passed a resolution to censure her over her comments in response to the Israeli attack on Gaza. Mostafa Bassim/Anadolu via Getty Images.

From doxxing to death threats.

Zionists are turning to intimidation tactics to silence pro-Palestine voices on college campuses and in the media.

Dylan Saba, a lawyer for Palestine Legal, was asked to write a piece on the silencing of pro-Palestine voices by The Guardian—only to then be informed at the last minute that his piece had been killed. Saba joins countless pro-Palestine activists and voices who have been targeted with termination, doxxing, harassment, censorship, and even death threats. Saba joins The Chris Hedges Report to discuss the intensifying war on civil liberties unfolding as public revulsion at Israel’s crimes in Gaza grows.

Transcript:

Chris Hedges:  Trucks circling the campuses of Columbia University and Harvard University publicly list the names and show the faces of students who signed a letter calling on the university to cut ties with Israel. These trucks are now being parked in front of students’ homes. Another truck is at the University of Pennsylvania, calling on the university president, Liz Magill, to resign following complaints the university fostered antisemitism by allowing for a pro-Palestinian festival in September.

Major donors to these universities, including the billionaire, Marc Rowan, the chief of the private equity giant Apollo Global Management, who donated $50 million to the University of Pennsylvania’s business school, have announced they will withhold donations and demand the resignation of the university presidents at the University of Pennsylvania and at Harvard. The prominent law firm, Davis Polk, rescinded three job offers that had been made to students suspected of signing the Harvard statement and a similar statement at Columbia University.

This public harassment is only a tiny illustration of the widespread campaign to silence anyone who decries the siege of Gaza and calls for a ceasefire. Hundreds of social media accounts say the world’s largest social media platforms, Facebook, Instagram, X, YouTube, and TikTok, are censoring accounts or actively reducing the reach of pro-Palestinian content, a practice known as shadow-banning. Authors, activists, journalists, and filmmakers contend that hashtags like #freePalestine and #IstandwithPalestine, as well as messages expressing support for civilians killed by Israeli forces, are being hidden by the media platforms.

Major conferences in the Middle East have been forced to cancel. The Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce, for example, successfully pressured Hilton Hotels into canceling the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights event in Houston, at which the congresswoman, Rashida Tlaib, was to have been the main speaker calling it a “conference for Hamas supporters” and “Jew haters.” The Chamber is also campaigning to force Starbucks to close stores and dismiss thousands of workers “who support Hamas” after their union posted a statement on it saying solidarity with Palestine.

It has even launched a boycott of the coffee chain under the slogan, “Drinking a cup of Starbucks is drinking a cup of Jewish blood.” The Council on American Islamic Relations was forced to cancel its annual banquet in Arlington, Virginia after receiving bomb threats. The rare Palestinian voices that do get through the media blockade such as Noura Erakat, a Palestinian-American human rights lawyer who appeared live on CBS and ABC, are often then erased. Erakat saw the segments in which she spoke removed from the playbacks of the shows online. The Frankfurt Book Fair was accused of “shutting down Palestinian voices” after an award ceremony to honor a novel by the Palestinian writer, Adania Shibli, was canceled. Meanwhile, official Israeli spokespeople and politicians as well as their supporters, are given ample airtime to accuse anyone who objects to Israel’s slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza as being apologists or spokespeople for terrorists.

Joining me to discuss this censorship is Dylan Saba, a staff attorney with Palestine Legal. He was commissioned by an editor at The Guardian newspaper to write about the campaign to silence voices critical of Israel’s assault but was then informed shortly before the piece was to be published that the newspaper would not run it. So let’s begin with this level of censorship which is probably unprecedented since maybe immediately after the events of 9/11. I was one of them attempting to denounce the calls to invade Iraq. But let’s lay out its intensity, its reach, and then let’s go into perhaps the causes of it.

Dylan Saba:  Thanks, Chris, and thanks so much for having me on and raising and elevating this important issue. As you said, this is a level of suppression that is completely unprecedented in the modern history of the Palestine Solidarity Movement. So I work for Palestine Legal. We’re a legal nonprofit representing folks who speak out, for Palestinian rights, and we were founded in 2014 and we’ve never seen anything remotely like this. We’ve had hundreds of requests for legal assistance over the past several weeks, completely eclipsing the total number of intake requests we’ve had for the entirety of last year.

So it’s an exponential surge. It’s reaching students, employees, professors, and folks in all different industries. We’ve seen a wave of retaliatory firings for posts made on private social media accounts supporting Palestinian rights. We’ve seen student groups surveilled, and suppressed from levels ranging from the federal government to state government to individual campus administrations. We’ve seen professors have classes canceled, and being locked out of emails. The range of political expression that is being targeted is wide from very banal calls to a ceasefire to more radical statements, and it is widespread.

It’s important to note a couple of things: One is that this is a response to a massive upsurge in pro-Palestine support in the US, that the Palestine solidarity movement has made major gains, and more and more, you have folks who are willing to speak out for Palestinian freedom. Now of course, this is met with suppression that this growing movement is a threat to the Israel lobby, it’s a threat to Israel advocacy organizations, and folks who have the interests of the US government and US imperial interests, who share those interests as well.

The comparison to the post-9/11 era, though I was a child then, is probably apt and we have been describing this as a McCarthyite level of suppression. I do want to raise a key distinction here: This is now happening in the era of social media and that has particular concerns and implications for regular individuals who may not be famous or notable names, and that’s the introduction of doxxing as a particularly heinous tactic.

You mentioned this with reference to the trucks on campuses. What we’re seeing is college students, individuals who are speaking out, or even for action as benign as removing a poster, are being filmed, that footage is being sent then to major media outlets such as Fox News, and you have folks on the internet who are digging into it, finding out who these students are, publicizing their names, releasing their names, and then those individuals are being hit with a torrent of discriminatory comments, threatening texts, emails, phone calls, death threats, heinous remarks, and are basically being bullied into silence.

And this is a widespread tactic that we’re seeing and it has the negative consequence of chilling speech. Folks are scared to speak out because they worry that they’re going to be smeared, that they’re going to lose their job or a future employment offer. The doxxing tactic is something that the Israeli groups have been using for a while. So folks are probably familiar with Canary Mission, stopantisemitism.org, which are some online blacklists that have really honed in on this tactic of online smears and doxxing, but we are seeing it at an unprecedented level right now.

Chris Hedges:  Well, as you know, this isn’t new. It’s exponentially exploded because there have been years-long assaults against the BDS movement, especially universities banning, I spoke at Northeastern right after they had banned students for justice in Palestine, and so it’s building, and of course, that has used the power of donors in the past. So there was already a foundational system in place.

Dylan Saba:  Yeah, absolutely. As you said, the tactics are not new, and in general, this tactic of suppression and silencing has been the major move of Israeli advocacy groups in the past 10 or 15 years, in part because pro-Israel folks realize they can’t really win the argument on substance. So the fact that these debates are happening in workplaces on college campuses is really bad news when Israel has the most right-wing fascist government that it’s ever had and has really only had right-wing governments for recent memory, and meanwhile, dispossession of Palestinian land continues unabated. You have settlement expansion, regular assaults on Gaza, and really, no political hope for progress on any negotiation front. So there’s not really much in the way that you can say to justify the Israeli regime and what they’re doing and so the tactic has basically been, okay, then we need to suppress this criticism lest it start to have an effect on US government policy.

Chris Hedges:  What do we know about those who are behind these groups, oftentimes on campuses, that will use Hillel houses as outposts of APAC? What can you tell us about the structure, and how it works?

Dylan Saba:  Well, we do know that there are some major organizations that have as their function the suppression of this grassroots organizing. So these are organizations like the ADL and the Brandeis Center that purport to fight against antisemitism. But in large part, what that means to them is suppressing pro-Palestine speech, which has the effect of clouding the definition of what antisemitism is in a way that’s very harmful to Jewish students and also targets Jewish students because Jewish students make up a large part of the Palestine solidarity movement in the US.

And especially, as you mentioned, the role of Hillel, which is an organization that has an explicitly pro-Israel policy and yet purports to be a home for all Jewish students on college campuses makes it such that anti-Zionist Jews don’t have a religious home that supports them on campuses and are being targeted along with Arab and Muslim and Palestinian students for their organizing. Likewise, you also have some extremely racist elements of this suppression of various forms of surveillance that emerge from the post-9/11 legal paradigm and security state infrastructure where you have student groups surveilled, activists surveilled, and this is particularly harmful to Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students.

Chris Hedges:  Well, the documentary, The Lobby, which never aired in the US, Electronic Intifada put up a pirated copy, but they sent a student undercover into these American-Jewish Zionist, pro-Israel groups, and one of the things that came out was how they would essentially recruit students to spy on other students.

Dylan Saba:  Yeah, we’ve seen that. Spying, infiltration, and surveillance are all threats to Palestine organizing on campus. Absolutely.

Chris Hedges:  Let’s talk about the media. There’s really only one voice virtually that’s heard about this conflict, but this, of course, control of information, this censorship, has extended to mainstream media platforms.

Dylan Saba:  Yeah, absolutely. So a lot of what we’re seeing in terms of employment retaliation is in the media. So you have editors at magazines being fired for merely amplifying calls for a ceasefire.

Chris Hedges:  Oh, was this Artforum?

Dylan Saba:  That’s right, that’s right. You have, as you mentioned, Palestinians going on major news and not having their segments aired, and you mentioned Noura, but there are other examples as well. Basically, any Palestinian who goes onto the news and does anything other than lament the dead in Gaza, anyone who’s offering necessary political context for understanding what’s happening is being censored and silenced. And this is a process of the media manufacturing consent for what the US is supporting in Gaza and that is intentionally about removing context, and it’s also about refocusing the worries of Americans onto these panics about what college students are doing and saying.

It’s extremely dangerous that you have these horrific atrocities being committed by Israel with the full backing and support of the US in Gaza; What many have called a genocide, including the preeminent genocide scholars. And that’s a very dangerous message for folks who are supportive of Israeli policies, of Israeli apartheid, and what’s happening right now, and that descent is very dangerous. So censorship is key. The refocusing or attempt to refocus the American attention on the concerns around what college students are saying is all attempts, basically, to stifle political dissent in one of the most key moments for political dissent in the country’s history.

Chris Hedges:  They’ve done a very effective job of controlling the language. It’s not deniable that the firing of rockets by Hamas is a war crime indiscriminate, or certainly that the killing of civilians at the Re’im is a war crime, but while they’re very quick to denounce Hamas for war crimes, they will not employ the same standards towards Israel, which has carried out egregious war crimes for decades.

We can go all the way back to the ethnic cleansing in 1948 and the 50 villages where there were massacres right up to what they’re doing today in the West Bank. Talk about that difference in terms of standards and in terms of language because it’s a black-and-white issue. Israel is in clear violation of international law, not only in terms of what it’s doing to the people in Gaza but in terms of the occupation itself.

Dylan Saba:  You’re touching on a key point, and what that differentiation rests on is racism. It is precisely anti-Palestinian racism that allows people to say that there is no distinction between Palestinians living in Gaza and Hamas, which is exactly the messaging of the Israeli government. They’re saying it openly. They’re saying that they’re not treating them differently and they’re saying that Gaza is full of terrorists. That distinction is based on racist assumptions about Palestinians.

It’s based on the ability to paint Muslims, Arabs, and Palestinians with a broad brush that is to paint them as a threat to Israeli safety and Jewish safety. So that is what is behind the smears and that is what allows the naked genocidal rhetoric on the Israeli side and on the US side in supporting these actions. That’s what allows that rhetoric to be perpetuated and the frankly BS statements from Israel that they are respecting international law or that they hold themselves to international law when it’s evident, you have to look at the images coming out of Gaza, they’re obliterating civilian infrastructure. That is clearly a war crime. You can look at the casualty counts that no one is disputing, although there was some indication that Biden was casting doubt on them, although I think he’s walked that back. Thousands of children are being killed, and the number of civilian casualties is insanely high.

There’s no way that it meets the disproportionality standard of international law. That’s not even to mention the collective punishment actions of cutting off electricity and water. So you have naked violations of international law that are being blatantly ignored by the media, and then you have complicity in conflating the Palestinians living in Gaza, of whom half are children and the actions of Hamas.

Chris Hedges:  To what do you attribute this cowardice, both within the media and the political class? Is it expediency, or careerism? What do you think is driving it? Because it’s very hard to walk away from those images and not understand what’s going on.

Dylan Saba:  People are worried about their jobs. We at Palestine Legal have seen over 100 threats to employment, and that’s what has come into us, dozens of people who have already been fired, and we’ve seen this trend in the media as well. Folks are intimidated because there are higher-up people at a lot of these establishment media institutions who, frankly, are Zionists and do support the actions of Israel and are very freaked out that you have a growing chorus of people in the US who are rightly identifying this, what Israel is doing is genocide. And in moments of crisis like this, we are put on the back foot in terms of putting a defensive posture because there’s this massive wave of racism and retaliatory backlash, but we’re also seeing major discursive jumps.

We’re seeing people come out in support of Palestinian rights in numbers that we’ve never seen before; Hundreds of thousands of people taking the streets, not only in the US, but across the world, and people talking about what’s happening to the Palestinians, what Israel is doing in new terms, and that has represented a major leap in people’s thinking about this. The images are horrific and shocking and that’s really moving people and that poses a real threat to people who are invested in the continuation of US support for Israel and Israel’s genocidal and expansionist politics and policies.

Chris Hedges:  One of the tactics they have employed, especially against BDS activists, is to criminalize within the legal code people who speak about Palestinian human rights. Can you talk about that as a tool?

Dylan Saba:  Absolutely. So this is part of the legal infrastructure that came out of the post-9/11 world and even before, and these are a set of really broad… Well, so there are two things: There are the laws passed against BDS but also what we’re seeing is a use of or a reference to laws about material support for terrorism. These are extremely broad and vague laws that have been used to stifle political dissent and criminalize aid, sending aid to Gaza in other forms of advocacy.

Chris Hedges:  Well, that’s how they arrested the Holy Land Foundation, which –

Dylan Saba:  Exactly right.

Chris Hedges:  – It was a charity.

Dylan Saba:  Exactly right. Last week, Governor DeSantis in Florida, issued a directive to the University of Florida system to deactivate SJPs, that’s the Palestine student groups in the University of Florida system, with reference to these laws. Now, it’s a ridiculous accusation. It’s a blatant violation of the First Amendment. It will absolutely be challenged in court, but it’s an example of the suppressive efforts taken at the state level. Now, it’s not only at the state level. You have also a resolution that was passed unanimously, I believe in the Senate, that condemns student organizing and basically equates them with Hamas.

This is an incredibly, incredibly dangerous threat to our civil liberties in this country. It’s an incredibly dangerous threat to the rights of folks to engage in political organizing and political dissent. Also, as you made a reference, there have been organized attempts to make illegal boycott divestments in the sanctions movement. There are anti-BDS statutes in the majority of states at this point trying to delegitimize nonviolent organizing in support of Palestinian liberation.

Chris Hedges:  You are of Palestinian-Jewish descent. One of the things that I’ve always found interesting, and you made reference to this, is that when I do meet with students for justice and Palestine groups at universities, a significant percentage of those students are Jewish. Can you talk about your generation of people who come out of the Jewish community? Because I don’t think that they are standing behind Israel. Then I want you to talk about the importance of the Christian right. The Christian right is a factor in this because it is also a political force that stands with the far right in Israel.

Dylan Saba:  Yeah, absolutely. So as you made reference to, I’m both Jewish and Palestinian, and I’ve been an organizer now on this issue for about 10 years; 10 years ago, I was a college student. The younger Jewish community in the US is far more open to Palestinian liberation and is far more active on this issue than the generations prior. It’s posed a real generational divide within the Jewish community but it’s also inspired a lot of hope that we can actually build a pluralistic justice movement on this issue.

And that poses a threat. That poses a threat to pro-Israel groups, to the older generation who counts on that support from the Jewish community to justify Israel’s crimes, and they’re losing that support. The data indicates that they’re losing that support and that’s a growing trend and it’s beautiful to see. When I was in SJP as a student, it was an incredibly diverse group of students; Jewish students, yes. Palestinian students, yes, Muslim students, and also other students.

And increasingly what we’ve seen in the past 10 years is that students from other affinity groups, Black students, Asian students, and students part of other justice struggles are recognizing the connection with the Palestinian liberation struggle and we’re seeing a wide range of anti-racist groups stand in solidity with the Palestinians and that too is a threat. That too is a threat to folks who are wary of growing consciousness around racial justice and are wary of the Palestinian’s struggle being included in that message for the threat that poses to their narrative.

You’re also right to point to the Christian right as a key player here. People don’t necessarily realize this, but most Zionists in the US are not Jewish; They’re Christian. Christian Zionism is a huge movement. People support Israel for their own religious reasons but also because of its affinity with right-wing projects more broadly, and so that is a key point when we are often put in a position where we have to articulate something that should be obvious, which is that anti-Zionism and antisemitism are totally separate.

Antisemitism is hatred of someone for religious identity and anti-Zionism is a principle political position that is not related to religion. It’s about opposing Israel’s policies of genocide, apartheid, and settler expansion, and we are often the major smear made against Palestine organizers and the justification for a lot of this suppression, a lot of this surveillance is antisemitism and it’s fundamentally cynical. It’s fundamentally a misapplication of discrimination principles and an excuse to stamp out political dissent in a way that’s very dangerous, as I mentioned before, because it is not in the interest of Jewish students, of Jewish people more broadly, to confuse the meaning of what antisemitism is.

Chris Hedges:  Well, the other problem is that it essentially, by conflating the two, it increases attacks of antisemitism because those attacks become confused with anti-Zionism.

Dylan Saba:  Yes, absolutely. So you have people making the argument in a legal forum and elsewhere in the media that being Zionist is a fundamental component of Jewish identity. Now, as we’re saying, we know that that’s not true. We know that a growing portion of young Jews are anti-Zionists, and are standing in solidarity with Palestinians. We know that Zionism is core to a whole host of political ideologies and beliefs that have nothing to do with the Jewish religion. And yet, folks want to insist on that argument, and as you said, that has a lot of nasty consequences downstream.

Chris Hedges:  Where do you see this going? You do have a powerful grassroots movement even in small towns. I live in Princeton, there were probably 500 people out on the street on Monday in solidarity with the Palestinians. And yet the political class has calcified the media itself. But where do you see all this headed?

Dylan Saba:  Yeah, that’s a good question. As you said, the grassroots movement is growing rapidly and it’s the largest it’s ever been. There’s about to be a march on Washington on November 4, organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement and others that, by all appearances, is going to be absolutely massive. And we’re sending a message to policymakers in Washington, to university administrators that this is a force that cannot be suppressed, that this dissent from what the US is supporting is something that cannot be ignored, and the people in Washington will have to take us seriously.

If Joe Biden wants to win in 2024, he’s going to need young people to come out for him. He’s going to need voters in Michigan, which has a large Arab population, to support him, and more broadly, he needs to stick up for something and stand for something. You have people of conscience all over this country saying you are complicit in genocide and demanding a ceasefire. As of right now, that call has not made that much traction in Congress for the reasons that you’re saying. I hope and expect that that will change. With each passing day, more and more people are becoming conscious of Israel’s crimes, are seeing the images coming out of Gaza, and are saying I don’t stand for this. Not on my dime, not in my name.

Chris Hedges:  Great. That was Dylan Saba, a staff attorney with Palestine Legal. I want to thank The Real News Network and its production team: Cameron Granadino, Adam Coley, David Hebden, and Kayla Rivara. You can find me at chrishedges.substack.com.

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