In Antisemitism

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Nearly 30 protesters rallied for Palestinian rights in Kogan Plaza on Friday afternoon, the finale of Students for Justice in Palestine’s Israeli Apartheid Week amplifying political education and cultural celebration surrounding Palestinian resistance.

Student organizations like Black Defiance, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Students Against Imperialism joined Students for Justice in Palestine at the rally, the culmination of a week of panels and workshops focusing on Palestinian culture and education on the Israel-Palestine conflict. A student organizer for Students for Justice in Palestine, who requested anonymity because Palestinian protesters are often targeted, said SJP has committed the past year toward organizing for Palestine in the face of “Zionist repression and discrimination.”

SJP faced disciplinary charges from GW in November after student protesters led a postering campaign in October outside of GW Hillel prior to a speaker event hosted by Doron Tenne, a former Israel Defense Forces intelligence officer. The Student Rights & Responsibilities office charged SJP and its president Lance Lokas with disciplinary misconduct for alleged damage caused to concrete benches outside of the Hillel building from wheatpasting, but officials cleared SJP and Lokas of the charges in December.

“Today, it was really a cap, a way to tie all of the events this week together to say that, ‘Look, we are active, we are not going to back down to intimidation tactics, we are here and we’re not going,” the organizer said.

The student organizer said SJP hosted psychology professor Lara Sheehi as a guest speaker on a panel about academic suppression of Palestinian voices alongside GW Associate Professor of Media and Public Affairs William Youmans and Palestine Legal staff attorney Dylan Saba. He said Sheehi spoke about her experience facing “discrimination and repression” for her work regarding Palestine, like through her role on the advisory board for the USA-Palestine Mental Health Network and her experience defending herself against allegations of antisemitism.

Jewish and pro-Israel advocacy group StandWithUs filed a civil rights complaint in January alleging Sheehi created a “hostile environment” for Jewish and Israeli students in a graduate-level psychology course. A third-party investigation found the allegations to be “inaccurate” and “decontextualized,” according to a statement from interim University President Mark Wrighton last week.

“It was really nice to be able to celebrate that victory with her and just talk about her experiences, being an Arab woman in academia, facing discrimination and repression for her work around Palestine but also talking about successful ways that her and her comrades have organized against it,” the student organizer said.

The student organizer said some people took photos of SJP members while they were sitting at their table in Kogan Plaza during Israel Apartheid Week in an effort to identify them because of their political beliefs. He said some people were yelling at SJP members while they tabled in Kogan during Israeli Apartheid Week, arguing with SJP members on Palestinian issues.

“We had groups coming today to our rallies and other places spreading misinformation about the language that we use around Palestinian Liberation, but we have remained active in spite of all of it,” the student organizer said.

Sophomore Jovanna Walker, the vice president of Black Defiance, said the organization participated in the rally as an act of solidarity with other “radical” student movements on campus. She said Black Defiance collaborated with SJP to host a teach-in event about Black-Palestinian solidarity, discussing the history of Black-Palestinian “joint revolutionary organizing” on Friday.

“I feel like this was really our time to learn, take that and then have conversations with each other to then have more programming with SJP, with Jewish Voice for Peace and things like that,” she said.

Walker said Israel Apartheid Week events had a “revolutionary” tone and that she felt a similar spirit in these events to Black Defiance’s cause, which focuses on amplifying Black feminist theories. She said even though she isn’t Palestinian, she felt “very inspired” by their dedication and noticed similarities with her own “Black liberation struggle.”

“Even those that don’t look like me, we’re all struggling, like I was saying, under the same structures of violence,” she said. “So we have to have more love in our hearts for ourselves and everybody around us than hate for our enemies.”

Pada Schaffner, a junior and a hub coordinator for Sunrise GW, said the struggle for climate justice and the fight for Palestinian rights share commonalities with activists for both causes experiencing persecution for their beliefs and enduring labels of “terrorists” for their advocacy. He said protesters are designated as terrorists for standing in opposition to government institutions, whether it’s indigenous climate activists opposing the Keystone Pipeline or Palestinian civilians defending themselves from armed forces.

“It’s a designation used by the colonial project to silence anti-colonial movements whether they’re in Palestine or whether they’re in Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota or Atlanta,” Schaffner said.

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