Israel's global reach threatens freedom of speech everywhere
Last week, millions of Palestinians around the world commemorated the 68th anniversary of Al Nakba, the catastrophe that befell Palestine, without which the Jewish state could not have come into being.
Palestinian refugees in the Naqab desert, in Gaza, in the West Bank, and in a number of refugee camps in neighbouring Arab countries held symbolic “return marches” in a determined assertion that we are not surrendering our Right of Return. The “March of Return” in the Naqab was especially significant, as it was held in defiance of Israel’s ban on any commemoration of Al Nakba.
Globally, allies and supporters joined commemoration events, rallies, screenings and discussions of documentaries - sad reminders of the massacres, ethnic cleansing and dispossession that Palestinians have suffered in 1948, and have been suffering since.
One expression that is repeated every time we mention al Nakba is that “it is ongoing”. Yet with the acknowledgement that our misery is not over is a ray of hope, indeed, some optimism, that Palestinians will overcome.
This is because another expression we hear again and again in Palestine solidarity circles is that “the discourse has shifted”. The Zionist narrative that once portrayed Israel as “the only democracy in the region” has been torn asunder by the multitude of voices exposing Israel’s myriad of horrific crimes, and stating openly that Zionism is a racist ideology that hinges on the privileging of members of one ethnic-religious group, and the oppression of an indigenous population, which is criminalised merely for not belonging to that group.
Today, in Israel, there are over 50 laws that discriminate against non-Jews, as well as an entire social structure that further aggravates the disenfranchisement of non-Jews. Indeed, Israel’s own leaders openly recognise it could not exist in its present form without institutional apartheid. Chief Justice Asher Grunis, representing Israel’s Supreme Court, put it most succinctly when he declared that the “human rights [of the Palestinians] cannot be a prescription for national suicide”.
As it dehumanises and criminalises its indigenous population, Israel is cracking down hard on our freedom of expression. Thus the ban on mentioning the Nakba. Israel does not “allow” its citizens to speak of the dispossession, the massacres and the violation of Palestinian human rights that are at the very foundation of the Jewish state. It has placed the poet Dareen Tatour under house arrest for her resistance poetry. It has imprisoned astrophysicist Imad Barghouti for material he posted on his Facebook page.
It has also imprisoned Mohamad Faisal Abu Sakha, a young clown who teaches circus skills to children with disabilities, with no charges against him, or maybe for the crime of making Palestinian children laugh.
And it is threatening to revoke the citizenship of BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti.
But Zionism’s crackdown on individual freedoms is not just "over there," in historic Palestine. It is a destabilising factor throughout the Arab world and Middle East. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton recently acknowledged that among the factors that prompted her decision to invade Iraq was her concern for Israel. Iran has suffered for years as a result of Zionist pressure on the US. One of the many causes of extreme political dissatisfaction that Egyptians and Jordanians have with their governments is these governments’ collusion with Israel.
Zionism also impacts us wherever we live in the West. President Obama’s parting gift to Israel, as he prepares to step down from an eight-year presidency during which that country’s leaders showed him extreme disrespect, is the largest aid package the US has ever given Israel.
Meanwhile, social services in the US continue to be slashed. Many schools no longer have nurses or librarians on site. Medical expenses in the US continue to be the biggest cause of bankruptcy for Americans, even after Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
And a growing number of Americans are becoming aware that their tax dollars should go to these needs, rather than to fund Israel’s violations of the human rights of the Palestinians.
Another impact of Zionism is how it is depriving the average person everywhere of cherished "Western" rights, namely freedom of speech, freedom of expression.
Thus in France, for example, where activism for Palestinian rights has become severely criminalised, a woman was detained simply for wearing a BDS T-shirt.
In Germany, a political discussion with activist Ronnie Barkan was cancelled five days prior to the scheduled event, for “security reasons”, as outsiders threatened to disrupt it violently. Barkan is an outspoken supporter of equal rights for all in his native country, Israel.
In Canada, the “liberal” new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is continuing the conservative Harper administration’s criminalisation of BDS, thus proving that, at the level of state politicians, Zionism is still the prevailing ideology, against the will of a growing number of citizens.
Censorship is rampant, taking on multiple forms. In the US, the Middle East Studies Association came under such pressure that it had to vote on whether it is even for its members to endorse BDS and discuss it at the annual convention.
The otherwise reputable publishing house, McGraw-Hill, caving in to Zionists, has destroyed textbooks that depicted the “loss of Palestinian land” postcard, apologised to its critics, and offered a refund to customers who bought the book before it was removed from its inventory.
This month, the American Anthropology Association is voting on academic boycott, and again, it is being subjected to Zionist pressure from outside elements set on “Derailing Democracy”.
The harshness of Zionist censorship in the US is reminiscent of the muzzling that takes place in some of the most dictatorial countries. Faculty staff who are critical of Israel are fired, or never get hired in the first place. Zionists have created a list, “the Canary Mission,” naming students who are activists for Palestinian rights on their campuses, and distributing the list to potential employers specifically to make sure these students do not get jobs upon graduation.
Even musicians fear their careers will be destroyed if they voice support for Palestine, as Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters courageously said.
Indeed, in the words of the creators of the satirical video series “Apartheid Adventures,” Zionism is “leaving no freedom unchallenged”.
As more people all around the globe join in the struggle for justice and equal rights for all, they are realising that Israel’s oppression is not confined to occupied Palestine, but reaches into their own lives, wherever they may be.
And wherever the crackdown on BDS is happening, people are becoming acutely aware of the fact that Zionism functions as a global apparatus that seeks to shut down the will of the people everywhere, and erode our freedoms, in order to increase the power of politicians, multinational corporations, and the global arms and security trade.
The net effect of this crackdown on popular dissent is an increased determination to resist Zionism, and to engage further in the global intifada that BDS represents.
Fighting Zionism, then, is a global responsibility, if we cherish our human rights wherever we may be. The alliances that are forming to confront and defeat it - alliances such as Gaza to Ferguson, indigenous rights groups, prison abolition networks, and more - are organic, growing out of a deep conviction that we are fighting a racist ideology and its violent manifestations in various parts of the world. And because of the global reach of Zionism, global solidarity and international alliances are key to our struggle against this oppressive system.
- Nada Elia serves on the steering collective of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: A general view taken on 16 May, 2016 shows graffiti in Gaza City commemorating the "Nakba" (AFP).