Pro-Israel students complain about harassment on US campuses
You have to hand it to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the powerful pro-Israel lobby group that herds US foreign policy on issues related to Israel and the Middle East. It has come out with a new documentary called “Hate Spaces,” which claims to expose rising anti-Semitism on college campuses against pro-Israel students.
That is fascinating to me because the real harassment has always been against Palestinian and Arab students on many college campuses. Only in recent years have Arab students stood up to the hate politics of pro-Israel activists in the US. When I was studying at the University of Illinois, I immediately got involved with the Arab Student Organization (ASO). What I learned was that the university was biased and discriminatory against Arabs.
It provided funding, grant money, office space and all kinds of support to Jewish and pro-Israel student organizations, but made it impossible for the ASO, which I headed in 1975-76, to get any funds or program support.
The university gave pro-Israel students so much support they were able to build a campus community center, bring in high-profile international speakers to well-funded events, and host celebrations and Jewish food fests. Many faculty members participated.
The university gave the ASO $60 and a small room when we invited a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But it gave Jewish students a fortune in money and support; it paid Israeli speakers’ airfare and even gave them accommodation.
The university always invited famous Israeli performers and comedians to its official events. It never invited Arab performers. When other universities do, they exclude anything about Palestine and showcase non-political events.
Today pro-Palestine activists are increasing in number, and it is not easy for pro-Israel students to rely on the biases of local universities to ensure their edge in impacting the political climate of a community. Colleges and universities are great places to build movements that can influence mainstream audiences.
Growing anti-Arab hatred in the US is rising up in the news media and at universities and colleges. It impacts how American society views the Middle East. It cannot be taken for granted.
The US university system reflects the hate-driven bias that defines the mainstream news media when it comes to Palestine and Israel. It also reflects the local politics of communities where pro-Israel activists have made great strides building alliances with elected officials and government offices, while the Arab side has done so little. That is our fault as a community.
What is not our fault is the bias that exists in the media and the university system against anything that says something good about Palestine. Tragically, many Arab countries have partnered with US universities to build programs, even though these universities have histories of discriminating against and excluding American Arabs. The Arab world often underestimates the power that American Arabs can provide if they would work with them.
Israel’s government, on the other hand, recognizes the importance of building and funding a pro-Israel base in the US. American politics will determine the future of Palestine. If you do not believe that, you are living in the dark ages. Growing anti-Arab hatred in the US is rising up in the news media and at universities and colleges. It impacts how American society views the Middle East. It cannot be taken for granted.
The Israelis recognize how important it is, and they use the latest in communication technology and social media to strengthen their view. Meanwhile, often Arabs end up attacking each other on social media and the Internet. The Arab world needs to reassess what it is doing with US universities and impose conditions that require fairness, objectivity, balance and truth.
As an American Arab, I have never asked anyone to blindly believe what I say, or blindly reject the assertions of pro-Israel activists. I have never asked the media to be anti-Israel. Instead, I have always asked that the media, universities and public institutions that take my tax dollars to fund their projects be fair and give us an equal footing in presenting our case on Palestine.
When someone hears the Israeli case and the Palestinian case, the latter always wins. I have that true faith in our cause because it is just, fair and righteous. That is why pro-Israel activists spend so much time blocking Palestinian activists, calling us vicious names such as “anti-Semites,” and excluding pro-Palestinian activists from their “public” activities. They know they cannot win when our views are put next to theirs equally and fairly.
Americans Arabs have a right to challenge the lies and distortions that the better-paid and supported pro-Israel activists assert in their programs and literature. It is not anti-Semitic to call Jerusalem an occupied city, to refer to the West Bank as occupied territory, or to call the Israeli settler movement racist and violent. Universities are supposed to educate students, not engage in political propaganda just to keep their wealthy funders happy.
Remember how the news media reported on a rising wave of anti-Semitism in the US? It turns out the suspect behind the bomb threats is not Arab or Muslim, as many media suggested. The suspect is an Israeli student with dual citizenship who lives in Israel. I guess he thought his campaign of hate would strengthen Israel’s false victimhood.
• Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian-American former journalist and political columnist. Email him at [email protected]