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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Letter to the Editor: Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine stands in solidarity

Courtesy FSJP
FSJP Emerson
Courtesy FSJP

On Feb. 28, the Berkeley Beacon published a “Letter to the Editor” from Anna Feder, Emerson’s head of Film Exhibition and Festival Programs, in which she asks: “Why is it so hard to talk about Palestine?” Feder’s question has been on the minds of many of us—students, staff, and faculty—and echoes an ongoing concern with freedom of speech and academic freedom at university campuses nationwide. 

In the months before the publication of Feder’s article, Emerson College imposed limits on the use of classroom space by students associated with the group Students for Justice in Palestine, allegedly because SJP is an “unaffiliated organization,” according to an undisclosed source. Was it a coincidence that pro-Palestine speech was also at the center of that episode?

We write in support of Feder’s courageous letter to the Beacon, and in solidarity with our students at SJP. We are a democratic, multi-ethnic, and multi-racial collective of Muslims, Christians, Jews, and atheists at Emerson College. We are faculty, staff, and graduate students. We want to raise awareness about settler colonialism, ethnic cleansing, genocidal policies and actions, and everyday violence against Palestinians. 

Like Feder, we are alarmed by ongoing efforts to silence pro-Palestine voices at university campuses throughout the country. In particular, we are concerned about potential risks to academic freedom and freedom of speech at Emerson. Several of us are directly involved in efforts to promote justice and inclusivity at the college. We engage in discussions about racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual diversity, inside and outside the classroom; we teach courses on postcolonial studies, critical race theory, and media of the Global South; we organize cultural and educational events that honor Emerson’s values.

We also believe in open, respectful, and candid conversations about Palestine. We expect the events and activities we organize to receive the same respect and consideration as any other academic and cultural event on campus. And we expect the students who are willing to organize around their common belief in justice in Palestine to be able to do so without impediments or intimidation.

We are deeply troubled by the suggestion that our voices represent a threat to a safe learning environment—or a potential incitement to violence. As Feder mentions in her letter, at the beginning of this semester, Emerson Today published a “Presidential Statement on Campus Speech and Rhetoric,” affirming that “calls for physical violence against people or groups based on their religious, national, or other protected identities are not consistent with our values or community standards.”

All of this is commendable, and none of it is new. We should all be familiar with Emerson’s policies. Why, then, release a statement at the beginning of the semester? That statement must be read in the context of a growing nationwide movement against what the International Court of Justice has found to be a plausible genocide in Gaza. Could this movement grow on our campus, too?

 The college also explicitly dissociated itself from the screening of the film “Israelism”—a documentary made by young American Jews about young American Jews, which is critical of Israel’s policies and actions. The screening took place on campus on Feb. 1. On that occasion, Emerson Today announced “the screening of films in [the Bright Lights] series does not connote endorsement or support of the film’s content by Emerson College or the Visual and Media Arts Department,” adding that “Emerson prides itself on … protecting our community from bias, threats, and intimidation.” 

The screening of “Israelism” was not just “a resounding success,” as Feder notes in her article; it was also an inspiring example of how to engage in a civil, mature, and profoundly relevant conversation about issues that can be challenging and uncomfortable. Nothing could be further from “threats and intimidation.”

The aforementioned presidential statement on rhetoric reaffirms the college’s commitment to offering “a safe environment for students and other community members.” Who could disagree with that? The statement, however, stops short of identifying potential risks to our safety. In the absence of such examples, we would like to offer our own. We cannot have a safe environment when students feel intimidated and are denied access to Emerson’s spaces and infrastructure; we cannot have a safe environment when staff are reportedly scared to talk about Palestine; and we cannot have a safe environment when faculty are reluctant to discuss issues that are considered sensitive—relevant and academically pertinent as they may be.

Ultimately, what motivates any effort to silence pro-Palestine voices is not a concern with conduct or etiquette but a fear of knowledge and an anxiety about what it can unleash. Knowledge is powerful. When paired with a call for justice, it can be infectious. And when joined to action, it can be transformative. For all these reasons, knowledge may seem unsettling sometimes. Yet to look away from its transformative potential is to betray our faith in education and forgo our commitment to the betterment of society, neither of which should be an option.

Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine (FSJP) is a democratic, multi-ethnic, and multi-racial collective created at Emerson College in October 2023. It is part of a national coalition at universities and colleges that supports Palestinians’ right to self-determination. It views the Palestinian struggle as part of a global movement that includes Black and indigenous liberations, LGBTQ+ struggles, feminist and environmental movements.

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Comments (7)

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  • P

    Pavel Zlatin / Mar 8, 2024 at 3:11 pm

    While valid criticism of Israeli policies isn’t antisemitic by any definition, including the IHRA definition adopted by the majority of states, including Massachusetts, calling for the destruction of the world’s only Jewish state and our ancestral homeland has nothing to do with criticism. Chanting “from the river to the sea” and falsely accusing Israel of genocide and apartheid only perpetuates the most vile forms of antisemitism.

    The use of these buzzwords by pro-Hamas “activists” is not just ignorant, it’s malicious. Over twenty percent of Israeli citizens are Arab. They enjoy the same rights and protections as the Jewish citizens do. Palestinians in the West Bank aren’t governed by the Israeli government, but by the Palestinian Authority, and while episodes of settler violence are unacceptable, the entity ultimately responsible for the well-being of Palestinians is the PA. We can argue about the validity of military occupation of Zones A and B, but we can’t argue about the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The situation in the West Bank also has nothing to do with Gaza, from which Israel disengaged almost two decades ago. The blockade, imposed by Israel and Egypt, was a mere response to Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization, assuming power in the Strip.

    As for the genocide allegations, there’s no credible evidence to support them. Despite what the article alleged, the ICJ did not find Israel guilty of this crime. It merely warned of the worsening humanitarian crisis and tasked Israel with taking proactive steps to make sure genocide doesn’t happen in the future. And no Zionist wants genocide. We simply want self-determination in our indigenous land.

    Having compassion for Palestinians should not involve distortion of facts and history.

    Tokenizing Jews who weaponize their identity against their own people does nothing to advance the Palestinian cause, it only erases the majority of us, who are in touch with our heritage and recognize our history in the region.

    Half of the world’s Jews live in Israel. Why is that I wonder? Every major religious text refers to Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. There’s also plenty of archeological and historical evidence that proves our indigeneity and continued presence in the region.

    In the name of freedom of expression, we can express opposing views. However, false statements, libel, and calls to destroy Israel aren’t by any means examples of protected speech.

    We are witnessing one of the worst spikes of antisemitism in modern history, and pro-Hamas anti-zionists have played a big part in triggering it. We can’t move forward and hold honest and productive conversations until we grapple with that.

    • M

      Michal / Mar 9, 2024 at 12:59 am

      Funny you speak of distorting facts, Massachusetts never adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism. I know this because I spent 8 long hours at the State House last Fall listening to over a hundred people, half of whom were Jewish, speaking against the potential adoption of this definition in a bill that never made it out of committee. You can watch the whole hearing on the State House website. The AJC falsely claimed MA adopted the definition on their website because the former Gov used it once in a speech.
      It is insulting and dehumanizing to call Jews who are standing against the genocide in Gaza: ‘Token Jews’ as if they have no agency or minds of their own. As if the only way to be a true Jew is to align yourself with the state of Israel regardless of the crimes it commits.
      It is mind boggling that you don’t seem to be aware that the UN concluded that the accusations of genocide are plausible.

      • P

        Pavel Zlatin / Mar 9, 2024 at 2:44 pm

        I did confuse the adoption of the IHRA definition with its endorsement by the governor. It’s a good reminder that technicalities matter. It is, however, important to note that as an IHRA member-state, the U.S. government uses its definition of antisemitism as the working one.

        Either way, the definition doesn’t state that criticizing Israel is antisemitic. Denying its right to exist is. I myself am critical of many Israeli policies, since just like any other country in the world, it’s far from perfect. But I would never deny my people’s history in the land and I will always affirm Israel’s right to exist and defend itself.

        Hamas can end this war at any time by releasing the hostages and surrendering. Instead of bashing Israel for responding to one of the worst pogroms against the Jewish people in modern history, we should be pressuring Hamas to facilitate a safe return of the remaining hostages and surrender unconditionally. We also shouldn’t forget that as the governing body in Gaza, however illegitimate, Hamas is ultimately responsible for protecting its civilian population and making sure they have access to the humanitarian aid flowing into Gaza. They’ve done neither. Hamas leaders assert again and again that their ultimate goal is to wipe out the Jewish people. They themselves confirmed the appropriation of humanitarian aid. It’s Hamas leaders who said that they are ready to continue wielding this war until the last Palestinian, as they are expendable to them. Hamas could’ve chosen to improve Palestinians’ lives in the Strip. Instead, it chose terror.

        Urging Israel to minimize harm to the civilian population is a humane stance. So is wanting the war to end. But ignoring the role Hamas has played and continues to play in it is irresponsible.

        What is insulting is watching some Jews in the diaspora completely discard their own history. Just like any other country, Israel shouldn’t be immune to criticism, but how we criticize it matters. For starters, accusing it of genocide even though the military operation in Gaza does not fall under its definition is not criticism, it’s libel. Israel is crucial to the survival of the Jewish people, the recent spike in antisemitic crimes only proves it. I criticize Israel because I want our country to do better. Anti-zionist Jews, who fall for the antisemitic propaganda, only seek to destroy it.

        As for the ICJ ruling, if you read page 4 carefully, it merely states that some of the actions alleged by South Africa likely fall under the scope of the Convention. It has not, however, found Israel guilty of those actions, nor has it accepted South Africa’s allegations as fact. This helped issue the final ruling, which did not find Israel guilty of genocide but tasked it with preventing it.

      • B

        Brynna / Mar 20, 2024 at 11:40 am

        Here is an example of genocide:
        Hamas is not intent on eliminating “Israelis” but Jews. Here are their words, which are taken directly from Hamas’ charter:
        “The hour of judgment shall not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them, so that the Jews hide behind trees and stones, and each tree and stone will say: ‘Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him,’ except for the Gharqad tree, for it is the tree of the Jews.”
        This is the raison d’être for the existence of the government of Gaza.
        I ask you, Michal, and not rhetorically, the following:
        1. Is the above statement from the Hamas charter a statement of genocidal intent? If not, why not?
        2. If it is a statement of genocide, do Jews – not just Israel, but Jews – have the right to defend our lives when we face murder? If not, why not?
        3. Should Hamas be allowed to continue and flourish and continue to receive ample funding from Iran and Qatar?
        4. What do you hope to achieve by calling a war ignited by a system that is intent on killing Jews “genocide” as opposed to ” a horrific war that must be brought to a conclusion as quickly as possible”?
        These are questions I have and I want to hear answers because they will help me understand you, and understanding you as a valuable individual is important to me.

  • B

    Brynna / Mar 8, 2024 at 10:02 am

    Thank you for your honesty and for inspiring comment and conversation.
    The Beacon has properly provided a desired conduit for talking about Palestine. In my experience, supporters of Hamas and Gazans, such as the FSJP, have a voice, loud and clear, in the streets and in venues all over the country. Several months ago, just outside our campus buildings, I witnessed a large, well-organized and peaceful protest and thought, “I don’t agree but I do support this right”. I admired students for getting involved. This admiration for one’s opponent is necessary for future peace.
    That support has since been challenged by continuous disturbing incidents. Absent from conversation about Palestine here has been talk about what is happening to Jews. As the mother of a son with a vicious cancer, I was sickened by the mobbing of Sloan Kettering, a safe haven in NYC for people and children with cancer from all over the world. I am frightened by young pro-Hamas students physically assaulting Jews on campuses all over the country. Kefiyehs abound, but our sons can no longer safely wear kippot in public. No lasting peace, no real empowerment for the suffering of the Palestinian people will come from this ancient Judaeophobic hatred.
    Where are pro-Palestine voices silenced? You who want to end their pain are a everywhere. You have power in numbers. Jews are too tiny a population to stand alone and match in kind. Anna Feder was free to screen her “resounding success” and voice her concerns in these pages.
    Are you upset because some Universities try to minimize destruction of property, mob mentality, silencing of civil opposition, physical threats and assaults on students who want to get the education for which they worked and paid? Is it not enough that you shut down Jewish prayers, tiny concerts, and holidays?
    Every day brings new violence to Jews in America and Europe, all fueled by, and couched in, the “pro-Palestine” effort.
    The college is in an unprecedented, most difficult position and members of the administration continue to work hard to be compassionate to all sides.
    Our community can do better. We led in successfully embracing people beyond the binary in gender and sex. So why insist on a binary approach to this most existential situation?
    If the vitriol continues to grow, someone in our Emerson community is going to get seriously hurt. Please help prevent this. Let us disagree with understanding and listening. Let us all work hard to see the good in our opponents, and the beauty in all people.
    May there be peace for all in our lifetime.

    • M

      Michal / Mar 9, 2024 at 1:16 am

      Are you not aware that 3 college students in Vermont were shot last Fall just for walking down the street wearing keffiyehs? Do you know that one of them will be paralyzed from the chest down for the rest of his life? Did you not hear about the 6 year old Palestinian boy who was murdered by his mother’s landlord in October? Where is this world you’re describing in which your ‘opponents’ are frolicking about in Palestinian solidarity without a care in the world?

      I am Jewish, I put on a keffiyeh for the first time in my life two weeks ago and I never felt more scared walking down the street like I did that first day. I never worried like that wearing a David star or anything that identified me as a Jew. That moment my body told me the truth of what the power structure in America is. Jews are not safe, I agree, but Palestinians are under direct threat right now.

      I wish your son a full and complete recovery.

      • B

        Brynna / Mar 11, 2024 at 10:15 am

        Thank you. I am aware of that horrific incident, and it troubles me regularly. What I am talking about is a persistent, vast, organized movement against Jews.
        I won’t question your emotions at wearing a keffiyah. Did anyone harm you or even comment derisively? I hope not.
        Would you have put one on if only one other person in your school or your town wore one? My son was, at his college, the only person who wore a kippah. The only one. In the entire school.
        Several years ago he and I were passing through Connecticut and we stopped at a gas station. My son went into the store while I pumped gas. Then we traded places. The owner was at the register and he asked if that was my son. We chatted while I got my coffee. He told me he was from Jordan. I had just been offered a job in Jordan and I told him how sad I was to have to turn it down. But as he took my money, he leaned in close and said, “we will kill you all”.
        I asked if I could still get my change.
        I was not scared in that moment, nor was this my first time being confronted in this way.
        The reason I was not scared is because I know who I am.
        Being a Jew has always meant being different. Many Jews prefer to identify with larger groups to escape the extreme loneliness of being so different and so small in the Diaspora. It’s an understandable choice and you are far from unusual in this.
        You may say you made the choice for moral reasons, but in Israel and Palestine, both groups have good reasons. Both have valid truths. Anyone who believes one is completely good and right and the other wrong and completely evil is not living in reality. Jews have just as much a right to self-defense and to living in the land as Palestinians. That’s what makes this whole condition so very painful. I know you won’t hear this among your cohorts. That’s what makes them dangerous. We have our own brand of extremists and our government is currently not the one we need or want but I believe Americans have been in that situation too and so should know better.
        Those who preserve their identity with love deserve to be who they are, no matter how few.