[News] Event honoring Edward Said prompts Zionist smear campaign against San Francisco State students

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Nov 26 12:18:34 EST 2013

  Event honoring Edward Said prompts Zionist smear campaign against San
  Francisco State students

Submitted by Nora Barrows-Fr... on Tue, 11/26/2013 - 16:02

The mural honoring Edward Said at San Francisco State University.

An anti-Palestinian group is mounting an attack against students at San 
Francisco State University. Following an on-campus event honoring a 
mural of the late Palestinian scholar Edward Said 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/edward-said>, the group asserted 
that an artistic stencil glorified "the murder of Jews."

The university's president, at the urging of pro-Israel advocates, has 
joined the condemnation of the students.

On 7 November, as part of the sixth annual event to celebrate the mural 
and Palestinian culture 
activists with several allied student organizations, including the 
General Union of Palestine Students 
(GUPS) and the Student Kouncil of Intertribal Nations (SKINS), an 
indigenous student group, set up informational tables on the campus's 
Malcolm X Plaza.

The SKINS' table made various stencils available for students to express 
themselves using images and slogans. One slogan read "my heroes have 
always killed colonizers," which has been used for years by indigenous 
cultural workers in commemorating the resistance to the genocide of 
First Nations peoples and other indigenous communities around the world.

For the last two years, for example, indigenous communities have held 
cultural events entitled "My Heroes Have Always Killed Colonizers" in 
San Francisco during Indigenous Peoples' Day --- a day reclaimed from 
the national holiday celebrating the legacy of Christopher Columbus.

It didn't take long for local Zionist watchdogs to launch a vicious 
attack against the entire event, the student organizations involved, and 
even the co-sponsoring academic department on campus, calling it 
"anti-Semitic" and insinuating that the stencil "glorif[ies] the murder 
of Jews."

Leading the charge is notorious anti-Palestinian racist Tammi 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/tammi-rossman-benjamin> and her 
Amcha Initiative <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/amcha-initiative>, 
who has sent repeated emails to San Francisco State University 
administration officials demanding that the university investigate GUPS 
and the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative (AMED), an 
academic department in the university's College of Ethnic Studies.

In the recent past, Rossman-Benjamin, a lecturer at the University of 
California at Santa Cruz, has claimed 
that students involved in Palestine solidarity organizing have ties to 
"terrorist organizations" and made other racist assumptions which were 
caught on video. She and Amcha have also attacked university professors 
for publicly supporting and/or listing reading material on the 
Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement 

Additionally, Rossman-Benjamin's legal complaint against her own 
university --- which alleged an anti-Semitic atmosphere and 
discrimination against Jewish students because of Palestine solidarity 
activism --- was recently thrown out by the US Department of Education 

    Stifling debate

For years, Zionist groups such as Amcha have worked tirelessly to 
undermine Palestinian self-determination and Palestine solidarity 
student activism at San Francisco State University. In 2007, when the 
Edward Said mural 
was being planned, a pitched battle was waged against Palestinian 
students and the muralists by outside political forces and the 
administration itself.

The mural originally depicted symbols 
of the Palestinian right of return 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/right-return> --- a key and an image 
of Handala, the cartoon figure representing the struggle of refugees --- 
but local and national Zionist organizations successfully forced the 
removal of the symbols from the final mural. During a period of 
sustained pressure from influential Zionist groups, the president of San 
Francisco State University at the time said he considered the symbols 

Neighboring murals at the campus's Cesar Chavez Student Center --- of 
Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez and Filipino and Asian and Pacific Islander 
communities --- depict militant resistance to colonialism and 
displacement, but have been ignored by the Zionist groups and the 
university administration.

Rabab Abdulhadi <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/rabab-abdulhadi>, an 
associate professor of ethnic studies at San Francisco State University, 
told The Electronic Intifada that she believes this current attack is 
yet another instance of attempts to stifle discussion and debate about 
Palestine on campus.

"This is intended to intimidate university officials from continuing to 
support academic freedom and freedom of speech on campus, which is the 
real point of campus life," she said.

"It's a well-orchestrated attack --- we've seen these kinds of attacks 
[by Amcha] against the University of California and California State 
University campuses. This is a continuation. And we've been attacked 
from early on."

    "Justice for all"

In 2002, Abdulhadi noted, the university administration sanctioned GUPS 
for its anti-war activities, and the pressure against students continued 
when plans were being made to create the Edward Said mural years before 
it was completed.

Ironically, she added, Amcha's assertions "actually feed into 
anti-Semitism. They're saying all Jews are colonizers, and all Israelis 
are participating. This is real anti-Semitism. [The event] was about 
justice for all, and everyone should be interested in it."

In a statement <http://president.sfsu.edu> posted last week, San 
Francisco State University President Leslie Wong said he was "deeply 
disturbed" by the "incendiary language" of the stencil.

He added:

    I am dismayed by the glorification of violence that this message
    conveys. There is no place at SF State for celebrating violence or
    promoting intolerance, bigotry, anti-Semitism or any other form of
    hate-mongering. We are a university community committed to
    furthering civil dialogue. Each of us must remain vigilant in
    working to achieve this goal.

    The university is a place where dialogue, debate and the marketplace
    of ideas are cherished. We must also maintain a safe environment.
    Engaging in expressions that threaten and intimidate are counter to
    these goals. In addition to conveying my firm commitment to a safe
    and civil campus environment directly to any students involved, I
    will be meeting with members of the campus community to express my
    concerns, and to learn more about their perceptions of our current
    campus climate. University leadership will continue to gather
    information about this occurrence and address it appropriately. We
    prize our role as a forum for open discourse and we will continue to
    work toward a campus culture that cherishes civility.

    "Less valuable" than Zionists

Since the historic 1968 student-led protests that led to the formation 
of the first ethnic studies department in the US the following year, 
students at San Francisco State University have fought hard to protect 
representation on campus. The General Union of Palestine Students at 
SFSU <https://www.facebook.com/GeneralUnionofPalestineStudents> --- the 
last remaining chapter of the 54-year-old organization --- was opened in 

Loubna Qatami, a graduate of San Francisco State University and an 
organizer with the Palestinian Youth Movement, was an active member of 
GUPS as a student. In a personal letter to SFSU President Wong, seen by 
The Electronic Intifada, Qatami recounts the barrage of attacks 
Palestine activists endured by the administration and outside political 

Her letter states, in part:

    I came into SFSU when it was popularly understood that the
    administration did not care to protect Arab and Muslim students from
    the rampant culture wars taking place on our campus after [11
    September 2001]. I was there when GUPS was scorned for actions
    against the Iraq war.

    I was there when College Republicans defamed flags that had Islamic
    religious writing on them. I was there when the College Republicans
    had students throw shoes at these flags. I was there when other
    students called us "terrorists," "camel-riders," and when they said
    "there is no such thing as Palestine" and the university found it of
    no interest to address such matters.

    I was the one, President Wong, who checked the GUPS email account
    with thousands of death threat emails! I was the one that opened up
    the GUPS door in the mornings and found pictures of the Twin Towers
    blowing up with captions titled "Terrorists."

    Mr. President, I was there when President [Robert] Corrigan used
    every indirect policy excuse to roadblock the inauguration of the
    Edward Said Cultural Mural and called images so central to the
    Palestinian community and cause, the key and Handala cartoon, a
    reflection of a "culture of violence" and "hate to Jews."

    ... Despite being told we were not counted as part of the system,
    despite being told we were less valuable than Zionist voices on
    campus, we were the students who committed to believing SFSU was

    We were the students who were both attacked and unprotected. Yet we
    were the students that reflected the overwhelming majority of
    student perspectives and interests on campus. Our student allies
    were the first to come to our defense and to say that an attack on
    GUPS was an attack on the SFSU student body. Yet time after time,
    voices from outside campus, Zionist voices with national anchor
    institutions, non-profit organizations ... and right-wing media
    campaigns stole our place at SFSU. These forces stifled the voices
    of the majority of the student body.

    These power structures marginalized my community, time and time
    again with nothing done by the university administration.

    ... We ask of you to maintain the university as a space of public
    knowledge, freedom of speech and intellectual exchange. We ask you
    to rise to the occasion of protecting your student body, those most
    marginalized who are in fact being attacked by culture wars that
    impact ethnic studies, student organizations and students of color
    on campus. Rather than investigating a "stencil" we ask you to
    investigate the broader political backing, rationale and agenda of
    the people waging this war on our student body. We urge you to
    practice your commitment to social justice.

    "Belligerent smear campaign"

Local and national solidarity groups and coalitions, including the 
International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN), Movimiento Estudiantil 
Chican@ de Atzlan <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/mecha> (MEChA) and 
SKINS have drafted letters and a petition 
denouncing Amcha's attacks and demanding the university protect freedom 
of speech.

In a petition to San Francisco State University President Wong, MEChA 
and SKINS say that they represent students who are "horrified by the 
baseless attack and allegations of anti-Semitism that have been leveled 
against the General Union of Palestine Students, the Arab and Muslim 
Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative, the Cesar Chavez Student Center 
[and] the organizers of the sixth annual anniversary of the Palestinian 
Cultural Mural honoring the late Professor Edward Said."

The petition adds:

    We are proud to continue the rich legacy of justice-centered student
    activism at SFSU. GUPS has historically stood for justice in/for
    Palestine and has linked our struggle with that of all people's
    struggles for self-determination, justice and peace.

    We are concerned over our own safety and the safety of our friends,
    allies, and all those standing in solidarity with our movement,
    especially when their photos and names have been posted online as if
    to make them a moving target for violence.

    This belligerent smear campaign meant to slander the Palestinian
    movement on campus has directly created a hostile environment that
    makes it impossible for us to express our views and exercise our
    academic freedom.

The petition concludes by demanding that Wong "condemn this smear 
campaign, uphold our academic freedom as a core value of SFSU, and 
ensure our safety and the safety of all."

Sara Kershnar of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) 
told The Electronic Intifada that several groups, including a cadre of 
anti-Zionist Jews, are demanding a meeting with the SFSU president.

"This is about the right of people who are struggling for liberation to 
have their expression of that struggle protected," Kershnar said. "It's 
not the same as hate speech, expressions of fascism or racism or 
homophobia. Those are very different things, and we look to institutions 
to make the correct distinction."

She added that it's important for the administration to know that these 
political Zionist organizations do not represent general Jewish values 
and opinions.

    "Manipulation" of Jewish history

The International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network's letter states, in part,

    As Jews committed to ending racism, sexism, homophobia and all forms
    of oppression, we stand with the General Union of Palestinian
    Students (GUPS) and the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas
    Initiative (AMED), and we stand against the baseless attacks on them
    by Tammi Benjamin and the Amcha Initiative. We urge President Wong
    to recognize this attack for the politically motivated attempt to
    silence Palestinian students and faculty that it is.

    These attacks on student activists are political attacks and are a
    reflection of politically motivated, false charges of anti-Semitism
    targeting Palestinian and Arab students around the country. On
    campuses from UC Berkeley to Rutgers, organizations like the Amcha
    Initiative and the Zionist Organization of America, and others, have
    attempted to manipulate the Title VI Civil Rights Act to serve its
    political ends. This is cheapening and weakening crucial civil
    rights protections by characterizing protected political speech as
    anti-Semitism. This is but one example of the outrageous lawfare
    being used to target Palestinian students and professors and their

    Furthermore, these attacks come in a climate in the United States
    that is extremely hostile to Arabs and Muslims. From acts of
    vigilante violence to racist ads displayed on buses in San Francisco
    to government use of immigration law to target well-respected
    Chicago community activist Rasmea Odeh, Arabs and Muslims face a
    climate of intimidation and repression that extends far beyond campus.

    As Jewish people well-versed in the history of anti-Semitism backed
    with state power, we reject Ms. Benjamin's manipulation of our
    history. As people committed to ending racism, sexism, homophobia,
    anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism and all other forms of oppression,
    we reject this attempt to undermine the true meaning of racism.
    Tammi Benjamin and Amcha do not speak for Jews when they
    irresponsibly slander Palestinian students; rather, they intervene
    politically to support Israel and Zionism.

    GUPS, AMED and the Cesar Chavez Student Center are incredibly
    important parts of the SFSU campus and are a space where
    under-represented voices are heard. Whenever people would use
    political clout and intimidation to silence those who are
    vulnerable, it is incumbent upon all of us to defend them.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have signed on to this statement.

Kenneth P. Monteiro, the dean of the Department of Ethnic Studies, did 
not respond to a request for comment by Monday afternoon.

Meanwhile, as activists wait to meet university officials, Professor 
Abdulhadi said she has been extremely gratified by the huge amount of 
support by allied student groups. Dozens of student representatives from 
a wide spectrum of communities of color and grassroots organizations 
attended a coalition meeting last week to address this situation. "The 
extent of support is amazing," she said. "It really shows that we are a 
part of a coalition of justice on campus."

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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